Article courtesy of SB Nation
By: Zach Junda
The LSU defense was not good in 2020. You know it, I know it, there’s no need to revisit it.
However there were some positive takeaways. Namely LSU building a rather impressive front four that’s not only bringing back all its contributors, it’s adding depth with a couple of stud recruits some of whom are already on campus.
Not only is the group exciting, the man coaching the players is providing some buzz. Andre Carter, a former first round pick who played 13 years in the NFL has joined the staff after spending the past four years coaching the Jets and Dolphins defensive lines. It’s Carter’s first college coaching job and has a whole host of toys to play with.
Like the LSU offensive line, the Tigers are bringing back the entirety of its defensive front. But while there’s unproven depth with the LSU offensive line, the defense has a two-deep that can be counted upon.
Call me overly optimistic but I love the Ali Gaye and Andre Anthony pass rushing tandem, I feel they could be one of the conference’s best. Anthony, in his first year as a starter, came along strong to close the 2020 season and would eventually lead LSU in sacks with 5.5. Anthony’s emerged as a leader for LSU both on and off the field,
Gaye, on the other hand, may have been the single most impactful player Orgeron and staff recruited to come back for one more season in Baton Rouge. Gaye oozes potential at the next level and more often than not LSU loses its draft-eligible players rather than keeping them for an extra year. Gaye burst onto the scene with great games in the season opener and finale, but the production plateaued in weeks two through nine.
Against Mississippi State Gaye announced his presence with two tackles for loss, a sack and knocked down three passes and against Ole Miss he had three tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. Gaye didn’t have a game as singularly dominant as those between games two through nine, but if he can have a great 2021 season from start to finish he could play himself into a top-50 pick at worst or even a first rounder in the 2022 draft.
Behind Anthony and Gaye is rising sophomore BJ Ojulari who showed he can be the kind of game-changing pass rusher LSU hasn’t had since Arden Key. Ojulari was used primarily as a pass rushing specialist and was second on the team in sacks with four. His coming out party was a three-sack effort against South Carolina but seemed to hit the freshman wall after the win over the Gamecocks.
Ojulari only had one tackle over LSU’s final four games, though he did recover a crucial Kyle Trask fumble which LSU used to kick a field goal before halftime. The biggest leap a player takes is between his first and second year, and if Andre Carter can fully unlock Ojulari’s potential, he may indeed live up to Coach O’s prediction of being a future All-American.
Behind LSU’s big three are reserves like Soni Fonua and Jarell Cherry who, while may not be future pros, have been with the program for a few seasons now and give the program veteran depth. There’s also early enrollee Landon Jackson a four-star out of Texas. Fellow early enrollee Zavier Carter is listed as a defensive end on LSU’s website but if he is indeed 195 pounds I’d assume his home will be at outside linebacker.
Along the interior is where LSU could have four or five guys battling for two starting spots. Glen Logan and Neil Farrell Jr. are back for what should be their final seasons in Baton Rouge, and while they’re veterans it’s going to be close to impossible to keep Jaquelin Roy off the field.
Roy was a bull of a defensive tackle last year, Pro Football Focused credited him with 17 quarterback hurries. That was more than Andre Anthony had and the same amount of as BJ Ojulari and Roy did that with significantly less playing time (267 snaps compared to 465 for Andre Anthony and 314 for BJ Ojulari). Nobody will ever be Glenn Dorsey, but Roy showed he can be special.
And speaking of special, incoming freshman Maason Smith is on campus and already looks the part
listed at 6’6” and 312 pounds. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect Smith as a day one starter, but there’s no chance the five-star from Houma is not on the field against UCLA early and often come September.
Spring ball will also be a chance for guys like Eric Taylor, Jacobian Guillory and Joseph Evans to show they belong in the rotation. Taylor didn’t see the field at all in 2020, while Guillory’s freshman campaign was weighed down by a nagging ankle injury. PFF has Guillory with only a single snap taken last year, which was in the Alabama game. If memory serves, Guillory was in on a goal line play on Alabama’s second drive of the game and his ankle got rolled.
Joseph Evans was a pleasant surprise defensively, registering 12 tackles and a sack. If you recall, Evans was moved to offensive line last offseason to try and provide some depth before switching back to defense, his natural position. Now with a full offseason devoted entirely to playing defensive tackle, Evans could give LSU five legitimate options on the interior.