Updated: Jul 26
BY LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Allow us to forget everything going on right now in the world...just close your eyes....think back to the smell of freshly cut lawns, the hum of commentators rambling in the background, the visuals of fans going nuts in the stands, your wild uncle running naked through the parking lot, players celebrating, steaks sizzling, beer swigging....laughter, friendly competitive banter...community...
No matter what's going on, it's still Football Season....and even though times have changed, football is returning this Friday for The LSU Tigers, their first real practice since March....and we should all be excited....there's hope, there's a chance...we just might pull this off, Kirk Herbstreit.
All we are saying...is give football a chance...
Despite the fact this season may still be postponed, cancelled, or remain unfinished if cooler masked heads don't prevail, we believe none of the above occurrences will happen:
Football is going down in 2020...not because everyone's mortified of giving LSU another year as incendiary national champions, this season will happen because the players' desire to play will outweigh the fear, the safety concerns and the politics...maybe there won't be football in California or New York, but as far as LSU's schedule goes (with TBD considerations regarding the games vs Rice and Texas) all indications are full speed ahead...and with virus numbers expected to lessen due to the widespread acceptance of mask-wearing (FINALLY), there is a light that'll never geaux out on this 2020 season.
Our will to fight for the very sport we love may make it all the more breathtaking and unbelievable when the season ends in January (or February) with a champion and a loser...just like the year before and the year before that....all against the new abnormal we can't wait to end, but one we can survive and even learn from.
So what has us most intrigued about our 2020 Tigers heading into the first practice?
One aspect: 2020 Pelini D.
While we felt and still feel the 2020 Tigers' defense are unstoppable, unbreakable, stacked and loaded to a molten brim, the loss of Marcel Brooks (transferring to TCU) is a critical factor at this juncture....
Thanks to Pelini's hiring, the returning cast of Jacoby Stevens, Tyler Shelvin and Kary Vincent Jr, the transfer grab of play-making linebacker Jabril Cox and the boundless ceiling of colossus Damone Clark, Marcel's infinite swagger, ruthless talents and maniacal personality had the perfect stage for an all time LSU career...but it was not to be.
Before the unthinkable departure of #9 this summer, LSU's defense were all guns blazing, machetes sharpened ready to cut down anything in their path....this looked, felt and acted like straight up Kodiak work-boot to the throat, hell bent for leather, kick in the crotch savagery untold from any previous LSU defense: and the hype was real.
Then in June and much of July, that trending fire took a hit due to the player quarantines, the country's socio-political division and the virus's nasty toll itself...then, in the midst of postponed workouts and practices, Marcel Brooks transferred.
Brooks was an electric kickstarter for the Heartbeat of Pelini D, but it appears the bad guy from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has arrived to rip our beating hearts out of our chest in front of a raving, chanting, Quualude-deranged assemblage of frothing Bama fans, holding it in front of our very eyes...although now that we've seen the madness, the flames of the fire, the sadness, the acceptance, we now look at the roster Orgeron's staff have assembled and still feel extreme hope and excitement for this 2020 unit.
We have more than enough candidates and talent to replace Marcel Brooks' freebird energy, and although he only had 1.5 sacks, Marcel was a proven pass rusher, constantly penetrating the backfield and pressuring quarterbacks or registering knockout hits.
If he was a secret pass-rushing weapon on cheetah packages throughout sequences of 2019, Brooks was supposed to be the home-run king off the edge in 2020, coming in on disguised blitzes from linebacker as a true "ride the lightning" backfield destroyer.
In his absence, it's this pass rush which has many LSU analysts and fans worried:
Many in-the-know LSU fans and commentators have made arguments that while they remain excited about this 2020 defense, they claim they're worried and deeply concerned about the pass rush due to Orgeron relying on the strength of freshmen such as B.J Ojulari, or a converted sophomore tight end (T.K McLendon) or two long-time Tigers who've never quite made the on-field mark they would've hoped for (Justin Thomas, Andre Anthony)
I have to say.....we shouldn't be horrifically worried about our 2020 pass rush...
Yes, our roster of edge rushers and defensive ends consists mostly of young, agile freshmen or unproven upperclassmen...but strength, athleticism and especially speed will always supersede anything on the edge, even against the best offensive tackles, experience doesn't trump all when attacking a left / right tackle:
Athleticism and football IQ make the grade on the edge...you have to know when to turn the tackle's hips too far to the outside and smash down inside and clock him off balance on your way to the quarterback...you have to know when to confront the tackle, when to lead him away and make him chase, when to bully him, when to fake him out and cheat inside on a guard already dueling with a DT...even the least-athletically gifted defensive ends can master the deceptive movements of one's own body.
But where does true experience count most on the D-Line?
The innards of a defensive line...a land laden with evil mists and pools of abysmal ether where the rules go out the window, a place where any body part is up for a good thrashing...a battleground featuring turf warfare of the highest order...
The trenches are where the most intensive, decisive and physically brutal battles occur...and in the supreme greatness of Tyler Shelvin, his veteran sidekicks of NFL-ready danger Neil Farrell Jr, Glen"The Joker" Logan and heavily played sophomore Siaki Ika (reppin SLC), there are plenty of veteran wrecking balls to attack the two guards and center with brute, magna carta force, using our leviathans at those spots to not only consume gaps for LSU's younger supernauts to fly through and penetrate: We need those two starting DTs to pick up at least 9 combined sacks this year for LSU to repeat as National Champions.
These championship veterans are diesels our young D-linemen must gravitate towards and learn from....if they can show camaraderie and a joy in playing together, our defensive line could transform from a place of concern into a nexus of obliterating strength.
Due to this mix of elder badass leadership and swaggering, assured youth, Pelini, Orgeron and D-Line chief Bill "The Man Who Created Aaron Donald and Nearly Killed Brett Favre In 2009" Johnson have far more tools and wild cards up their sleeves with this crew, especially when two Tiger Legends Benny Logan and Grad Assistant / 2018 LSU #18 Christian LaCoutoure get a hold of the D-line meetings this next week:
As an analyst, Logan's genius won't be too available for the players (per NCAA rules), however LaCoutoure has already become just as much of a warrior on the sidelines as he was on the field...and when those Tiger voices speak, they won't demand respect, their very existence commands that determined audience...they won't demand perfection, but they will expect accountability...
While we know the receivers have met up with Myles Brennan throughout the downtime from Covid, throwing the football during unofficial workouts around many Baton Rouge parks on their own (like another determined team I know...hmm...), we have no idea if the defensive line have organized their own workouts together or what they could necessarily be permitted to work on, or if any of those activities could even be considered anywhere close to safe, lest they be done as an individual or in a small, spread out group...but here comes Friday and Tommy Moffitt has already been working em hard to get our guys in the best shape of the entire SEC (Chase and Stingley posting tweets about Moffitt's intense workouts).
All of these workouts and practices taken with no grain of salt...these are our games right now...and that's how LSU were handling their business for the past two years under Orgeron, anyway...but the intense premise remains more present than ever:
Coming into the season, like many teams due to the virus, we may see a lack of cohesion and chemistry along the trenches, LB corps and secondary as the new pieces to the puzzle find their place (new opposite corner, new free safety, three new linebackers, one new edge sack guru).
But the defensive line has some help to gather confidence and steam geauxing into the Texas contest.....namely: that sick secondary.
As we covered in our DBU 2020 article, Corey Raymond's group may very well be the only secondary who can claim such a bevy of multi-talented personnel, maintaining a ritual of habitual power and prowess....and when looking to assist our younger edge rushers and interior bulldozers with a few extra seconds in coverage, finding chemistry shouldn't be a problem.
Now the question isn't how hard will they play, we know the LSU Standard of Performance, the question will be WHO will play...and I've got a good blueprint for a variety of looks:
Our base starting look would see the 300+ lb crushing machines of Ika and Shelvin as DTs, flanked by B.J Ojulari and either Justin Thomas.
Shelvin and Ika up the gut will be the best DT tandem in the country, and we say that knowing freshmen Jaquelin Roy (an all-encompassing Titan of Lightnin who we WILL see become a Tiger Legend soon enough) or Jacobian Guillory's brutal, big tankin' astronomy lie wait on the depth chart.
We feel both Guillory or Roy are bound for glory at LSU, not only looking but acting like a future Bash Bros tandem...we cannot wait to watch these two in action. I really can picture freshmen Jaquelin Roy deflecting a Bryce Young pass for Eli Ricks to pick off or Guillory ripping the ball out of Najee Harris's iron-clad hands late against Bama...
Could one of the two take a job on the inside as a sure-starter?
Ika and Shelvin look poised and primed, however I would definitely anticipate Pelini and Bill Johnson to experiment and rotate the personnel on the inside and outside, mixing it up and seeing who combines well alongside each other, even having guys switch roles and responsibilities.
Aside from the two high octane freshmen Guillory and Roy, or the most likely starting DTs (Ika and Shelvin), there's also a tidal wave of returning champions who found themselves adrift within Aranda's 3-4 formation...but now under Bo Pelini's 4-3, opportunities for Neil Farrell Jr and Glen "The Joker" Logan arise.
Due to his natural 3 tech abilities, Farrell wasn't as heralded as he should've been throughout 2019 due to the 3-4 requiring so much of his bruising, unsung work on the inside; but his statistics confirm the ripped-to-the-tits performances he pulled off against top caliber competition (3 sacks, 7 TFL).
Glen "The Joker" Logan has been disrespected this off-season...big time....
Some have said his 2019 season was a lost year, adrift due to injuries and lackadaisical play, although when one actually reviews the tape of every Top 10 match-up Logan appeared in, #97 stood as a disruptor of the highest order, registering cold blooded hits on Jalen Hurts, Sam Ehlinger, Trevor Lawrence, Jake Fromm among others and maintaining a consistent, dogged pressure...all as he dealt with injuries and frustrations concerning playing time.
Those two megalodons will be extremely valuable every second they're on the field...
Neil Farrell Jr and Glen Logan are each highly experienced, NFL-equipped and mobile enough to excel in Pelini's multiple-look defense. There also exists the overwhelming fact that either Farrell or Logan could easily take over a starting DT role alongside Shelvin...making this unit extremely flexible, durable (as Logan proved last year) and ready for more action than a John McTiernan marathon.
Different line combinations are always about matching sizes or mismatching leverages etc, so when we see those numerous options coming off the edge, who do we expect the most production from, who is slipping and which tandem could be the best available?
When analyzing our 2020 edge rushers (hybrid LB / DE) or just plain, straight up old DEs, we see a vast amount of attributes which recall some of the greatest pass-rushers in LSU history, all in the same class...there's so much potential...but we need to see execution for these celestial qualities to shine:
Capable of playing great football at a few different positions from LB to DE, B.J Ojulari possesses visceral strength, phenomenal ingenuity, second to none instincts and a venomous hit which all hold a middle finger to cries about "his age". Ojulari's swim move is impossible to defend, his slowly building to suddenly explosive bull rush and change of pace maneuvers are devastating off the edge or between the tackle and guard equally.
We've heard it from Coach Orgeron, "He may be our best pass-rusher right now," he told Jordy and T-Bob on Off The Bench, his voice shaking with intensity.
When Orgeron isn't high on a player, his usual reaction is more understated but never lacking enthusiasm, as if he knows his own subtle nudge will ignite the out of favor Tiger...he becomes wary of hyperbole or putting too much of a burden on their shoulders.....but when talking about the Marietta freshman defensive end, Coach O only seemed to increase his belief to a stunning degree.
Ojulari could be a three year starting All-American at LSU....and that's understating the potential ceiling still...
Another freshman edge rusher is the towering omnipotence of Phillip Webb, a hybrid LB/DE also hailing from Georgia and another capable contributor off the edge....although we feel Webb would be better utilized as a SAM linebacker to replace Marcel Brooks' nasty energy, searing pace and merciless pass-rushing threat from LB.
We can foresee Andre Anthony moving to SAM linebacker in lieu of Webb, especially if Orgeron, Bill and Bo feel more comfortable with Webb's extra inch at the line of scrimmage over Anthony's more stocky physique (Andre is only an inch shorter than Webb's 6'4, although when watching the two jump, there is no contest as to which player could affect passing at the line of scrimmage more: Webb wins).
Regardless, Andre is mentioned over and over again by Coach Orgeron, our Coach obviously excited about the prospects of Anthony's evolution within the 4-3; once again Anthony's best attributes lie in his burst off the line and the robust way in which he throws his weight around to create havoc...and as a marginally-use OLB constantly tasked with smashing the tackle back inside and creating lanes for Stevens & Queen in a 3-4, these contributions seldom grabbed headlines, but they did effect and redirect the opposition protection scheme, allowing others to flood the backfield around him and win a damn National Championship...
Now, eschewing lateral leverage diversions and other subtleties in favor of straight ahead rushing, wherever he plays, Anthony could very well unleash a medieval damnation upon the SEC: much like 2018 versions of Tyler Shelvin or Patrick Queen, Andre has the skills and the mentality to jettison himself from "roster outsider" to maximum NFL Draft stock....don't bet against him...we aren't.
Perfect segue: Will Mr. Justin Thomas, who missed the final half of the 2019 season (last playing vs Florida) perform in the same fashion as Orgeron expects, too?
We share Orgeron's excitement to have Thomas back with the team, however his impact may come on later in the season when it matters most, sneaking up on all the know-it-all commentators and analysts.
Truth is, it will take many reps over those first few games to get back what Thomas lost in football shape, yet we feel confident Justin will become a high octane member of Johnson's group.
Do You think missing the title game affected Justin?
Do You think he may be more motivated than any other 2020 DE because of his absence last year (due to "personal reasons")???
Thomas is athletically elite and his rangy inferno would make him a starter at most top schools; he sports a strong physique and an unbreakable will to get to the quarterback....and still he may find himself shit outta luck due to the talent he must contend with for snaps.
Strong side Defensive End Ali Gaye also offers versatility and phantom physical features. Standing at 6'6 and 260, the Gambian international could pose terrifying questions for any opponent to deal with, coming off the bench fresh after the DEs or DTs have beaten em up inside, capable of replacing at either position.
Simply due to the infinite structure of his body, Gaye should be positioned in a variety of places in a multitude of packages and formations, from 0 nose looks (utilizing his sky-scraping height to affect the pass and his hemispheric mass to draw the attention of double teams).
DT or DE, Gaye can be deployed anywhere along the line and should contribute mightily as a perfect illustration of our under-appreciated depth.
Then there's T.K McLendon, a converted tight end who caught a single pass from Myles Brennan last season, though his talents have always been widely known throughout the Tigers community...the question always was: TE...or DE?
During the three Spring practices, he confirmed what Orgeron and McLendon himself thought all along: T.K is now a solidified defensive end...and Coach O is excited as all hell about T.K's newfound identity.
McLendon could actually prove to be extremely lethal at defensive end, knowing the weaknesses and tendencies of tight ends in pass protection, run blocking, when to bail out of the pass rush and reach up to get a hand on a pass to the wide open tight end in the flat...McLendon's knowledge of the 2019 LSU offense's complex movements and NFL schemes could give him a leg-up on some of the other Tiger DEs.
His high football IQ outweighs any doubts as to his upcoming defensive production...and to be honest, in the back of my mind I've always pictured him as a starting DE opposite Ojulari on the first snap vs University of Texas-San Antonio....could that be a prophecy from the Tiger Gawds or a mirage?
McLendon's execution will tell the tale...whether he explodes this year or not, he has an extremely intriguing trajectory over the next few years of his eligibility and I believe he'll become an Ass Whippin Kiffin Stitchin force of optimum neutralization along the LSU defensive line.
Overall, while I'm satisfied, optimistic... thinking great thoughts about this defensive line, it feels and smells as if the college football world just collectively farted in the back of a tent and zip-locked me inside for some "inhalation innoculation"...enclosing me in my inescapable surrender...
Should their be concern over our defensive line?
As defending G.O.A.T National Champions who embarrassed, humiliated and desecrated every collegiate powerhouse, drinking the blue blood straight outta their very veins like grim reaper-vampires out for a Quentin Tarantino picnic, we should be worried about every position on the depth chart anyway...we have big targets on our back, and we must feel extremely cautious about how we approach the next months before the season....how our players mentally handle this season will prove the decider, especially when talking about a unit which only totaled 11.5 sacks last year and returns only 6, no returner amassing more than 3.0 (Neil Farrell leading the way).
I know many will say "well it's the 3-4 scheme which cost them sacks": I get it, that's partly true. Though it still doesn't justify such criminally abominable numbers.
To give you a hint of how surprisingly under par that is from a title-winning Tigers' D-line, our 2019 backup linebacker Damone Clark had 3.5 himself, more than any LSU D-linemen last year.
Despite the glittering names, eye-popping highlights, frenetic pace and bountiful depth, many still feel this LSU line is missing a key element in the pass rush, all because there's no clearly defined "sack master"...but I say this:
Whatever may be missing from our line right now will be rectified by the time we play Texas...and it may take until the Florida game to get the starting personnel balanced and settled due to such an overwhelming amount of competition for spots...although Orgeron won't let these guys rest on any successes or failures:
In fact, at the outset of this campaign, he may be more committed to specifically coaching up the D line than he ever has been since he became head coach...and there's over a month of live reps in which Bill Johnson can get this thing right before the real meat of 2020 begins.
There's 6 highly winnable games for us to play before the much anticipated rematch vs the Gators at the Swamp, and in those 6 contests there's enough competition vs John Rhys Plumlee and Lane Kiffin's Ole Miss to get a feel for how our line will hold up vs the SEC West's most innovative offenses; against Duvernay, Ehlinger and Herman's Longhorns, there's enough high profile snaps and big-game atmosphere to test how well our new guys can adapt, how much our veterans will lead and how we might approach the biggest opponents in the future; and against Rice, UTSA and Nicholls State, there's more than ample opportunity for experimentation and invention.
My last argument for why Tiger fans should be thrilled for this 2020 defensive line?
TYLER SHELVIN...the most important player on the defensive line and one of the most valuable, priceless forces of nature on the entire team.
Big Tyler just celebrated his birthday a few days ago ("Happy Birthday Big Sandwich") on July 22nd, the junior turning 22 and my my my has he grown into such a fantastic young man, becoming the anchor for his family and the LSU defense.
And a big, animated anchor he is, capable of destroying the game-plan of any running offense, destroying and disrupting the pocket for quarterbacks repeatedly (37x total as a nose tackle), he'll force quarterbacks to give up on plays (forcing 6 direct incomplete passes from his individual pressures), his mass and girth can greatly affect the passing game up front (deflected 2 additional passes), and the amount of double teams Shelvin draws opens up another extra layer of pain for every opponent we face (drew 9 double teams which directly led to sacks on a quarterback)...this was all produced at nose tackle.
Now, in a world where Shelvin plays as a straight up B gap attacking 3 technique DT, able to truly attack the quarterback himself, the true breadth (width and girth) of his influence will finally be quantified during his purple reign in the trenches this season...count on it...the National Champion, soon-to-be All-American is ready for the biggest stages possible once again.
What does it say about a football program who's "defensive weakness" maintains some of the best all-around defensive talents in college football, all ready to start in any of the four available positions?
It speaks to depth, an unimpeachable national brand, an intoxicating blend of youthful intensity and veteran warriorhood...all carved in the image of Coach O.
This D-Line will assume his personality: they will play with fearless gusto, unceasing grit and ruthless dominion...
Overall, LSU's 2020 defensive line progress (and overall team success) comes down to time...patience...execution....
....and that journey begins again on Friday July 24th, 2020...after much delay, bluster and political idiocy, let's just say "Football is Back in Tigerland" and wave that flag...geaux ahead...just do it...football season may be affected, but its spirit is alive and well in the togetherness and brotherhood our Tigers have displayed throughout this entire ordeal.
Hollllllld that Tiger!
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
COPYRIGHT 2020 UNINTERRUPTED WRITINGS INC LLC
SHOUTOUTS TO: RASHAD DAVIS SR & RAESJON DAVIS, PRINCE KOLLIE, TERIAN WILLIAMS II, BRIAN THOMAS, WRs COACH MICKEY JOSEPH, ASSISTANT TO ORGERON COACH DEREK PONAMSKY AND ALL TIGER FANS EVERYWHERE!