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LSU 2023 DEFENSIVE PREVIEW: MATT HOUSE YEAR II

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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

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Let us take you on a journey through the names, accomplishments, and battles within each position of Matt House's younger yet potentially historic defense, holding just enough pinches of veteran leadership at each stage of the defense to take the unit to another level.
But will these new arrivals, both ultra talented freshmen & transfers, be ready to help replace the production and leadership that is now somewhat absent in the wake of Ojulari, Ward, Baskerville, Gaye and Roy's NFLSU Tiger departures?
Who is ready to accept the mantle and become one of the greats, among a hell bent for leather squad that could actually usurp last season's high quality defensive group???
LET'S GEAUX THRU THE DEFENSE....

The edge of new D-line Coach Jimmy Lindsey is replete with a few stone cold impact players in junior Saivion Jones (4.5 sacks last season), transfer arrival & likely starter Ovie Oghoufo, potential sophomore phenom Quency Wiggins appears due for a more expanded role after just 37 snaps as a freshman, backed by two exciting debutant edge men, Jaxon Howard and Dashawn Womack.

Howard has been flying on all cylinders and building his game since his January arrival on campus, grabbing a sack and a TFL during the Spring Game; on the other hand, Womack continues to fight off injury just in time for an exciting start to a high caliber career.

However, outside of those 5 names, Jones, Oghoufo, Wiggins, Howard and Womack, Jancek and Lindsay's jack LB and DE positions cannot shake off depth concerns. If one or two names listed above fail to live up to LSU standards or are forced away by injury, Lindsay and Jancek would be faced with a major dilemma going forward.

The interior is where LSU's defensive line should be at its most empirical, though once again, not without its own concerns. While the edge has depth worries, health will decide whether the Tigers' most dominant defensive position can be properly unleashed:


All-American level DL Maason Smith and Mekhi Wingo will be back to full health in time for fall camp, big news for Tigers fans hoping to finally witness this tandem together on field.

One of the rare athletic freaks of his time, Maason Smith returns from an ACL tear during the opening drive of week 1, looking to deliver on the promise of his freshman season. Smith shoulders hefty expectations heading into 2023, widely believed to be one of the best overall SEC defenders;

Meanwhile, Wingo, a valuable, consistent, totally wicked 3rd team All-American nears the end of his recovery timetable following an offseason labrum surgery.

Wingo played just under 900 snaps for the Tigers' defense last year, batting down Bryce Young passes, recovering 4th quarter fumbles at the goal line, sacking quarterbacks, pressuring ball carriers into poor angles, stuffing the run at will.....Wingo was the glue that held LSU's 2022 DL together.


Another DT currently recovering from injury is West Virginia transfer Jordan Jefferson, also working his way back before fall camp, too; fourth year Tiger Jacobian Guillory possesses plenty of promise and potential, performing remarkably well in his starts against Purdue & Mississippi State.

The linebacker position remained strong, with the SEC's #1 defensive machine Harold Perkins now joined by high value senior transfer Omar Speights; plus, the Tigers were able to fight off a near transfer from Greg Penn III, crucially keeping the team's 2nd leading tackler on roster (78 total tackles a season ago).

That starting two (Perkins + Speights) or power trio (Perkins + Speights + Penn) have no excuses if they don't become a Grade A level lineup;

From these three, Defensive Coordinator and LBs Coach Matt House can now field the right complimentary concoction. The speed of Perkins & Speights makes up for Penn's lack of juice, while Penn owns the brickhouse stopping power strength neither Perkins nor Speights possess.


But I feel many excited LSU fans or analysts are overlooking the lack of depth at linebacker.

After Perkins, Speights and Penn III, who really catches your eye and tells you they could play serious minutes this season?

Sophomore West Weeks, a player who's tenacity and nose for the ball can often times be equalized by a propensity for missed tackles or a lack of pace?

His brother, freshman Whit Weeks, who caught a pick six off fellow debutant QB Rickie Collins during this past April's Spring Game?

Another 2023 first year Tiger Christian Braithwaite is an intriguing piece to the linebacker puzzle; preferred walk-on transfer Seth Scott, who only days ago told LSUOdyssey.com he still "hasn't made it to campus yet".

You could throw names out, but none of these Tigers have ever proven anything on a collegiate field, as talented or as athletically gifted as they are....in fact, most of the candidates haven't been given the opportunity, such is their youth & inexperience.

However, LSU's front seven aren't where the biggest worries reside for this younger defense under second year coordinator Matt House: their defensive secondary is where we're focusing our attention:

Despite two fantastic coaches who constantly elevated their rooms last season, both CBs Coach Robert Steeples and Safeties Coach Kerry Cooks will have their hands full for a second straight season.


Health permitting, 2023 DBU has a solid base at safety in Tigers Major Burns and Greg Brooks Jr, a pair of Louisiana natives who arrived on campus via the portal in 2021 and 2022 respectively, abandoning both Georgia and Arkansas to represent the purple and gold.


Due to Burns' injury woes and Brooks' at times hot or cold play throughout 2022, we wonder about the depth at safety; graduate senior Andre Sam's transfer to the team was a solid pickup to back both Burns or Brooks, but the more big picture answer regarding depth at safety is one shrouded in intrigue:

Across both safety and CB rooms, LSU have more than a few Tigers capable of playing either position, including nickel, too....meaning it can be tough to discern which player is a firm candidate at any given spot.

Talented, multi-faceted young DBs such as Sage Ryan, Jordan Allen, Javien Toviano, Ryan Yaites and Ryan Robinson Jr have proven through spring that they can pull double or even triple duty if necessary.

On the outside at corner, replacing NFL-bound seniors Mekhi Garner and Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Robert Steeples put his faith in the transfer portal for a second straight season, bringing in former 5 star portal signing Denver Harris, local Zy Alexander, Syracuse Orangeman Duce Chestnutt, and one of his former high school players at De Smet, Ohio State defector JK Johnson....all of whom show flaws to their game, yet a whole lot of promise, ball skills, and pedigree, as well.

Harris is the headliner of the group, the big name target of LSU's prior coaching regime. Back then, the 5 star LSU legacy spurned Coach O and Corey Raymond for Texas A&M, where he spent a wild opening year.

Of course you've heard all about the off the field rumors and alleged locker room smoke out, but at the same time, amid a high profile turbulent year, Harris still stood out as the second highest graded A&M defender in 2022, posting a 71.9 overall defensive grade from just 211 snaps (14 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 FF, 1 QB hurry, 4 catches and 1 TD allowed from 11 targets for 28 total yards).

Yes, he did give up some big plays at certain moments during LSU's Spring Game, but it's hard to discount Harris as a future starter and lockdown DBU representative...if Steeples believes he's the guy.

A big surprise from the Spring Game turned out to be the heightened focus and brilliance of second year CB Laterrance "LT" Welch, refusing to allow a catch when targeted on 6 occasions by both Daniels or Nussmeier.

Locking down former state track champion WR Chris Hilton Jr stride for stride on deep routes, breaking up or forcing incompletions down field as well as over the middle of his own end zone, Welch sent a message in April....will he continue his progress into the meat of the season??

An offseason vs our receiving corps should profoundly sharpen up DBU 2023 for the long, tough SEC gauntlet ahead, one would think.


This is also where the priceless value of Steeples and Cooks' coaching will come into play; both stood out as proven sideline gems last season, often successfully adjusting after early TDs or big plays.

Both Cooks and Steeples were able to creatively plug and place holes along their secondary as well, such as when CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse moved to safety successfully, or safety Jay Ward switched to nickel, resulting in his best run of form last season.

Although their rooms mostly consist of transfers or freshmen for a 2nd straight season, Steeples and Cooks will get to know every tendency of their players while putting them in the best position to succeed.

Which leads right into a discussion of what LSU's offense could look like side by side and in reaction to their young defense.


by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

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I really like this group. Health is certainly always a key, but I am counting on the great player development process that exists with Coach Kelly and this staff.

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