- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: With LSU’s spring practice now in the rearview mirror, this week we’ll empty our notebook from the spring and cover a few topics that we weren’t able to hit prior to the Tigers’ spring game. On Tuesday, we focus on a junior pass rusher with star potential.
BATON ROUGE, La. – Danielle Hunter had a fine first season as a starter, but he had a problem. Mentally, the then-sophomore couldn’t get out of his own way.
“I was thinking too much,” Hunter said. “I know you could watch games and you could see me just, like, I’d stutter myself out of sacks and all that. I was thinking too much last year. I need to just let go and just play.”
There were bright spots along the road. He was the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week after recording seven tackles and batting down two passes in the Tigers’ 17-6 win over Florida. And he recorded a career-high eight tackles against Auburn -- the first of 10 consecutive starts he would make to close the season.
But Hunter finished the season with just three sacks (tied for second on the team), eight tackles for a loss (second) and five quarterback hurries (second). The Tigers’ total of 27 sacks was the program’s fewest since 2009.
That’s why he identified improving as a pass rusher as one of his top goals during spring practice.
“All of us, we’ve got to do better than last year because last year we didn’t do as well as we thought we were going to do,” Hunter said.
If Hunter’s spring was any indication, expect rapid improvement this fall. For one thing, Hunter is no longer out-thinking himself.
“Coach Brick [Haley] has been telling me I’m starting to do that,” he said. “The young guys are starting to do that.”
Hunter recorded sacks on back-to-back plays in a standout effort during the Tigers’ spring game and was credited with two more quarterback hurries.
He made sure to share the credit with defensive tackle Quentin Thomas afterward for occupying blockers, but it was Hunter who blew past the offensive tackle to record the two sacks.
And as his confidence continues to build -- and as he learns to “just let go and play,” as he put it -- the 6-foot-6 junior might emerge as one of the SEC’s better pass rushers in 2014.
“I think he’s a very talented guy,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think he has range and speed and I think the more snaps he gets, the more significant he’ll be and the more impact that he’ll give us in the fall. I think he’ll start fast and I think he’ll finish fast.”