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Insider

Five things to know: D-line

5/30/2012

With the dog days of summer hitting Baton Rouge, here are the five things to know about perhaps the hottest position in LSU's program, the defensive line.

1. The talent well runs deep: When the St. Louis Rams moved to shore up its run defense by picking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers with the 14th overall pick in the NFL draft, it was further evidence of what anybody who has paid attention already knew: few schools produce NFL-quality defensive linemen like LSU.

Brockers' selection marked the ninth straight year an LSU defensive lineman was picked in the draft, including four in the first round. The Tigers' line streak figures to continue in the 2013 draft with defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery both in the top five on Mel Kiper's big board. It's a remarkable run considering how difficult it is for most programs to find dominant defensive linemen.

It's no wonder defensive line coach Brick Haley was named defensive line coach of the year by FootballScoop.com for 2011.

Playing with an edge: In recent years, star LSU linemen have generally been disruptive tackles like Brockers, Glenn Dorsey and Drake Nevis. But this year, the focus shifts to defensive end where Mingo and Montgomery will threaten to frustrate quarterbacks as dominant pass rushers off the edge.

Montgomery led LSU with nine quarterback sacks, one ahead of Mingo, who only started four games and was often used as a pass rushing specialist behind departed senior Kendrick Adams.

As an every-down pair, their ability to rush the passer is scary. Coming off an All-American season, Montgomery is known for his relentless pursuit. For Mingo, it's about pure speed. While, at 240 pounds, he may be a tad small for the position, Mingo ran a 21.85 in the 200 meters in high school, a time most wide receivers would be happy to turn in.

3. Get your Freak on?: Nothing speaks to the quality LSU has produced more than seeing who is most likely going to replace Brockers. How many programs have the luxury of replacing a No. 14 overall NFL draft pick with a player once rated the best at his position in the country in high school?

That's exactly what LSU might do this Fall.

Sophomore Anthony "Freak" Johnson is the likely -- though far from guaranteed -- choice to move into Brockers' old spot next to returning starting defensive tackle Bennie Logan. If he starts, he'll have big shoes to fill, but he has the resume to make one think he has a chance to pull it off.

Coming out of New Orleans/Carver High in 2011, Johnson was the nation's top-ranked prep defensive tackle and No. 2 player overall behind South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. As a true freshman playing limited snaps, he managed 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. With his snaps going up and so much attention on the talented ends, Johnson could put up huge numbers.

4. A numbers game: Defensive coordinator John Chavis loves to keep fresh players on the field, especially at defensive line where he'll play several over the course of the game. It's a practice that allowed Mingo to become a productive star even before he became a starter.

LSU looks to have that kind of depth again, especially at tackle. Johnson is no shoe-in to take Brockers' defensive tackle spot, not with solid senior Josh Downs and sophomore Ego Ferguson both in the mix. Downs has played in 34 career games and Ferguson, like Johnson, was productive off the bench as a freshman.

At defensive end, veterans Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere will give LSU depth whether or not young up-and-comers like Jermaria Rasco are ready to contribute.

5. What's next: For all the success LSU has had with defensive linemen in recent years, it hasn't had to import many. Montgomery, from South Carolina, is an exception. Tyson Jackson, Dorsey, Marcus Spears and Mingo are from Louisiana and Brockers is from Houston, which is just a four-hour drive from Baton Rouge.

So it's no surprise that one of Louisiana's top in-state targets is a defensive lineman. Baton Rouge/University defensive end Tim Williams is a member of the ESPN 150, the state's second-ranked player, and a player LSU will go after with gusto.

LSU already has commitments from Louisiana defensive linemen Tevin Lawson (Denham Springs/Denham Springs HS) and Michael Patterson (Winnfield/Winnfield HS).

With LSU's recent history, it should be no surprise to find LSU also in the mix for the nation's top player, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville Ga./Grayson HS. LSU's also recruiting ESPN 150 defensive tackle Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball).