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Spring preview: Defensive line

2/29/2012

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Whether they're highly touted or unheralded, LSU finds a way to churn out elite defensive linemen.

Former LSU great Glenn Dorsey was a five-star recruit out of high school, and fit the billing by becoming an All-American and a top-10 draft pick.

Recently departed sophomore Michael Brockers took a less-heralded path and made the switch from defensive end to defensive tackle. He wasn't a well-known name among Tigers fans entering 2011, but Brockers blew up for LSU last season and will likely parlay that success into a first round draft selection.

With that in mind, there's no way to tell where LSU's next breakout defensive lineman is going to come from. Within the Tigers' deep rotation you can find both bluechip superstars and no-name workers.

The incumbents: Despite losing Brockers and senior defensive end Kendrick Adams off the SEC championship defense, LSU returns an unusual amount of talent along the defensive front this spring.

Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are undoubtedly the names everyone will have an eye on. The pair led the Tigers in sacks, as Montgomery notched nine with Mingo totaling eight. Better yet, they managed those numbers despite missing a good chunk of playing time. Montgomery missed three of 14 starts, while Mingo only managed four starts. Mongo mostly saw time as a situational rusher.

The interior is a little less star-studded having lost Brockers. But his partner at defensive tackle, Bennie Logan, returns after starting 13 of 14 games and recording 57 tackles.

The Tigers' pass rush was often able to overwhelm its opposition last fall by having fresh bodies, and that looks to be the case again this year. LSU returns quality veterans in Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere. Edwards saw time in 13 games last year, starting one at defensive end, while Aghayere has worked his way into 31 games during his career.

And that depth doesn't include the Tigers' rising youngsters.

New faces: None of these names are actually new to LSU fans. Some of the Tigers' most high-profile recruits in recent seasons have come along the defensive line, and several of these names saw limited action last season.

But with a new year comes a new chance for playing time, and these players will be expected to live up to their potential.

Anthony Johnson comes to mind first. Nicknamed "Freak," Johnson was considered the top defensive tackle and one of the top prospects in the class of 2011. Johnson appeared in all 13 games in 2011, but never started. With Brockers leaving a massive gap along the line, fans will expect the super recruit to step up.

If not Johnson, another name floated by LSU coach Les Miles and Brockers is Ego Ferguson. Ferguson was another regular in the rotation last fall and tallied 13 tackles. With the tandem of Brockers and Logan breaking up and making room for new players, Ferguson will certainly have a chance to earn the starting nod.

Another name that could be in the mix for playing time is Mickey Johnson. LSU fans have yet to see Johnson in action, but he was an ESPNU150 defensive tackle in 2011 alongside "Freak." Mickey Johnson didn't see the field last fall, but should factor into the rotation this spring.

There's still more bluechip talent waiting in the wings on the ends. Completing the trifecta of elite defensive line prospects in LSU's 2011 class is Jermauria Rasco.

Playing on the outside, Rascoe doesn't have the same benefit of losing a starter to the NFL. To really make an impression, he would have to beat out the trio of Edwards, Mingo and Montgomery for starting time.

Fortunately, the Tigers' coaching staff has been all about consistently rotating the defensive front. Rasco handled himself well in that role last fall. He appeared in nine games and made 17 tackles including two sacks.

As one of the elite defensive end recruits in his class, Tiger fans undoubtedly have higher hopes for Rasco. If he wants to meet those hopes this year, he must have quite a spring.