LSU Tigers: Barkevious Mingo

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The idea for this week's “Position U” series actually came about during spring football practice at LSU -- which I assume some of you know was my first covering the Tigers.

During post-practice interviews with Tigers players, it was common to hear defensive backs refer to LSU as “DBU” (short for “Defensive Back University) when discussing the team's proud decision in the secondary. After hearing that over and over for a while, I started thinking about how to ascertain whether that was actually the case.

[+] EnlargeTyson Jackson
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsSuccessful defensive linemen such as Tyson Jackson made LSU 'DLU' in the 'Position U' rankings.
Is LSU actually DBU? How would you even measure that? It seemed like a fun game to play during the summer when we don't have any football to actually watch, so I came up with a formula, pitched it to the bosses and set out to determine which major programs (I tallied results for each member of the big five conferences for 2014, plus independents Notre Dame and BYU -- 66 schools in all) deserve to claim the title at each position for the 2000s.

So I gathered the results of every NFL draft, each of 20 college football's top individual awards, coaches' first-team all-conference selections and consensus All-America picks for each season since 2000-01 and came up with a point system to reward those accomplishments. The team with the most points won the “Position U” title for the 2000s.

It isn't a perfect system -- for instance Notre Dame deserves to rank toward the top of the list at tight end, but the Fighting Irish is penalized in this system by not playing in a conference and thus losing out on that category of points -- and I actually considered leaving the independents out of the equation. I decided, however, to include them and simply include that asterisk within the stories.

The system is also generous to programs such as Louisville that competed in smaller conferences and earned points against lesser competition before jumping into the bigger pond of major-conference football. But otherwise, I think keeping things simple and basing it on the criteria I selected is an effective way of gauging overall excellence.

So since this is an LSU blog, let's take a quick look at how the Tigers fared -- and there was plenty of excellence to gauge:

Quarterback: Tied for 16th place with 32 points. No. 1 overall NFL draft pick JaMarcus Russell is the headliner here as one of only two LSU first-team all-conference picks and as the only QB to go in the first three rounds. The Tigers had six QBs drafted overall.

Running back: Tied for 16th with 56 points. Eleven draft picks (including first-rounder Joseph Addai) and three first-team All-SEC picks (LaBrandon Toefield, Charles Scott, Stevan Ridley) were the highlights.

Wide receiver: Second with 124 points. I was well aware of LSU's numerous star wideouts through the years, but I have to admit being a bit surprised when I saw that the Tigers trailed only USC in the position rankings. That's impressive stuff -- and it's largely because of the 14 wideouts that the Tigers who have been drafted since 2001.

Tight end: Tied for 40th with 10 points. The Tigers have had only one all-conference pick (Robert Royal) and two draft picks at tight end (Royal and Keith Zinger) since the 2000-01 season.

Offensive line: Tied for 21st with 94 points. Although the Tigers have had nine all-conference picks and seven draft picks from the line since 2000-01, it has been a bit of a disappointment overall -- which is part of the reason why Jeff Grimes is now coaching the group. The Tigers have not had a first-round offensive lineman in this time period and only had one second-rounder.

Defensive line: First with 200 points. This was no surprise at all. Not with 21 draft picks (including first-rounders Glenn Dorsey, Marcus Spears, Tyson Jackson, Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo) and a bunch of awards, all-conference picks and three All-Americans (Dorsey, Spears and Chad Lavalais). Texas was close, but the Tigers earned the top spot.

Linebacker: Tied for 22nd with 60 points. I realize that LSU's defensive star power has been on the line and in the secondary, but I kind of expected LSU to fare a bit better here. But the Tigers had just seven all-conference linebackers and five draft picks -- only two of whom (Kevin Minter and Kelvin Sheppard) went in rounds 1-3.

Defensive back: Third with 218 points. Well, they aren't DBU after all, but the Tigers did fare extremely well. With six All-Americans and four national awards, LSU threatened Oklahoma for second on the list, but finished a ways behind champion Ohio State.

Kicker: Tied for 27th with 28 points. The Tigers did have a consensus All-America kicker (Josh Jasper in 2010), but had just two all-conference kickers and one punter. Seventh-round pick Donnie Jones became the only draftee at either position in 2004.

LSU spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the LSU Tigers:

1. QB race is on: If the spring game made anything clear, it’s that the quarterback race between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris was much closer than we might have anticipated prior to spring practice. Jennings followed a subpar performance in his first start -- LSU’s Outback Bowl win over Iowa -- with a disappointing effort in the spring game, where he threw two interceptions that linebackers returned for touchdowns. Meanwhile, Harris didn’t have a perfect performance, but he flashed a ton of potential and playmaking ability. Their competition will remain as the leading storyline of preseason camp.

2. Defense is on the upswing: LSU’s defense started slowly last fall -- a disappointing shift after ranking among the nation’s best over the previous few seasons -- but was back in fine form by the end of the season. It looks like John Chavis’ athletic bunch was heading back toward that style of physical, fast defense that LSU is known for. The starting defense surrendered just 179 yards, one touchdown and 3.9 yards per play in the spring game -- and that was without key players Jermauria Rasco, Ronald Martin and signees Jamal Adams and Clifton Garrett participating.

3. Not working with a full deck: Speaking of non-participants, it was a fairly ho-hum spring in Baton Rouge because of the number of absent players who will almost certainly play key roles in the fall. Only two of the 23 signees -- Harris and cornerback Ed Paris -- participated in spring drills, leaving LSU with barely more than 50 scholarship players taking part in the practices. Without players such as Adams, Garrett, tailback Leonard Fournette, receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn practicing, we simply haven’t seen what the 2014 Tigers will truly look like yet.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who fills spots at safety? Apparently converted cornerback Jalen Mills has found a home at safety. But if he holds onto one of the starting spots, who gets the nod at the second safety position? Martin seemed like the favorite during the spring, but he was not healthy for the entirety and Rickey Jefferson took over in his absence. Corey Thompson also sat out while recovering from injury. And then you have Adams and fellow signees Devin Voorhies and John Battle, who will join the team this summer. It’s clear LSU’s coaches plan to fully weigh their options in the secondary once preseason camp opens and all of the candidates are on hand.

2. Can young players handle business early? This will probably be the determining factor in whether LSU contends alongside division heavyweights Alabama and Auburn in 2014 or whether this will be a transitional season ahead of potential title-contending teams in 2015 and 2016. It’s a lot to ask of freshmen to step into the SEC and perform competently right away, but LSU will almost certainly do that with several members of its star-studded signing class. There aren’t a ton of holes in LSU’s roster, but it needs the youngsters to fill a couple of them -- namely at receiver, tailback, defensive tackle and quarterback -- by playing with composure right out of the gate.

3. Who supplies the pass rush? One of the disappointing issues on defense last fall was LSU’s lack of a consistent pass rush. The Tigers finished the season with just 27 sacks in 13 games, which might have seemed like an even bigger drop-off since players like Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo had been such dominant pass rushers in the recent past. LSU operated without one of its top edge rushers (Rasco, who led the team with four sacks last season) during the spring, although Danielle Hunter notched a couple of sacks in the spring game. Hunter seems like the odds-on favorite to become LSU’s next great pass rusher, but he’ll need some help from a largely unproven group of linemen.

One way-too-early prediction:

Honestly it’s difficult to tell whether this is actually going out on a limb, but we believe Harris will become the Tigers’ starting quarterback by midseason if not sooner. Coaches Les Miles and Cam Cameron both said the quarterback competition will carry over into preseason practice, but Harris certainly made his case in the spring game. Although everyone insisted that Jennings performed better during other spring practices than he had in the lone scrimmage that was open for public viewing, he simply didn’t spark the offense the way that Harris did that day. Harris certainly struggled at points and made plenty of bad decisions himself, but he was far and away the more explosive playmaker that afternoon. That has to factor into the coaches’ decision-making process.

LSU position groups to improve: No. 1

February, 14, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With three weeks to go until LSU opens spring practice on March 7, we'll use some of the down time to preview the upcoming series of team workouts.

We've discussed the tight ends, defensive tackles, safeties and linebackers in the first four installments of this week's series on positions that can stand to improve this fall. Today's final position group is the defensive ends, who last fall struggled to replace the 2012 stars who left early to enter the NFL draft.

1. Defensive end

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsJermauria Rasco (No. 59) was the Tigers' most productive defensive end in 2013.
Battling for No. 1: LSU went from having defensive ends who intimidated 2012 opponents in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo to a 2013 group who struggled to generate the same pass-rushing production after Montgomery and Mingo left early for the NFL. Rising senior Jermauria Rasco (56 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and a team-high four sacks) and junior Danielle Hunter (57 tackles, eight TFLs, three sacks) combined to make 23 of 26 possible starts at end last season, with rising senior Jordan Allen (16 tackles, two TFLs, two sacks) accounting for the other three. That veteran trio seems likely to remain in leading roles, although it would help if some younger players help beef up the Tigers' pass rush. LSU's 27 sacks last season were their fewest since notching just 21 in 2009.

Strength in numbers: The versatile Kendell Beckwith can contribute at end in certain situations, and perhaps he will be able to bolster LSU's edge rush after playing in a limited capacity as a freshman. Lewis Neal played a supporting role last season as a freshman, and perhaps he might earn additional playing time this fall. He appeared in 10 games and recorded seven tackles and 0.5 tackles for a loss. Same for Tashawn Bower, an ESPN 300 prospect last year who made three tackles in six games. Otherwise, Justin Maclin is the only returning end who played last season, although the oft-injured rising senior finished with just two tackles in five games.

New on the scene: ESPN 300 honoree Deondre Clark completed LSU's 23-man signing class this week when he officially joined the Tigers at a signing ceremony at his high school. He and fellow signee Sione Teuhema look capable of bringing some playmaking ability to the end position in time. The Tigers also have M.J. Patterson -- a three-star end signee in 2013 -- and ESPN 300 recruit Frank Herron coming off redshirt seasons. Herron was listed as an end last year, but he also has the frame and skillset to become an interior lineman.

Season report card: LSU Tigers

January, 31, 2014
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Another season, another 10 wins for LSU under Les Miles. It wasn't quite as good as Tigers fans have come to expect lately, but Miles' club still graded out fairly high.

OFFENSE: B
[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLSU wasn't in the national title chase in 2013, but it was still another successful season for Les Miles' team.
With new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron at the helm, the Tigers became the SEC's first team to boast a 3,000-yard passer (Zach Mettenberger), a 1,000-yard rusher (Jeremy Hill) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) in one season. Even with those four players posting impressive numbers, LSU still finished in the middle of the pack on offense (sixth in the SEC in scoring at 35.8 ppg and seventh in total offense at 453.3 ypg). The Tigers lose all four of those players to the NFL draft, too, so 2014 could be an adventure as LSU breaks in an entirely new set of offensive skill players. Give Cameron some credit, however. He helped Mettenberger make enormous strides as a senior and injected some life into an LSU offense that was stagnant prior to his arrival. With the group of freshmen that LSU might sign next week -- led by tailback Leonard Fournette, Recruiting Nation's No. 1 overall prospect -- he should have some promising raw materials to work with in the fall.

DEFENSE: C
If the offense was a bit better than expected, the defense might have been a bit worse. Everyone knew it was a rebuilding year after John Chavis' group lost a whopping seven players to early entry into the draft. Losing Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo and Kevin Minter hurt badly, as some of the totals opponents posted early showed. LSU's defense did improve as the season progressed -- an impressive late-November performance against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M was the highlight -- but it was still not as consistent as Chavis certainly would have preferred. Nonetheless, LSU finished the season ranked third in the SEC in total defense (340.7 ypg) and fourth in scoring (22 ppg). Those aren't bad numbers, but they aren't up to the standard Chavis' recent defenses have set.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Having Beckham on its side helps LSU quite a bit here. The Paul Hornung Award winner and all-purpose All-American helped the Tigers lead the SEC in kickoff return average (25.5) and rank fifth in punt return average (7.5). His 109-yard touchdown return of a missed UAB field goal was one of the season's most electrifying plays. Kicker Colby Delahoussaye (13-for-14 on field goals and 56-for-57 on PATs) had a solid freshman season, but the Tigers were fairly average on special teams aside from his kicking and Beckham's work as a return man.

OVERALL: B
With division rivals Alabama and Auburn having either won or played for the BCS title in each of the past five seasons, LSU might be getting a bit tired of its bridesmaid status of late. It's not as if the Tigers have been pushovers, however. This marked the first time in school history that LSU won at least 10 games for a fourth straight season, and included in those 10 wins was the only victory against eventual SEC champ Auburn in the regular season. Considering the roster turnover that took place on defense, a 10-win season and a New Year's Day bowl in Florida were perfectly acceptable results.

Past grades:
Kentucky
Georgia
Florida
Auburn
Arkansas
Alabama

Planning for success: LSU

October, 17, 2013
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There are no shortage of athletes on LSU’s defense, but the Tigers hadn’t been able to stop anybody of late. They allowed more than 20 points in each of their first three SEC games which included a 44-41 loss to Georgia just three weeks ago.

Still, Les Miles remained confident in his defense, and they responded this past weekend against Florida. They held the Gators to just 240 total yards and six points.

“I think our defense is improving,” Miles said. “I think they’re working at it every day. I think they’re realizing that they need to take care of their responsibilities, and they got 10 other guys beside them that can really play. That’s how defense has always been played best.

“I think last week allowed them that opportunity to go to the field, do the things we’ve asked them to do and have success.”

The LSU defense will face a much more difficult challenge this weekend when they visit Ole Miss for an SEC West showdown.

Last year, LSU barely escaped against Ole Miss, winning 41-35 in the final seconds, but the Rebels still racked up 463 yards of offense. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 54 yards and two scores. It will be up to this Tiger defense to contain Wallace and prove that last week wasn’t a fluke.

What LSU needs to do to win: If the first half of the season is any indication, LSU should have no trouble putting points on the board. They were slowed down last weekend against a stingy Florida defense, but Zach Mettenberger is still playing at a high level. When he has weapons around him like Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, it’s a safe bet that they bounce back on Saturday. However, LSU’s ‘improved’ defense still has to stop Ole Miss. If it turns into another shootout like last year, it could come down to who has the ball last.

Players to watch

FB J.C. Copeland: It’s no secret why Hill is averaging 9.2 yards per carry on runs inside the tackles, the highest by any SEC running back this season. He’s running behind Copeland, the league’s top fullback. Against Florida, Copeland finished with a season-high five carries for 20 yards and scored his third touchdown of the year.

DE Jordan Allen: Both Alabama and Auburn showed that if you get pressure on Wallace, he can get rattled. The only problem is LSU hasn’t been able to generate much of a pass rush this season. They lost top defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, and Allen hasn’t stepped up like they thought. This would be an ideal time for a breakout game.

Quotable
“We go into Tiger Stadium and have never been disappointed, period. It’s as live a venue as there is, and we’re happy about it. But it did appear that some of our faithful stayed out of the heat and kind of stayed in the air-conditioning at the beginning of the game.” -- Les Miles on the attendance at the Florida game

Inconsistency an issue for UGA, LSU

September, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For all the ink spilled over the numerous defensive holes that Georgia had to fill before this season, perhaps no defense in the country suffered greater losses than LSU.

Just as Georgia had 12 key defensive players to replace this fall, LSU actually set an NFL draft record with six defensive players selected in the 2013 draft's first two days. And just as the Bulldogs have discovered, it has been difficult for LSU to pick up exactly where it left off without players like Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Bennie Logan.

So as No. 9 Georgia (2-1) and No. 6 LSU (4-0) prepare to meet on Saturday, they do so with young in places defenses that have delivered uneven results. Neither group lack potential, but they both have dealt with the understandable lapses that typically arise when new players take over for established stars.

“I think our players are as talented as we've ever had and I think there's a maturity that needs to take place so they can play with their cleats headed north and south and ready to make a tackle and show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that's coming. I see it, in last week, better in certain spots and certainly that's got to continue.”

In Saturday's win against Auburn, Miles' Tigers could not have been more impressive early. They limited Auburn to just 41 yards of offense in the first quarter in jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead. However, Auburn made it a more competitive game -- LSU still won 35-21 -- by generating 333 yards in the second half and running a whopping 85 plays against a suddenly reeling LSU defense that was facing its first legitimate test.

“Everybody probably mentally may have gotten a little bit down. We had a couple of calls that were questionable, but we've got to be able to shrug that off,” LSU defensive end Jordan Allen said. “We have a couple things happening and not sure what's going on and we're not communicating on some things and we'll get it straight.”

LSU's early schedule was much more generous toward its defensive rebuilding effort than was Georgia's. The Tigers played TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn in the first four games, with only the TCU game -- it was held at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas -- being played away from Tiger Stadium.

Their defensive statistics reflect that advantage, as LSU is tied for third in the SEC in total defense (310 yards per game), is second against the pass (173.8 ypg), seventh against the run (136.2) and fifth in scoring (19.5 points per game).

Because its first two opponents were top-10 teams with impressive skill talent, Georgia's defense looks much worse on paper. The Bulldogs are 13th in the league in scoring defense (29.7 ppg), 11th in total defense (388.7 ypg), eighth against the run (143.3) and ninth against the pass (245.3 ypg).

However, they actually enter the LSU game after their best performance yet. In Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas, Georgia surrendered just 7 rushing yards and 245 total yards -- nearly 400 fewer than the Bulldogs' offense generated that afternoon. Further, the Mean Green scored just one offensive touchdown -- the other two came on special-teams plays -- and otherwise sputtered on offense .

“I feel like we really stepped up this game,” Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We had the off week to kind of get everybody in the right spot or whatever, and I feel like we're really jelling together and really getting that chemistry that we're going to need next week against LSU.”

It was still far from a perfect effort, but Georgia has now allowed opponents to score just 13 points in their last 18 drives, dating back to halftime of the South Carolina game when the score was tied at 24-24 before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 41-30 win.

“You want to have confidence,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense after the North Texas win. “I don't think this bunch is going to be overconfident after this game. I think they did begin to play well together and I think they can be proud of what happened. It was a very good performance. But LSU's a good team, and we want them as confident as possible, but we don't want them to think they've arrived, that's for sure, because we've got a long way to go.”

Miles' coaching staff can certainly empathize with that sentiment, particularly as it prepares to face a Georgia team that ranks sixth nationally in total offense at 574 ypg -- in the Tigers' first true road game of the season, no less.

Inconsistency has characterized both defenses over the first month of the season, but they realize that excuses over inexperience have nearly lost their shelf life. The defense that is better at minimizing its mistakes on Saturday will almost certainly win what should be one of the most impactful games either team will play this fall.

Chavis understands skeptics' concerns

August, 26, 2013
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His defense lost eight players to the NFL draft after ranking eighth nationally in total defense a year ago, so John Chavis understands the skepticism that LSU’s defense faces this season. He just doesn’t find it a cause for major concern.

“It’s a natural thing when you lose the number of people that we lost. It’s natural for some people to think, ‘Well, they’re going to be down a little bit.’ But we don’t think that way,” said Chavis, entering his fifth season as LSU’s defensive coordinator. “We’re going to work to be the very best that we can be, and certainly if we reach the potential that we have in terms of the quality of the players, then we’re going to be fine.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
John Korduner/Icon SMIAnthony Johnson is expected to provide a veteran presence on a defense that lost a lot from 2012.
That’s where Chavis’ confidence level is appropriate entering Saturday’s opener against No. 20 TCU in Arlington, Texas. With veterans Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson anchoring the front line and a huge group of talented youngsters jockeying for early playing time alongside established players like linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston, talent is not an issue at LSU.

Yes, the Tigers will be young and will face an extremely difficult schedule, but an infusion of talent up front -- including early enrollee Christian LaCouture at defensive tackle and ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower -- gives LSU’s coaches hope there won’t be a big drop-off after losing Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Lavar Edwards to the draft.

“I like what we’re getting out of our veterans there,” LSU coach Les Miles said after Friday’s practice. The young guys are stepping to the front, and they seemed much more polished even from when they arrived.”

As with all young players, however, the trick is preparing them for the physicality, speed and knowledge base necessary to compete at the college level.

“When you have 92,000 people coming in, you’re not really going to have a lot of time to think,” LaCouture said. “I just want to make sure I have everything down when we go through that process and make sure I’m ready for Week 1.”

The freshmen are merely role players filling secondary roles on the depth chart for now, though. Now is the time for players like Barrow to seize the spotlight after Kevin Minter’s starmaking 2012 performance helped him become a second-round draft pick. And for Johnson and Ferguson to make good on their enormous potential now that the aforementioned big-name defensive linemen are in the pros. And for young cornerback standouts and a deep linebacking corps to perform at a high enough level that the Tigers can sort out their questions with the rotation up front.

Johnson is the No. 15 prospect for next year’s draft on ESPN Scouts Inc.’s most recent top 32, and even if the two-deep figures to be loaded with underclassmen, LSU has enough of a veteran presence from players like Loston, Barrow and Ferguson to help the Tigers remain a defensive force even while replacing so many major contributors.

“I come to work every day with the No. 1 goal of getting this defense ready to compete in the SEC. These guys are ready to compete,” said Chavis, whose units have finished 26th, 12th, second and eighth nationally in total defense since he arrived at LSU in 2009. “But everybody saying that we’re going to drop off, well, we don’t expect that, and we’ve got to work hard to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
Early into LSU's fall camp, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson took a chance with his comfort zone.

Normally one to sit back, listen and watch, Johnson stood up in front of his teammates and coaches and delivered his own set of motivating words. It wasn't anything special, but it caught everyone's attention because of who was speaking.

It took a lot for Johnson, who is viewed as one of the nation's best defensive tackles, to stand up and show himself in that light. And it was a big step in the junior's personal growth as he looks to become the centerpiece of LSU's rebuilt defensive line this fall.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
Crystal Logiudice/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Anthony Johnson plans to keep the LSU defense strutting this season.
"I've been waiting for this moment for a long time," said Johnson, who has 13 career tackles for loss and four sacks. "I want to take a lead role and show my teammates that I'm here for them and I'm ready to play for them, along with the coaches. I want everybody to get on the same page early so we don't have to worry about it later."

Johnson arrived at LSU as the No. 2 overall player in the 2011 recruiting class, according to ESPN recruiting services. He dealt with the pressure to deliver instant gratification because of his high expectations while trying to adapt to a new way of approaching the game.

Like most freshmen who carry so much hype on their shoulders, the stress built up for Johnson. He wanted to impress and play at a higher level so badly that it sometimes hurt his concentration.

But Johnson quickly found a release.

A tyrant on the football field, Johnson is almost a Teddy bear away from it after rediscovering his passion for singing and joining the campus choir.

He was able to relax through his baritone voice. He'd been singing since his great grandmother introduced him to the 18th-century hymn "Oh Happy Day" when he was four. To this day, that remains his favorite song to sing.

Johnson was able to convey many emotions through song, and while football consumed him to the point of quitting the choir, that year helped him regain some clarity.

"I have to try and stay smooth. I have to keep my tough on-field persona, but when I step off the field I have to get back to the regular me," he said.

The regular him was feeling more confident and ready to learn more. He acted like a giant sponge as he soaked up run-stopping advice from older linemen like Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan. He took notes whenever Barkevious Mingo gave him pass-rushing tips. And he spent hours working with defensive coordinator John Chavis in and out of the film room to perfect his technique and movements.

He might have been getting the essentials down in his head, but in order to carry them out properly, Johnson needed to change his body. Johnson figured his 330-plus-pound playing weight as a freshman gave him an edge at clogging holes, but it was his mother who didn't approve. After seeing her following his first season, his mother noticed his gut spilling over his belt and diagnosed him with "Dunlop Disease" because of the Dunlop tire-shaped stomach Johnson had developed.

Humbled by his mother's assessment, Johnson jumped right into weight room harder and chose grilled over fried.

When Johnson addressed his teammates this month, he did so at a leaner 295 pounds. He doesn't feel like a featherweight, but he's moving faster (he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash this year) and frustrating his offensive teammates more.

"That helped get me back on my feet and do what I did back in high school: get in the backfield," Johnson said of shedding the weight.

"I still have my power and everything, but I'm just a little bit quicker and run to the ball a lot faster."

Trimming down resulted in more disruption from Johnson last fall. He registered 42 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and three sacks last season, and rediscovered the nasty edge that made him so dominant in high school. That nastiness has only grown since the beginning of spring, Johnson said.

Labeled "The Freak" since his high school days and trying his best to mirror NFL superstar Geno Atkins on the field, Johnson is hungry to not only elevate his game, but that of the entire defense around him. He's making it his responsibility to get a defense that lost so much back into championship form.

That starts with anchoring a line that lost four NFL draft picks. It's a tall task, but Johnson has already changed so much that this seems easier than everything else he's done.

"They think this is going to be a rebuilding year, but we're doing nothing but reloading," Johnson said.

LSU camp: Early lessons 

August, 9, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is done with a mere three days of August camp and already we've learned some things about this team.

1. The offensive line might shuffle: Right tackle Vadal Alexander was hobbled in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and rumors were, he was being seriously challenged for his starting spot by redshirt freshman Jerald Hawkins.

Little has happened at camp that would suggest otherwise after Alexander missed Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices and Hawkins was running with the starters at right tackle. The Hawkins-as-a-starter scenario is looking more and more plausible.

Alabama, LSU form NFL pipeline

May, 20, 2013
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Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com recently wrote suggested that an NFL roster comprised exclusively of Alabama and LSU players wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

As he points out, according to a listing on ESPN.com, there are 49 players from LSU in the NFL and 41 players from Alabama.

In reading that piece, I couldn’t help but think back to a conversation I had with former Alabama offensive line coach Joe Pendry just prior to the first Alabama-LSU game in 2011. Pendry retired following the 2010 season and had served as offensive coordinator for both the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans in the NFL before joining Nick Saban at Alabama.

Realizing how much talent would be on the field that night at Bryant-Denny Stadium, especially on defense, I jokingly asked Pendry how anybody would score.

He estimated that somewhere around 18 to 20 of the 22 defensive starters would end up playing in the NFL.

Looking back, he was dead on.

Of the 22 defensive starters that night, 16 were selected in the NFL draft. Six other defensive players who played in the game were also drafted. That’s a total of 22 players. Two other players that went undrafted spent last season on NFL practice squads.

We’re talking high-round draft picks, too. Of the 22 who were drafted, 14 went in the top three rounds.

Moreover, as many as seven other defensive players from that game who are still in school are likely to be drafted in either 2014 or 2015. Among them: Linebackers Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson and safety Craig Loston of LSU.

So, the final tally of defensive players from that game (some played on special teams) who were either drafted or have spent some time on an NFL roster will likely end up being 30-plus.

No wonder those two teams played eight quarters that year, and only one touchdown was scored between them.

Here’s a rundown of the draft picks from that game on defense:

ALABAMA
LSU
It was a huge weekend for LSU football.

It was also a bit of a black eye for Tigers football.

On the same weekend LSU set an NFL record with six defensive players drafted in the first three rounds and a school record with nine players total getting picked, the Tigers also had two players arrested -- their leading rusher and a draft prospect two nights before he was picked.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJeremy Hill's arrest over the weekend was the latest in a series of disturbing events involving LSU football players.
For as much as LSU makes news with the talent it possesses, it seems like it spends as much time being discussed lately for off-field behavior of its players. After a weekend where LSU should have been celebrating its prolific production of pro talent, the Tigers are instead dealing with questions yet again about player conduct.

Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, is the one dominating the headlines Monday.

Already on probation after pleading guilty to carnal knowledge of a juvenile, Hill was arrested Saturday night after allegedly punching someone outside a bar near LSU and subsequently has been charged with simple battery. He was suspended from the team indefinitely by coach Les Miles on Monday.

His arrest came two nights after former Tigers cornerback Tharold Simon was arrested on several charges, including public intimidation, in a dispute with police in his hometown of Eunice, La. Despite the arrest, Simon was drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks.

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How does LSU produce so many NFL draft picks?

Recruiting is one good answer. Another is development.

The Tigers set an NFL draft record with six defensive players picked in the first two days (top three rounds), finishing with a school-record nine players drafted overall.

The Tigers did it with a mix of players: several who were highly regarded coming out of high school and lived up to the hype, and a surprising number of players who developed their talents after coming to Baton Rouge, La.

Of the nine Tigers picked, five were not ESPN 150 picks coming out of high school.

Here are LSU's draft picks, broken down by player, round drafted, team, recruiting year, star rating (if applicable) and ESPN 150 status
  • DE Barkevious Mingo, first round, Cleveland, 2009, (no star ratings in 2009 class or earlier), not in ESPN 150
  • S Eric Reid, first round, San Francisco, 2010, 4 star, No. 72 ESPN 150
  • LB Kevin Minter, second round, Arizona, 2009, No. 133 in ESPN 150
  • DT Bennie Logan, third round, Philadelphia, 2009, not in ESPN 150
  • DB Tyrann Mathieu, third round, Arizona, 2010, 3-star, not in ESPN 150
  • DE Sam Montgomery, third round, Houston, 2009, No. 26 in the ESPN 150
  • CB Tharold Simon, fifth round, Seattle, 2010, 4 star, No. 91 in the ESPN 150
  • DE Lavar Edwards, fifth round, Tennessee, 2008, not in the ESPN 150
  • RB Spencer Ware, sixth round, Seattle, 2010, 4 star, not in ESPN 150

Notes: FSU latest offer for DE Godchaux 

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
10:00
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Lorenzo CarterMiller Safrit/ESPNDefensive end Lorenzo Carter received offers from LSU and Alabama on the same day.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The offers keep coming in for 2014 defensive end Davon Godchaux.


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BATON ROUGE, La. -- There's a new wrinkle to the Russell Shepard saga.

The blue-chip, dual-threat high school quarterback turned underachieving college receiver was worked out by NFL scouts Wednesday during LSU's Pro Day at, of all places, defensive back.

"Never played there in my life," Shepard said. "About six teams asked me to work out there. I thought I did pretty good. Like they told me, it's added value."

[+] EnlargeRussell Shepard
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireRussell Shepard showed his versatility at LSU's pro day, working out for several teams at defensive back.
Shepard gave NFL teams reason to look for places he might fit. He excelled during physical testing, joining a list of LSU players who had good days.

Shepard ran a 4.5 electronic 40-yard dash and also had a 38.5-inch vertical leap, results that do not suggest a player who struggled to get involved in LSU's offense in his four years and was so marginalized, he was not invited to the NFL combine.

He wasn't the only Tiger to test well. Running back Michael Ford ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and had a 39.5-inch vertical leap, both results slightly better than his combine results. Linebacker Kevin Minter ran a 4.67 40 and had a 34.5-inch vertical leap, both significant improvements over the combine.

"We were at home," Minter said. "Makes all the difference."

Here are some other notables:

  • Defensive end Barkevious Mingo did not participate in testing, but like former teammate Tyrann Mathieu got involved in position-specific drills.
  • Defensive end Lavar Edwards ran a 4.78 and hit 21 repetitions in the bench press, looking like the next LSU player who might be drafted after not starting for the Tigers.

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's only going to look like an all-comer's combine.

LSU's Pro Day on Wednesday will feature a whopping 28 participants, the result of a year where the Tigers sent 13 players to the NFL combine. Among the players will will participate is former LSU player Tyrann Mathieu.

Of the 28, 21 were members of LSU's 2012 team, while seven more participants were members of past LSU teams and are trying to catch the interest of teams as free agents.

Fans can watch the event live on ESPN3 at 1 p.m. ET.

Here are the players who are participating, according to LSU:

2012 team members: DE Chauncey Aghayere, K Drew Alleman, TE Chase Clement, DT Josh Downs, OT Josh Dworaczyk, DE Lavar Edwards, OT Chris Faulk, RB Michael Ford, DT Bennie Logan, C P.J. Lonergan, DB-KR Tyrann Mathieu, DE Barkevious Mingo, LB Kevin Minter, DE Sam Montgomery, S Eric Reid, WR Russell Shepard, CB Tharold Simon, RB Spencer Ware, P Brad Wing, DT Cleveland Davis, TE Tyler Edwards

Past Players (last year at LSU): OG Will Blackwell (2011), LB-DB Karnell Hatcher (2011), OL T-Bob Hebert (2011), QB Jordan Jefferson (2011), QB Jarrett Lee (2011), DS Alex Russian (2011), RB Charles Scott (2009).

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