LSU Tigers: Bennie Logan
The blessing is that the Tigers’ coaching staff has attracted loads of NFL-caliber talent to Baton Rouge. Just check the stats. Eight LSU defensive linemen have been drafted since Haley joined the staff in 2009, a number that would grow to 10 if defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are selected this year.
The curse is that continuity is nearly impossible to maintain, particularly at defensive tackle. This is Haley’s sixth spring practice at LSU and the third where both of his starting defensive tackles -- whoever they might be in 2014 -- will be new to starting roles.
“That’s LSU,” said Christian LaCouture, who is attempting to take over one of the starting jobs after Johnson and Ferguson both bolted for the NFL after finishing their junior seasons. “That’s something where guys, we want to win a national championship, we want to win an SEC championship and a lot of the guys go to the league. You’ve got to prepare. It’s the next man in here and you’ve got to produce.”
LaCouture is perhaps LSU’s most experienced interior lineman, having appeared in all 13 games last season as a true freshman. But he faces plenty of competition for a starting job from junior Quentin Thomas and redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore. Redshirt freshman Frank Herron also took some practice reps at defensive tackle earlier this spring, but he appears to be playing end for now.
While LSU coach Les Miles said after Saturday’s scrimmage that there’s a chance that the defensive tackles “could be as successful as any group that we’ve had,” the dynamics in play this fall could be significantly different from a season ago. Ferguson and Johnson played the vast majority of scrimmage downs in 2013, but the workload might be spread more evenly between players this season.
“They definitely were the impact players of our defensive tackles. They definitely were, and it’s all good,” Gilmore said. “I think that was a good year for us to sit back, learn the plays, learn the techniques. So I think this year now we have everybody that’s equal, trying not to have a drop-off in the twos and try to rotate in.”
By redshirting Bain and Gilmore -- both of whom ranked among ESPN’s top 130 overall recruits in 2013 -- Haley put a particularly heavy burden on his two starters, and Bain said the effect of that workload was noticeable.
“Last year they were kind of tired between Ego and Freak [Johnson],” Bain said. “They were kind of tired and we told Coach Brick, ‘You wore them guys a little bit more. You can trust us.’ So now that he trusts us, he’s putting us out there in the spring and now he sees that we can do what Freak and Ego did.”
Of course, the candidates must prove to Haley that they deserve to share some of those snaps -- which is the same responsibility that signees such as Travonte Valentine, Trey Lealaimatafao and Davon Godchaux will face when they arrive in the summer.
Valentine, according to fellow Floridian Bain, could be a candidate for early playing time if he competes well in August.
“Hopefully when Tra Valentine gets in here, he’ll be the fifth man,” Bain said of the freshman signee fitting in with himself, LaCouture, Thomas and Gilmore. “But right now, it’s just a four-man rotation and that’s what we’re going with.”
Last season, Haley made the best of the hand he’d been dealt. Starting tackle Bennie Logan had eligibility remaining when he entered the 2013 NFL draft. Johnson and Ferguson were the returning linemen with whom Haley was the most comfortable, and he decided that the Tigers would be better off riding them as far as possible without relying on the raw freshmen.
Now nobody is particularly proven, and the resulting competition reduces any possibility of complacency within the group. That’s what their counterparts on the offensive line have noticed, anyway.
“They know they have less experience than the guys that left, so of course they’re out there trying to get better each and every day and they’re giving us their all,” senior offensive tackle La'el Collins said. “Last year we had a lot of veteran guys and those guys were just out there going through whatever they needed to go through. But these guys are giving a little bit more effort because they understand that it’s their time to play, so they’re really trying to focus on getting better.”
Center Elliott Porter added that “it’s a grind every day to block them,” which has created worthwhile practice competition for both LSU lines this spring. Although LSU’s offensive line carries a serious experience advantage over its defensive opponents, Miles indicated Saturday that the competition between the two groups has been close -- with two weeks of spring practice left to declare a victor.
“I think that these [defensive tackles] can be dominant players. I think improvement needs to take place,” Miles said. “Again, I think the offensive line and defensive line, they’re measured in the spring. It’s going to be interesting to see that competition as it plays out the next two weeks.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
No. 9: Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU, Jr.
2012 summary: Johnson played in all 13 of LSU's games last year, starting three. He totaled 30 tackles, was third on the team with 10 tackles for loss and registered three sacks last year. He also had two quarterback hurries and broke up a pass.
Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2012 postseason countdown.
Making the case for Johnson: There's a reason Johnson's nickname has stuck with him for so long. "The Freak" dominated the high school circuit with his athleticism and strength on his way to being the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle and the No. 2 overall player in the 2011 recruiting class. But it took him some time to adjust to the college level. Luckily for him, he had a plethora of people to help teach him the game, and he's only gotten better with age. Now, he's looking to be the first defensive tackle taken in next year's NFL draft. Chances are that if Johnson, who is currently projected to be a first-round pick, has a big year he won't stick around Baton Rouge for 2014. And no one would really blame him. He's lost nearly 40 pounds since his freshman year, making him more agile and quicker up front without losing the strength he values so much. Last year, he was able to be more of the disruptive player that coaches, fans and the media expected him to be from the start. But having to sit behind the likes of Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan helped him learn more about the game, making Johnson an even better player today. Johnson will be the centerpiece of LSU's rebuilt defensive line and with his speed back and his strength better than ever, Johnson should create a lot of chaos up front for the Tigers as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher.
- No. 10: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama, Jr.
- No. 11: T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, So.
- No. 12: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee, Jr.
- No. 13: Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida, Jr.
- No. 14: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt, Sr.
- No. 15: Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.
- No. 16: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida, Sr.
- No. 17: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M, RSo.
- No. 18: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.
- No. 19: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.
- No. 20: Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas, Sr.
- No. 21: Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia, So.
- No. 22: Craig Loston, S, LSU, Sr.
- No. 23: Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt, Sr.
- No. 24: Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia, So.
- No. 25: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida, Jr.
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.
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.
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.
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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
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).
BATON ROUGE, La. -- For LSU fans who worry about how the defensive line will look in 2013 after the Tigers lost all four starters, seeing Danielle Hunter walk into a room would ease their minds.
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It looked, however, like it might have been something else, like a symbolic black eye that came from a jab thrown by Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, or from a hook fired by a couple of surprisingly early departures from his team to the NFL, part of a whopping 13 NFL departures after a 10-3 season.
At any rate, Miles looked ready to put the pink eye, and any symbolic black eye, behind him as LSU begins drills on Thursday.
Here is what we learned from Miles on Wednesday:
Miles confirmed that Collins, now a junior, will get his chance to slide over to tackle, but added that redshirt freshman Jerald Hawkins will get a look at the position as well. If Hawkins proves to be the better tackle candidate, Collins would move back inside.
Miles said if Collins indeed wins the left tackle spot, senior Josh Williford would be the likely choice to start at left guard. Junior college transfer Fehoko Fanaika came to LSU at 370 pounds, Miles said, and is more likely to play on the right side, where Trai Turner returns as the starting guard, Miles said.
2. Lamin Barrow gets first shot at MLB: Miles also indicated that Barrow would get the first shot at the vacant starting middle linebacker role, a spot vacated by Kevin Minter's early NFL departure.
Miles said Barrow " can do the job outside," where he excelled with 107 tackles at weak-side linebacker last season. If one of LSU's six Class of 2012 linebacker recruits or another veteran -- Miles mentioned junior D.J. Welter -- steps up at middle linebacker, Barrow can easily move back to his weak side spot.
3. Bolden, Maclin out: Miles said quarterback Rob Bolden, who made news when he transferred from Penn State to LSU last summer following the NCAA fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, will not participate in spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in the off-season.
As LSU prepares to begin spring practice March 14, GeauxTigerNation will take daily looks at aspects of the spring camp. This is the third in the series:
BATON ROUGE, La. -- If you watched the NFL combine, you saw former LSU defensive linemen and defensive backs lining up to take their turns in drills.
So you want to know the areas of need as we head to the spring?
The combine gave you most of the answers.
Experience returning: Jermauria Rasco
Outlook: LSU won't have all of its candidates until August, when a trio of true freshmen arrive. But it'll be interesting to see who emerges out of the four veterans. Rasco worked his way into the top four last season and Hunter was a nice special teams player. Allen is coming off a knee injury. Any strong play from these four would be great news in the spring.
Outlook: LSU is a little more solid here than at end because Johnson and Ferguson have seen plenty of snaps. Ferguson needs to step his game up though. There's a lot of talk that Thomas is a guy who might step up and earn significant playing time, possibly even challenging Ferguson for a starting spot. True freshman Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore will arrive in August. Another freshman, LaCouture, is already on campus.
Player lost: Kevin Minter
Experience returning: Lots of players, but are there any natural MLBs?
Outlook: This position is more a matter of finding the right guy than finding a guy. Does LSU move weak linebacker Lamin Barrow there? Does D.J. Welter, who was second team in the Chick-fil-A bowl after missing the season for academic reasons, get a shot? How about young Ronnie Feist? There are no shortage of candidates. It's just a matter of finding the right fit.
Outlook: Like middle linebacker, there are candidates here, but which one is the best fit? Collins was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of high school, but he got comfortable at left guard as a sophomore and there could be a reluctance to move him. Hawkins is a talented redshirt freshman, but do you really want a redshirt freshman blocking quarterback Zach Mettenberger's blind side? Alexander, last year's starter at right tackle, could be an option as well, but that would leave the Tigers having to find a new starter for two positions.
If there's any doubt where LSU will need to replenish its stockpile after the 2012 season, watch the NFL combine. LSU has four defensive linemen scheduled to attend, including at least two who are likely to go in the first round. Add linebacker Kevin Minter and the Tigers will have five players from their front seven at the combine. LSU might have the "DBU" reputation, but perhaps it should be more noted for its defensive line production.
LSU had 13 players invited to the NFL draft combine Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis, Ind., the most of any school in the nation. Among the 13, which includes ex-Tiger Tyrann Mathieu, only two were seniors. The other 11 left college with eligibility remaining.
It's one more than the total mustered by Florida State.
LSU set a record when 11 players opted to leave school a year early to enter the draft. That all 11 were invited to the combine affirms that the departures were legitimate. The combine only takes the players it deems most likely to have a chance to get drafted or make a team.
The 11 underclassmen invited were: defensive ends Barkevious Mingo, safety Eric Reid, linebacker Kevin Minter, defensive end Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, cornerbacks Mathieu and Tharold Simon, offensive tackle Chris Faulk, running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing.
The two seniors were defensive end Lavar Edwards and center P.J. Lonergan.
There were 333 players on the list, 79 from the SEC. LSU was one of four SEC schools to have double-digits invited to the combine. Georgia had 11 players invited and Alabama and Georgia each had 10 invited.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU got its signing day surprise.
ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower flipped from Auburn, to Florida then LSU, sending his letter of intent to LSU late Wednesday morning.
Bower, the lone surprise in an LSU class that looked completed before lunch, capping a banner defensive line class for the Tigers, who are looking to replenish the position after losing two likely first-round NFL draft picks at defensive end (Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery) and possibly another at defensive tackle (Bennie Logan). It was an adventure with Bower, who was an Auburn commit, appeared to lean to Florida Wednesday morning, then ultimately picked LSU.
What is the impact of Bower’s decision?
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In a program that has made an art of the three-year recruiting cycle, they are only players left from LSU's 2009 signing class that was ranked No. 1 in the country by RecruitingNation.
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