LSU Tigers: P.J. Lonergan
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).
The biggest question mark among the 13 players LSU has headed to the combine is left tackle Chris Faulk who, despite missing all but the season opener with a torn ACL, opted to forgo his senior season at LSU and try for the NFL. He's one of two offensive linemen the Tigers have attending the NFL combine, along with center P.J. Lonergan.
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.
The only departing starters from LSU's line would be center P.J. Lonergan -- who has an heir apparent in Elliott Porter -- and left tackle Josh Dworaczyk, who became the starter only after Faulk got hurt.
Move Porter into the lineup, bring a healthy Faulk back at left tackle, and just like that you have an experienced and talented offensive line set to go.
But now that Faulk will depart despite suffering a season-ending knee injury that cost him the season's final 12 games, the outlook is less clear.
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Leading up to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, we'll take a daily look at a key LSU player. We'll examine how he has done and what his challenges are for the Clemson game.
P.J. Lonergan, C, Senior
Accomplishments: A three-year starter at center, Lonergan is the heart of an offensive line that overachieved after being down three starters for the second half of the season. He learned the position after arriving at LSU (he was a high school tackle at Archbishop Rummel High in suburban New Orleans) and he has turned himself into a technician who calls the blocking assignments and helps get the young line pointed in the right directions.
Shortcomings: Lonergan has had a solid, if unspectacular career. If there is any one factor that has held him back, it's been a sometimes troublesome back. He missed one start this season, giving way to his heir apparent, Elliott Porter, for a game while he rested his back (he did play some that game). He's not quite Barrett Jones, the celebrated Outland Trophy winner at Alabama, but there's little for LSU to complain about from its steady senior.
Against Clemson: Playing against an ACC opponent, LSU will undoubtedly try to impose its "SEC dominance" in terms of physical play. Look for the Bayou Bengals to test the middle of the Clemson defensive front with its physical, SEC running game against a Clemson defense that allows 4.2 yards per carry. Lonergan will be right in the middle of that scrum, getting his hands dirty in what will be his last college game.
"I think there are a lot of negative ions being forced, which are positive things, into this area," he explained, "and I think the atmosphere will be charged."
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DE Sam Montgomery (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): The best defensive lineman on perhaps the nation's best defensive line, Montgomery is LSU's leader in sacks (4) and is second in tackles for loss (9).
DE Barkevious Mingo (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): He has three sacks, four tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries. He's been effective, but probably needs numbers to stay in the race.
FS Eric Reid (Bednarik, Nagurski): He's had 50 tackles, two interceptions and four passes broken up and has led a young secondary that has leaned on his experience.
C P.J. Lonergan (Rimington): With LSU's offensive line enjoying a resurgence, it could benefit his candidacy.
K Drew Alleman (Lou Groza): At 12-for-17, Alleman already has more misses than a season ago, when a 16-for-18 season got him on this season's watch list.
P Brad Wing (Ray Guy): He's averaging 44.1 yards per punt, a good average, but LSU has not had the dominant season in punt coverage it had last season. He's had seven touchbacks and 13 punts inside the 20. Last year, it was five touchbacks and 27 punts inside the 20.
DT Bennie Logan (Outland): With two sacks, five tackles for loss and 21 total tackles, Logan has been his usual solid self, with more production this season.
LB Kevin Minter (Butkus): The team's leader in tackles (75) has a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss to go with 3.5 sacks, an interception, four passes broken up and three quarterback hurries. He was named a semifinalist earlier this week.
This week, with LSU playing the team Ware had his original coming out party against (Texas A&M), the question is, will we see LSU continue on its commitment to use the junior more and in what ways will the Aggies have to defend one of the Tigers' more versatile players.
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DE Sam Montgomery (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): Leads one of the nation's best defenses in both sacks (4) and tackles for loss (8.5), making him a viable candidate with big games coming up where he can make a national splash.
DE Barkevious Mingo (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): Has just two sacks, but is always applying pressure with eight quarterback hurries. With a couple of big performances in upcoming big games, he could get back into the picture.
FS Eric Reid (Bednarik, Nagurski): A crucial interception against South Carolina adds to his big-play resume. Has two interceptions and is third on the team with 39 tackles.
C P.J. Lonergan (Rimington): LSU rushed for 258 yards against South Carolina, a departure from recent O-line troubles. If the line continues to excel in the second half, Lonergan could climb into the picture.
TE Chase Clement (Mackey): A great blocker, his lack of production in the passing game (four receptions) will likely keep him on the outside looking in.
K Drew Alleman (Lou Groza): He's 11-for-15 on field goal but has four misses from less than 40 yards, too many for a national award.
P Brad Wing (Ray Guy): His 43.8-yard average is good, but he's coming off the worst game of his career and is looking like more of a longshot.
T Alex Hurst (Outland, Rotary Lombardi): Missed the South Carolina game for personal reasons and his status going forward is unclear.
DT Bennie Logan (Outland): Continues to be good without racking up statistics. He has one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss and is more of a candidate to be drafted high than to get national awards.
LB Kevin Minter (Butkus): LSU's leader in tackles (63) and tackles for loss (8.5) has become a dark-horse candidate for awards.
1. Offensive line: Few expected LSU's patchwork offensive line to hold up against a defense like South Carolina's. Not only did the line of (from LT-to-RT) Josh Dworazczyk, La'El Collins, P.J. Lonergan, Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander hold up, they opened holes for a running game that averaged 4.9 yards a carry (led by 124 yards for freshman Jeremy Hill) while quarterback Zach Mettenberger stayed clean, sacked just once.
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Already, the Tigers are lacking offensive confidence after getting held to 200 yards by Florida in last week's 14-6 loss. Now, the Tigers' struggling offensive line may head into its next game without right guard Josh Williford, who suffered a head injury against the Gators was had not been cleared to play as of Wednesday. If he can't go, Trai Turner would start and give LSU an all-freshman right side of the line.
If either miss the Tigers' next game, No. 9 LSU (5-1, 1-1 in the SEC) will start its fifth offensive line combination in seven games. The Tigers' offensive front is, at best, makeshift.
And who does this patchwork bunch get to try to block this week?
No. 3 South Carolina and perhaps the best defensive line -- save, arguably, LSU's -- in the country. The 6-0 Gamecocks lead the SEC in sacks with 25 and are coming off a breakout performance in a 35-7 win over Georgia.
"We're going to have to work our best as a unit," said LSU left guard La'el Collins, the one offensive lineman who has started every game at one position. "Our goal is going to be to protect ... and protect."
Three things to watch
1. Mismatch? While LSU's defensive line is arguably as good as South Carolina's, the Gamecocks' defensive front appears to have a bigger mismatch against LSU's M.A.S.H. unit of an offensive line. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is perhaps the best pass rusher in the country. Does LSU have anybody who can block him and his teammates?
2. Home field mystique: LSU has won a school-record 21 straight games at Tiger Stadium, the longest current home winning streak in the country, and the Tigers are historically at their best at night. South Carolina has struggled on the road this year, barely getting by Vanderbilt, 17-13 and trailing by 10 points at halftime before subduing Kentucky, 38-17 in Lexington. Can the Death Valley mystique be a factor?
Given that, one would think LSU would be comfortable playing another elite defense comparable to its own.
Instead, there is an assumed mismatch this week when the struggling LSU offense faces No. 3 South Carolina's vaunted defense, ranked 11th in the country at 278 yards per game. It's a Gamecocks defense that, in many ways, mirrors LSU's own defense and comes into Saturday's game at Tiger Stadium at the peak of its powers coming off a 35-7 shellacking of Georgia.
It starts up front where, like LSU's tandem of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, South Carolina has dominant ends in sophomore Jadaveon Clowney and senior Devin Taylor.
"This is definitely going to be one of the bigger challenges we've had this fall," said LSU offensive tackle Alex Hurst. "Both guys that play at both ends, they are definitely NFL caliber and they are going to be high NFL draft picks. This is a challenge we're going to have to be ready for."
Clowney's name is one that is particularly interesting to those who follow LSU recruiting. The Gamecocks leader in sacks with 6.5, he was the top-ranked player in the country coming out of high school in 2011, just ahead of LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.
DE Sam Montgomery (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): Has two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, but he needs to increase his production in the second half to get back into contention.
DE Barkevious Mingo (Bednarik, Nagurski, Lombardi): He's been better than his modest statistics (16 tackles, 1 sack, 7 hurries), but he's light years from the production he'll likely need to be an award-winner.
FS Eric Reid (Bednarik, Nagurski): Third on the team with 32 tackles, Reid has had an effective, if quiet, season. It's hard to imagine he'll stay in national awards contention without some eye-catching performances in the second half.
C P.J. Lonergan (Rimington): Any LSU offensive lineman's chances are hurt by the sacks allowed (15) and the Tigers' recent offensive struggles in general.
TE Chase Clement (Mackey): LSU doesn't use its tight ends much in the passing game, so while he's been an effective blocker, it's hard to to see Clement, with four catches for 44 yards, staying in contention.
K Drew Alleman (Groza): His numbers -- 8-for-11 on field goals -- are good, but the percentage is just seventh in the SEC. It's a strong season for SEC kickers.
T Alex Hurst (Outland, Rotary Lombardi): Took one for the team by moving from the right side to the left side, but on a troubled offensive line, he likely won't remain in awards contention.
DT Bennie Logan (Outland): Another solid player who doesn't accumulate big stats, Logan had 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack, not likely enough to stay in contention for major awards.
LB Kevin Minter (Butkus): Had a Butkus Award performance with 20 tackles, including a school-record 17 solo, against Florida. With 54 tackles and 8.5 for loss, he's a contender.
DE Barkevious Mingo (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): Slowed by an early ankle injury, Mingo has a nuisance for offenses but doesn't have a lot of statistics to show for it. He has just one quarterback sack and two tackles for loss, but leads the team with seven quarterback hurries.
DE Sam Montgomery (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): Leads LSU with 6.5 tackles for loss to with two sacks, three quarterback hurries. One of his tackles for loss was for a safety. Has been a consistently disruptive force.
FS Eric Reid (Bednarik, Nagurski): Quietly solid with 26 tackles, one for loss, to go with an interception and three passes broken up.
C P.J. Lonergan (Rimington): He missed one game because of injury, but LSU's solid rushing numbers (second in the SEC at 229.6 yards per game) help his cause.
TE Chase Clement (Mackey): Caught a season-long 27-yard pass against Towson, but it was just the third of the year for a tight end who remains more effective in LSU's running game than as a receiver.
K Drew Alleman (Groza): Missed a 51-yard field goal against Towson, giving him more misses (three) than he had all of 2011. Not that 6-for-9 on field goals is terrible, just not the same level as 2011.
P Brad Wing (Ray Guy): Averaging 45.2 yards per punt on 20 attempts, including nine inside the 20-yard line, second most in the SEC. But he also has more touchbacks (4) than any SEC punter.
OT Alex Hurst (Outland, Rotary Lombardi): Showed his versatile value to his team by shifting from right tackle to left tackle in the Towson game. LSU's trouble protecting the quarterback (11 sacks) will hurt even if many of the sacks aren't his fault.
DT Bennie Logan (Outland): The junior has 16 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. He lacks a quarterback sack, which hurts with voters.
LB Kevin Minter (Butkus): Leads LSU with 34 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and has three passes broken up. He's putting together a solid season.
Another of note: DT Anthony Johnson could enter the Outland Trophy picture if he continues to produce. On a star-studded LSU defensive line, the sophomore has the most tackles (19) despite only starting the last three games. He is also second in tackles for loss (5.5, tied with Minter) and has 1.5 sacks.
DE Barkevious Mingo (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): Slowed by an ankle injury, Mingo is still sackless for the season and has just one tackle for loss. He does lead the team in quarterback hurries with five.
DE Sam Montgomery (Bednarik, Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi): Earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week against Auburn after getting his second sack of the season and 3.5 tackles for loss, giving him six on the season. Has played best against better opponents.
S Eric Reid (Bednarik, Nagurski): Third on team with 20 tackles and has an interception and three passes broken up in a solid start.
C P.J. Lonergan (Rimington): An injury has caused him to miss a start and miss time last week against Auburn. LSU's success rushing (247.5 yards per game) helps.
TE Chase Clement (Mackey): His two receptions for 10 yards won't likely keep him as a candidate, although his run blocking remains valuable in the Tigers' power attack.
K Drew Alleman (Lou Groza): He's 20-for-20 on extra points and 5-for-7 on field goals. A rushed miss on a 34-yard attempt in the closing minute of the Auburn game hurts.
P Brad Wing (Ray Guy): Still booming them at a 45.4-yard average. He's booting more touchbacks than a year ago (three in three games), but he's still got seven inside the 20.
OT Alex Hurst (Outland, Rotary Lombardi): LSU's rushing success helps, but he's hurt by the Tigers' pass protection issues with seven sacks allowed in four games.
DT Bennie Logan (Outland): Never a big stat guy, Logan's numbers (12 tackles, two for loss) might not inspire voters, although his play has been consistently solid.
LB Kevin Minter (Butkus): After a quiet game against Auburn, he still leads Tigers with 25 tackles and three passes broken up to go with four tackles for loss.
Others: Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson has 4.5 tackles for loss and has been increasingly productive since becoming a starter two games ago, giving him a chance to join the Outland Trophy picture if he keeps producing