LSU Tigers: Sam Montgomery
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
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.
The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.
Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.
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But signing a talented player is only the first step. A coaching staff must also excel at developing talent, which LSU frequently accomplishes since every All-American was not a coveted recruit.
Let's look at how LSU's recent Associated Press All-Americans graded out as high school prospects:
2013 third-team All-American (all-purpose)
ESPN rankings: 78 grade (three stars), No. 62 athlete in 2011
Evaluation highlights: “Beckham is an exciting athlete that displays some versatility and range as an offensive weapon. He is undersized, but very explosive and shifty with good change of direction and excellent overall instincts with the ball in his hands. ... We feel he would need to be a utility player and certainly has a chance to be an excellent return man.”
In hindsight: Not a bad call. ESPN's analyst pegged Beckham's athleticism correctly, as he developed into one of the nation's most electric receivers and return men. He turned out better than a three-star grade, however.
2012 second-team All-American (linebacker)
ESPN rankings: 81 grade (four stars), No. 133 overall prospect in 2009, No. 11 outside linebacker
Evaluation highlights: “Minter has a great blend of size, speed and toughness. He isn't tall, but has a thick build and carries his weight very well. He's physically ready to make the jump to the next level. ... He should give his future defensive coordinator the flexibility to play him in the middle or on the strong side.”
In hindsight: Good call. Minter had an outstanding junior season, ranking third in the SEC with 130 tackles and fourth with 15 tackles for a loss before jumping to the NFL.
2012 second-team All-American (safety)
ESPN rankings: 81 grade (four stars), No. 71 overall prospect in 2010, No. 7 safety
Evaluation highlights: “Reid is a very gifted player that can really excel at the free safety position. He is an excellent field general that plays with confidence and possesses the necessary skills to run the secondary both physically and mentally.”
In hindsight: Good call. Not only was Reid good enough to rank among the SEC's tackles leaders in 2012, he became a 2013 first-round NFL draft pick and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie for the San Francisco 49ers.
2011 first-team All-American (punter)
ESPN rankings: 74 grade (two stars), No. 24 kicker in 2010
Evaluation highlights: “His long frame and good leg speed allow him to drive the ball 50-60 yards down field. His ability to hang the football is also impressive, with game punts in the 4.8 sec. range. ... Brad has some very good tools to build on. He should become an excellent college punter.”
In hindsight: Not quite. Wing was second in the SEC and 11th nationally in punting for the 2011 conference champs. He encountered problems later in his career, but they were not related to his football talent, which proved better than his prospect ranking.
2011 first-team All-American (cornerback)
ESPN rankings: 77 grade (three stars), No. 36 cornerback in 2010
Evaluation highlights: “Mathieu is an underrated defensive back with a good blend of range, athleticism and closing burst. ... Looks and plays taller on film than his listed measurables. ... Just when you think he is a bit-straight lined he will impress you with his lateral fluidity as a return specialist; overall just a very good, instinctive athlete who should only get better as he receives full-time positional coaching.”
In hindsight: Not quite. Mathieu was probably difficult to grade because of the freewheeling style that turned him into a college star. But he made possibly the biggest impact of any individual player on LSU's outstanding 2011 club, generating key takeaways and highlight-reel kick returns all season.
2011 first-team All-American (cornerback)
ESPN rankings: 80 grade (four stars), No. 26 athlete in 2009
Evaluation highlights: “Claiborne is a bit of a secret in recruiting circles, but his talent level won't be kept at bay for long once he enters the college ranks. ... He works out of the QB position in high school and sees some duty on defense, as well. We feel he'll be a wide receiver, but in time cornerback could be where he finds the most success. ... Overall, we would be very surprised if this kid didn't have a very productive college career.”
In hindsight: Good call. ESPN's analyst was on the right track in projecting Claiborne's eventual college path, which is difficult when a prospect plays multiple roles in high school. He was possibly the nation's top cover corner by his junior season before becoming the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
2011 second-team All-American (offensive guard)
ESPN rankings: 79 grade (three/four stars), No. 15 defensive tackle in 2007
Evaluation highlights: “Blackwell is an athletic big man who displays good football intelligence. He has a good get off and does a good job of shooting his hands. He can create separation and read blocks. He is physical at the point of attack and displays the ability to hold his ground. ... As he physically grows, he has the tools to be a big, quick, disruptive presence in the trenches.”
In hindsight: Wrong position. The evaluation graded him as a defensive player, but some of the tools that made Blackwell a valuable offensive lineman emerge in the analyst's comments.
2011-12 third-team All-American (defensive end)
ESPN rankings: 84 grade (four stars), No. 26 overall prospect in 2009, No. 2 defensive end
Evaluation highlights: “Montgomery got a late start in the game, but is an exciting prospect. He is green (only one year of football under his belt), but he appears to be a natural. Has excellent athletic ability and also shows a grasp of some of the game's nuances. ... Montgomery is an excellent prospect who has both immediate value and considerable upside.”
In hindsight: Good call. Natural athleticism helped Montgomery become a two-time All-American. He has yet to maximize those talents, but became a third-round NFL draft pick when he left after his junior season.
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.
“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
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.”
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
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."
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.
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).
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.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Like most teams in college football, LSU has holes to fill on its roster this spring.
But unlike most teams in college football, the Tigers consistently recruit top-10 signing classes, enabling the Tigers to have to replace players such as Patrick Peterson with players such as Tyrann Mathieu, or Michael Brockers with Anthony Johnson.
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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.
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