SEC: Lavar Edwards

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.”

GeauxTigerNation links: Seniors exit

November, 15, 2012
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Gary Laney writes Insider: LSU will say its goodbyes to its 14-man senior class in their last home game Saturday against Ole Miss. At most positions, the Tigers have replacements ready to step up and star.

Laney Insider: 5 storylines -- Ole Miss at LSU

Who will transform tomorrow?

October, 12, 2012
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Before the season, he was considered one of the SEC's best defensive ends. He had all the physical tools and the resume to back it up, so it was only a matter of time before we started hearing his name week in and week out.

Yet, the only mention of him to start the year was the news that he had been benched to open the season.

It wasn't exactly the start that LSU's Sam Montgomery wanted, but being the team guy that he is, Montgomery took to opportunity to teach those around him -- especially Lavar Edwards, who started in his place against North Texas.

Montgomery has since regained his starting spot and has 18 tackles on the season, including six for loss and two sacks. Still, we expected more from the junior. In two SEC games, Montgomery has 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack, all of which came against Auburn.

It's time for Montgomery to, as Atlanta Falcons so joyously say, "Rise up."

Saturday's game against No. 3 South Carolina is the perfect chance for everyone to see the Montgomery we expected from the beginning of the season. And the good news for Montgomery is that visiting South Carolina has had its own issues along the offensive line.

Offensive-line coach Shawn Elliott hasn't exactly been thrilled with his line's performance, and has had to change the lineup here and there. The Gamecocks have given up 14 sacks this season, with eight coming in their three SEC games.

That has to make Montgomery feel good. He's the heart and soul of not just LSU's defensive line but that the defense in general. If he can get this unit going, it could be a long day for South Carolina's offense. He has to bring pressure to the Gamecocks' backfield and make quarterback Connor Shaw's day as unpleasant as possible. South Carolina's offense thrives on the read option, so disrupting that is key for this defense.

Montgomery has the size, strength and speed to frustrate South Carolina's tackles all night long, and he will. We've been waiting to see Montgomery have a big game and with the stage so big, he'll show up. He'll have South Carolina's tackles scrambling and Elliott shaking his head all night long Saturday.

Kicking it with LSU's Sam Montgomery

September, 21, 2012
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Heading into the 2012 season, it was hard to find a more well-rounded SEC defensive end than LSU's Sam Montgomery.

He could have left school early last year and headed for the NFL, and no one would have questioned him. But he decided to stay in Baton Rouge to not only become a better player but he wanted to earn his degree as well.

To him, the league could wait.

Through three games, Montgomery has registered seven tackles, with 2.5 for loss and a sack, and has three quarterback hurries.

Montgomery took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with ESPN.com about the season so far and how he really feels about turning down millions in the NFL.

You had kind of an awkward start to the year by not starting, but you've come on strong since. How have the first three weeks of the season been like for you?

[+] EnlargeSam Montgomery
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireSam Montgomery says his coaches love his energy come game time because the defense feeds off it.
Sam Montgomery: This year, so far, has been like a roller-coaster ride for me. It's been up and down, up and down. But the one thing that's stayed consistent is that I've gone out there and played my hardest and played my technique. I try to get off my block and try to make all the tackles that I can and stay excited for the team, being as I'm one of the energy guys out there. They feed off my energy. My plays will come, but the overall thing is that I play my assignment with full effort, full technique and everything comes together for the team. The "W" is what's important.

What was going through your mind when the coaches came to you and said you wouldn't be starting the opener?

SM: When I wasn't starting, I looked at it as we have the best, top 3 defensive ends in the country. It also gave my buddy Lavar [Edwards] a chance to show and display his talent, which he's been doing a great job of consistently. That will probably give him a higher chance at the next level and to pursue his career and dreams because he's a great defensive end. I have no problem with me, [Barkevious] Mingo or Lavar [playing] because I know they'll go out there and handle their jobs. All I know is that third man, no matter who it is, it's going to add on some extra pressure for that tackle coming in because we have three powerful forces, plus, the young guy Chancey Aghayere.

With all the hype and attention you got heading into the season, did not going out first in the opener motivate you?

SM: Of course it did. Being a guy that doesn't really listen to what people say or look at where everybody ranks me at, I'm just trying to help and win games so I can make my memories with my teammates last a little bit longer. That's all that really matters to me. What other people think is all good, well and dandy, but, at the end of the day, it's all about LSU and all about my defensive line being able to play longer into the season together, so we can build our memories and our friendships that will last forever.

What does it feel like to play on a line with all that talent? You have to feel a little greedy at times, right?

SM: Oh, greedy? No. Ready to get on plays quicker than anybody else? Yes. It's a team thing, but it turns into a stat battle. It's about who plays technique the best and who gets off the ball the fastest. Really, when it comes down to it on our defensive line, it's a technique battle and who gets to the play fastest. Everybody's good. Everybody's fast. Everybody finishes strong. So what is the key thing to me? It's everybody making plays. When your time comes, were you playing your hardest and were you playing with correct technique? That's the key for who makes the plays now.

How much fun do you have playing with those guys?

SM: Too much. I have too much fun in games and I have too much fun in practice. Sometimes, my coaches have to tell me to shut up, but they love it in game time because when it's fourth-and-long or it's third-and-tight-inches, that energy boost is what the team feeds off. That gives them the energy to make those plays and get us off the field.

When I talked to you in New Orleans for the national championship you said you weren't ready for the NFL, but looking back at it now, is it tougher to think that you turned down the draft this year?

SM: Of course it's tough. It's always going to be tough, but one of my main reasons for coming back and not going to the NFL was because of my degree. I refuse to be out here and let something happen and me not be close enough to my degree. I want to make sure that I have a complete alternate choice if something happens and I cannot play football. I want the right networking information if something happens in football. I had to make sure all ends were covered so if football does leave me early I'll still have income and I'll still have networking I can do and I want to do as far as being a human being working a 9-to-5.

On the field, what are some of the things you need to improve on in order to reach your goal of playing in the NFL?

SM: I want to work on having more technique, using more hands, reading more plays and stuff like that. I just want to go into games and play with great effort and try to pick up on concepts, schemes and things like that from the offense. I still have a lot more to learn and as time grows, I'll become a great technician. Now, where I am is a guy who plays with all out effort and fights for his dreams in between the lines.

So, here's what everyone wants to know: Who's faster? You or Mingo?

SM: Well, in the 40, Mingo's faster, but off the line, I'll have to give it to myself. I kind of come off the ball kind of crazy. I just think my want to beat him makes me faster. I know I have to get off that football or Mingo is going to get that sack first or the tackle first. It seems like a race.

Instant analysis: LSU 63, Idaho 14

September, 15, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's mid-game hiccup against the mid-major happened again.

Again, LSU was able to right the ship, this time to an impressive result.

Two pick-sixes by the Tigers' defense and Zach Mettenberger's first 200-yard passing game of his short career allowed LSU to pull away to score the most points by a Tigers team in the Les Miles era in a 63-14 shellacking of Idaho Saturday.

A red zone interception thrown by Mettenberger into the arms of Idaho safety Gary Walker, who returned it 94 yards to set up a touchdown, allowed the winless Vandals to stay within a touchdown of the third-ranked Tigers for most of the first half. But a late Mettenberger TD pass to Jarvis Landry just before halftime began a stretch of 42 straight LSU points.

Like LSU's 41-14 win over North Texas in the season opener, the Tigers (3-0) allowed a team from a smaller conference to hang around. Idaho (0-3) trailed just 21-14 late in the second quarter and 28-14 at halftime, but LSU completely dominated the second half and finished with 472 yards of offense to 213 for the Vandals.

It was over when: LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards tipped a Dominique Blackman pass into the air, intercepted it and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown on Idaho's first possession of the second half, giving the Tigers a 35-14 lead.

It was the second pick-6 of the game, following a 45-yard pick-6 by Ronald Martin in the first half.

Game ball goes to: Martin and cornerback Jalen Collins. On two interceptions, Collins made a nice play to break up the pass, then Martin caught the deflection. On the second one, Martin exploded down the left sideline for a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 21-7 second quarter lead. The first one set up a touchcown.

LSU intercepted Blackman four times, making his 23-for-36, 176-yard passing day that included a pair of touchdowns somewhat benign.

Key stat: 222, the yards Mettenberger threw for in his most prolific night yet. After completing four of his first eight, he completed 13 of his final 15 to go 17-for-23 with two touchdowns and the one bad interception at the Idaho 1.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., caught four passes for 73 yards, making up for an off-week in last week's 41-3 win over Washington when he had three dropped passes and a fumble.

Deuces wild: LSU had two pick-6s, two TD passes by Mettenberger and two rushing touchdowns from two different players-- Kenny Hilliard, who rushed for 116 yards on 11 carries, and true freshman Jeremy Hill.

What it means: That Mettenberger played into the fourth quarter and kept throwing passes on the Tigers' final drive showed that LSU is serious about developing the passing game. It had some issues -- not just the interception, but three sacks by the Vandals -- but it appears the Tigers are committed to getting the passing game ready for prime time with SEC play looming.
Today we look at the big uglies that cause all the mayhem in the trenches. The SEC consistently spits out nasty defensive linemen and this year has more of an athletic feel.

Here's how the teams stacked up:

1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a defensive line that would make any offensive line shutter. Plus, incoming freshman Jadeveon Clowney comes in as the top high school player in the country and could be one of the best ends in the league this fall. Devin Taylor leads the group at end and was second on the team with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. Helping on the outside is Melvin Ingram, who plays inside on passing downs, and led South Carolina with nine sacks a year ago. Senior Travian Robertson, who came off injury to get four sacks last year, is solid in the middle as well.

[+] EnlargeDevin Taylor
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDevin Taylor made a habit of harassing quarterbacks last season.
2. Arkansas: The Razorbacks might have the best pass-rushing group Arkansas has seen in a while. Things revolve around defensive end Jake Bequette, who was one of the more unheralded players in the league last year, despite having seven sacks. On the other side of the line is Tenarius Wright, who will make up the second part of a formidable outside duo in Fayetteville with his speed and athleticism. In the middle, there are plenty of options. Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones missed spring due to injury, but will be back this fall and there’s a wealth of depth behind them. Junior college transfer Robert Thomas might be the best and most athletic option in the middle is primed to break out.

3. LSU: There are some questions about the experience the Tigers bring back, but no one will question the talent and athleticism in Baton Rouge. Sam Montgomery is back at defensive end, after suffering a serious knee injury. He hasn’t played much, but the coaches believe he’s got what it takes to be a top end in this league. Kendrick Adams started 11 games last year at end, while Lavar Edwards filled in for Montgomery. Ego Ferguson redshirted last year, but should get a ton of playing time in the middle this fall. He is already one of the most athletic tackles in the SEC. Don’t forget about five-star early enrollee Anthony Johnson, who made very strong impressions on his coaches this spring and will be in the rotation inside.

4. Florida: This unit was criticized for lacking toughness last season, but will be full of that and even more athleticism in 2011. Jaye Howard is returning from spring ankle surgery and is already considered a top defensive tackle prospect in next year’s NFL draft. Alongside him are youngsters Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley. Floyd was the most consistent of the much-ballyhooed freshman class last fall, while Easley struggled with attitude problems. Easley has rebounded and both excelled this spring. Omar Hunter is finally healthy and will share time with Floyd at noseguard and senior William Green will occupy an end spot. This group is even better when Ronald Powell lines up at end in the 4-3.

5. Alabama: On paper, there are a few questions with this group, but it’s hard to drop Alabama very far on this list. The 3-4 scheme will have senior Josh Chapman at noseguard. Chapman started 12 games in the middle last fall, totaling 31 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. Damion Square will compete for time on the outside, and since returning from his ACL injury, he’s gained a lot more playing confidence and could be a budding star in the league. Junior college transfers Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams will compete for time on the line as well, while sophomore Ed Stinson will stay at end after starting last season at Jack linebacker.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have arguably the top returning tackle tandem in the SEC. Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd are the behemoths in the middle who combined for 53 tackles, 13 for loss and five sacks last year. Finding any sort of inside running game against Mississippi State will be extremely tough. Developing a pass-rusher is the next step for the Bulldogs’ staff. Sean Ferguson occupies one side, but the other is still up for grabs. Trevor Stigers and Shane McCardell battled for the spot this spring, but neither has really pushed ahead.

7. Georgia: There is a lot of talent in Athens, but there could be a lot of movement on the line. JUCO transfer John Jenkins is the big -- and we mean big -- name up front and he’s yet to play a down in the SEC. He arrives with a ton of hype, but is perfect at noseguard in Todd Grantham’s 3-4. DeAngelo Tyson moves to his natural position outside after playing noseguard last year. Kwame Geathers played in the middle this spring, but could be usurped for Jenkins this fall and move outside. Abry Jones is still maturing after moving to end and recording 34 tackles including 3.5 for loss last season and had a 16-tackle performance against Georgia Tech.

8. Auburn: The Tigers must replace three starters this season. Inside, Auburn is talented but inexperienced with Kenneth Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker having 13 combined tackles from a year ago. There’s less concern on the outside with lone returning starter Nosa Eguae on one side and sophomore Corey Lemonier on the other. Eguae might have more experience with 11 starts, but Lemonier appears to be more athletic and should be near the top of the defensive end pool this year. After that, the Tigers are young across the board.

9. Tennessee: The Volunteers’ line will grow with senior Malik Jackson running things in the middle. He had 48 tackles and five sacks a year ago and some think he’ll be even better this fall. A lot will also be expected from incoming JUCO transfer Maurice Couch. He’s pretty athletic at 6-foot-4, 327 pounds and he’ll be greatly needed, considering the dismissal of Montori Hughes. Jacques Smith has All-SEC potential and will hold one of the end spots. After that, Tennessee has some young, but encouragingly talented bodies at each position.

10. Ole Miss: Some of the best news of the spring coming out of Oxford was the return of Kentrell Lockett at defensive end. Lockett was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and will not only be the Rebels’ top lineman but possibly their best defensive player. After that, the questions roll in with four tackles gone and youth coming in. Tackle Justin Smith has yet to really emerge as the All-SEC talent he was expected to be and Ole Miss is smaller up front. JUCO transfer Gilbert Pena could add some size in the middle. Gerald Rivers returns to get time at end, but has played in just 15 career games in two years.

11. Vanderbilt: This was supposed to be a strength for the Commodores last year until injuries hit. Still, Vanderbilt returns three starters. Experience is there, but this unit has to continue to improve, especially in the pass-rushing department where the Commodores had just 20 sacks in 2010. Rob Lohr led Vanderbilt with four sacks a year ago and had 35 tackles. T.J. Greenstone is coming off of injury and will line up inside. Tim Fugger was one of the Commodores' most consistent players at end, playing in every game and registering three sacks and four forced fumbles.

12. Kentucky: End Collins Ukwu and tackle Luke McDermott return with the most experience on Kentucky’s line. Ukwu improved not only on the field but in the weight room this spring and is expected to be a more consistent pass-rusher. McDermott is a walk-on currently ahead of Donte Rumph, who has the talent to be one of Kentucky’s top defenders, but has yet to fully buy in to the program. The coaches are also waiting for tackle Mister Cobble to finally break out of his funk and be a regular contributor. The rest of Kentucky’s linemen have some developing to do and are inexperienced.

Hope and concern: LSU

May, 4, 2011
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The Tigers enter the 2011 season with some of the best defensive talent in the country:

Biggest reason for hope: Talented defense and The Hat

LSU's defense might be a bit young, but it could be the most athletic in the country. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu showed that they each have the ability to make big plays in the secondary now that Patrick Peterson is gone. Senior safety Brandon Taylor should be a force in the defensive backfield as well. Linebackers Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois look like they'll be be even better this fall. On the defensive line, Sam Montgomery is coming back from injury at defensive end and if he's totally healthy, he'll be chore for opposing tackles to handle. Newcomer Anthony Johnson had a really solid spring at defensive tackle and should contribute this fall. But more than anything, Les Miles has Lady Luck on his side. Toss in some mighty tasty grass, and Miles is in hog Heaven (or Tiger Heaven). The way he defied logic to win games last season amazed everyone and I'm not sure his luck has run out.

Biggest reason for concern: Quarterback and middle linebacker

Jordan Jefferson might have directed the offense more smoothly and improved his passing mechanics, but we need to see how he does against players not wearing purple and gold. Jefferson was one of the worst statistical passers in the SEC a season ago, but somehow managed 11 wins. This season, a slip up by Jefferson will leave Miles contemplating benching his senior for transfer Zach Mettenberger, who is probably the best pure passing option the Tigers have. However, Mettenberger doesn't have the experience Jefferson does. The Tigers also have a gaping hole at middle linebacker now that Kelvin Sheppard is gone. Safety Karnell Hatcher and Kevin Minter, who was Sheppard's backup last year, got reps at middle linebacker this spring, but the spot has yet to be solidified, which has LSU's coaching staff a little worried heading into summer.

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