The LSU defense has been through its fair share of roster turnover this offseason as it's seen five veterans who were expected to be major contributors, depart for various reasons.
Defensive line took the biggest hit as Neil Farrell, Justin Thomas, TK McLendon and Tyler Shelvin are no longer a part of the roster. At full strength, it was without a doubt the deepest position group and will now be reliant on a mix of veterans and younger players.
The secondary lost a valued member as well with Kary Vincent electing to opt out of the season and focus on the draft next season. With an aggressive style of defense under new coordinator Bo Pelini, LSU will be multiple in the way it uses its defenders so the rotations will vary from week to week.
Based off of everything we've been hearing the last few weeks, here's a projection of the week one starters on defense.
DE: Andre Anthony, Travez Moore
The 4-3 is predicated on trying to get pressure on the quarterback and that starts with a big push by the defensive line. Anthony and Moore don't have much experience as starters but will now get their opportunity.
Anthony has been one of the team leaders all summer and will need to take that next step in his development for the team to get consistent pressure up front. Like we said, the team will be multiple in the way it uses its defensive linemen so expect a lot of bodies on the field.
JUCO transfer Ali Gaye as well as freshmen BJ Ojulari and Phillip Webb figure to see plenty of work throughout the course of the game and 2020 season. Coach Ed Orgeron is particularly bullish on Ojulari, calling him a future All-American and a player who will receive plenty of work on third down situations.
"Yesterday (Ojulari) had four or five sacks," Orgeron said during his first fall camp presser. "You are going to see him on third down. He is definitely considered a starter in the rotation. Phillip Webb is doing well. Those guys are looking good."
DT: Glen Logan, Siaki "Apu" Ika
The position group most directly affected by Shelvin's departure, the Tigers still have many options but none are more exciting than the sophomore Ika. At 6-foot-3, 340 pounds, Ika is a similar build and has the mobility to be a disrupter on the interior.
Ika's problem a season ago was he played Shelvin's position so there wasn't as much opportunity to see him on the field consistently. Logan will provide stability to the position and freshmen Joseph Evans, Jaquelin Roy and Jacobian Guillory will provide solid depth behind the starters.
Evans recently made the switch back to defense after spending most of last season and this offseason on the offensive line.
"Jacobian Guillory had an outstanding practice yesterday. Man, the guy made plays. Jaquelin Roy, those guys are gonna have to play for us. Glen Logan and now (Siaki) 'Apu' Ika's gonna start at nose," Orgeron said Tuesday. "We have some young guys. They're gonna have to play. They're gonna have to get better as the season goes on."
LB: Jabril Cox, Damone Clark
Linebacker was one of the positions that heading into the offseason, you didn't know what to expect. With the addition of Cox back in April, it has now turned into one of the position groups that will be heavily relied on as one of strength.
Then there's Clark, the junior who will likely serve as the Mike linebacker this season for the purple and gold. He fits the mold to be the next great linebacker from the program that has produced Devin White, Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips in recent years. Throw in Micah Baskerville and depth in the form of freshmen Antoine Sampah and Josh White and this is a group that will have significant impact.
It's also important to mention that Pelini has a background in coaching linebackers so they'll be put in great positions to succeed with more one on one opportunity with Pelini. LSU could be forced into playing a lot of nickel this season because of the volume at which teams pass these days according to Orgeron, which would mean more two linebacker sets.
"Most of the defenses that we're going to have to play are going to be nickel because of the spread offense," Orgeron said last week. "Now, we have practiced some base, especially in short yardage when they're getting 22-personnel, we're putting in goalline today so we have to play bigger players there, but most of all, it's going to be nickel."
CB: Derek Stingley Jr., Cordale Flott, Elias Ricks
The cornerback group is extremely talented but does have inexperience after the top three guys. Expect to see Stingley and Ricks on the outside and Flott in that nickel corner spot left behind by Kary Vincent.
Stingley will anchor the group but the coaching staff has been very impressed with the development of Flott and Ricks this offseason.
"We're looking at Cordale Flott. He looked good again yesterday," Orgeron said. "Eli Ricks made some plays. Those guys there. Jay Ward, Raydarious Jones, Dwight McGlothern so Corey's done a great job of recruiting those guys and you have the great Derek Stingley there so we're fine. We shouldn't skip a beat."
With not a ton of depth behind those three, the Tigers hit the transfer portal in search for an additional cornerback and landed on former Nicholls State standout Darren Evans.
The addition of Evans brings in a lengthy corner with experience, albeit with a much smaller college program.
“I think we’re a little short,” Orgeron said before Evans’ signing was made official. “We have one scholarship left. We are currently researching if there’s a cornerback or maybe a nickel corner out there that’s available, we may take him. We could use him right now because we’re a little short."
S: JaCoby Stevens, Maurice Hampton
Safety will be manned by Stevens, who is one of three returning full time starters on defense from a season ago along with Stingley and Logan. The senior has been the voice in the locker room this offseason and is a perfect candidate for No. 18, which should be announced very soon.
"I can't thank him enough for what he's done inside. We had a leadership meeting on Monday, our guys are having a meeting again today talking about things. We really opened up some dialogue. I know who the team leaders are," Orgeron said. "It doesn't take me long to figure it out. When he speaks everybody's listening. He's very intelligent. His family's from Louisiana. He's a great player, great young man so he's a big asset to our football team."
Hampton will get early playing time as Todd Harris still tries to work himself back into playing shape after a season-ending injury cut his 2019 season short. Freshman Jordan Toles will also be a name to watch as the season progresses but Stevens and Hampton will demand much of the playing time this season.