Ali Gaye knew he probably could've turned pro after his lone season at LSU and been a pretty high draft pick in next month's 2021 NFL draft. At 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, the transfer out of Garden City Community College was the most consistent edge rusher for the Tigers in 2020 and one of the more consistent in the SEC.
His 9.5 tackles for a loss ranked top five in the conference while his seven pass deflections were tied for fourth. Gaye was just simply a playmaker for a defense where game altering plays were hard to come by.
Despite the success, there was plenty that Gaye felt he didn't achieve during his first season in Baton Rouge and wanted to improve on in his game, which is why the decision to return for another season was ultimately made.
"The closeness we had last year and the way we ended, I felt we could have a better season," Gaye said. "I didn't want that to be my year, the only year I had here at LSU. I had a bigger vision for being here, which was to win games and build a strong bond with my teammates and guys I've gotten close with."
Last year this was a defensive line that was able to get to the quarterback throughout the course of the game, but struggled mightily with stopping the run game as a result. Far too often a lineman would be pushed off course, allowing space for running backs and mobile quarterbacks to find holes and reach the second level of the defense.
LSU allowed 169 rushing yards a game during the all conference 2020 season, a number that the defensive line needs to improve under new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones and defensive line coach Andre Carter. It'll also help that the Tigers are returning the entire starting defensive line from a season ago, while adding some substantial pieces to the core group of players as well.
"We all learn from each other. We talk football, and if it's not football, it's everything else. This defensive line is really special," Gaye said. "I feel like with some of the new guys coming in and the guys we have here, and everyone coming back from the defensive line, it helps us grow a lot and become closer and more effective on the field."
It's no secret that this is a defensive line that returns a ton of talent. Along with Gaye, starters Andre Anthony, Glen Logan and Neil Farrell are all returning. The team is expecting sophomore BJ Ojulari to really catipult this unit to its full potential and young players like Maason Smith are already making an impact with the program.
Farrell has been a part of LSU's roster since 2017 and said this week that the defensive line unit has never been closer than it is this offseason.
"We're always on the phone, watching film together, trying to get better as a unit," Farrell said. "We go against a great O-line every day, one of the best O-line we're going to see in the country so we make each other better every day at practice. We just ready."
Gaye and Farrell both know this is a unit that is a strength on this defense and they have to play better next year to see the kind of results in the win-loss column. Jones and the defensive staff also understand the front line is a strength of this team and are scheming up ways so that the success starts up front.
"He brings a bully defense here. The name says it. Stop the run and rush the passer," Gaye said. "Being in this defense is really challenging me to be effective not just in the passing game. Coach O is the same way. They want me to use my skill set to get to the quarterback and not be limited in the run game, but getting better in the run game and becoming an overall better defensive lineman.
"Everything starts with the front, he's letting us go, letting us get off the ball, he's holding us to a high standard of performance. We love the defense so far," Farrell said.