This is the sixth in an 11 part series where we'll preview the 2011 Tiger football team. I will take a look at the 2011 Tigers through a series of 11 questions, and each question will focus on a different position group. I will also do a quick two-year analysis of LSU's roster for that position.
Part 1 - Will Jordan Jefferson Play Well And Hold Off Zach Mettenberger?
Part 2 - Is Spencer Ware Ready For The Big Time?
Part 3 - Will Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard Maximize Their Potential?
Part 4 - Will Deangelo Peterson become a Versatile Weapon in LSU's Offense?
Part 5 - Will The OL Take The Next Step and Become a Dominant Group?
LSU lost both starting defensive tackles, including one All-American. Are the newcomers going to be OK?
Drake Nevis logged 10 sacks and 24 tackles for loss over the last two seasons, but he has now moved on to the NFL. The other starter from last year, Pep Levingston, was also drafted by the NFL. That leaves the Tigers with a lot of question marks, and not a lot of experience, at the defensive tackle position heading into 2011. But they do have a lot of talent.
Third year sophomore Michael Brockers suddenly finds himself as the anchor at the position. Brockers was in the rotation a year ago and played well. He logged 25 tackles and one tackle behind the line, which matched the output from Pep Levingston who was a starter. He represents the single known commodity at the position heading into fall camp. And while Brockers probably won't ever be the type of D-tackle to make a lot of big plays, he's very reliable and does his job. He opens things up for others to make plays which is often the primary role of a defensive tackle.
After Brockers, the competiton for playing time is wide open. Junior Josh Downs has the most experience of the group and therefore may get the first crack at playing time. Downs has a lot of quickness and has showed the ability to get into the backfield and make plays, but he has really struggled with injuries in his two years at LSU. He simply has not been able to stay on the field. But if he manages to stay healthy, Downs will almost certainly be in the playing rotation. His quickness acts as a very nice compliment to Brockers.
The guy everyone wants to see is true freshman Anthony Johnson. "Freak" enrolled in school early and took part in spring practice which gives him a huge advantage over the other true freshmen. Largely considered the top defensive tackle prospect in the nation, and perhaps the top defensive line prospect signed by LSU in recent memory, many are expecting great things from the state's all-time sack leader. I'm cautious to expect too much from Johnson so early in his career. It's rare to see true freshmen excel at defensive tackle. But I'm willing to concede to the hype because the truth is that Johnson is a pretty special talent. He's already one of the top weight lifters on LSU's team, and the media guide depth chart lists him as the starter opposite Brockers. I do not expect Johnson to play like the 2007 Glenn Dorsey or the 2003 Chad Lavalais, at least not this year. But I do expect him to play quite a bit this fall, and he'll make his fair share of plays.
Redshirt freshman Ego Ferguson is another guy that fans are anxious to see. One of the big recruiting coups from National Signing Day in 2010, Ferguson came to LSU as a big defensive end. During his redshirt season, Ego bounced between end and tackle before finally settling in at tackle full-time this spring. Ferguson has a ton of talent and once he gets used to playing inside, he could be a big contributor for the Tigers. Will that take place this fall? That remains to be seen, but I suspect that he will be in the mix for playing time and will get some opportunities.
Sophomore Bennie Logan could be considered the "sleeper" of the group. Logan played sparingly last season, but we heard some pretty good things about his performance this spring. Like Ferguson, Logan is also a converted defensive end. We'll have to see if his impressive spring translates to playing time this fall.
Barring injuries, I believe the five players mentioned above will be the key players for LSU this season. I would venture that Brockers and Johnson will start the opener against Oregon and that Downs will play situationally in nickel and perhaps dime situations. To answer the question above, I do believe that the new guys will be "OK" this year. I don't see defensive tackle being a liability on LSU's defense. Will someone step up and replace the play making ability that was lost with Nevis? Probably not. But the talent and potential, especially with Johnson and Ferguson, is certainly there.
A pair of true freshmen will join the mix this fall and try to work their way into the rotation. Mickey Johnson seems the most likely to do so. Johnson is 5'11" 310 pounds and is a state powerlifting champion. His strength should give him a chance to see the field as a freshman if needed. Quentin Thomas is the other newcomer but since he missed his senior season of high school ball, he seems destined for a redshirt while he gets accustomed to wearing the pads again. Ideally, this group will stay away from injuries and both Mickey and Thomas can redshirt.
Walk-on Dennis Johnson should not be discounted either. He played in five games for the Tigers last year.
LSU has a nice group of players at tackle...they're just unproven at this point. As the season wears on and these guys get some more seasoning, I expect them to get better and better.
Two Year Position Outlook: Defensive Tackle
Michael Brockers (So)
Anthony Johnson (Fr)
Josh Downs (Jr)
Ego Ferguson (Fr)
Bennie Logan (So)
Mickey Johnson (Fr)
Quentin Thomas (Fr)
With no seniors in the 2011 group, the same group should gain a ton of experience and return to be one of the top groups in the SEC for 2012. Remember that this was the year that former 5-star recruit Chris Davenport would have ideally taken over one of the starting jobs. However, things with Davenport did not work out and he's now playing on the offensive line.
Anthony Johnson (So)
Michael Brockers (Jr)
Josn Downs (Sr)
Ego Ferguson (So)
Bennie Logan (Jr)
Mickey Johnson (R-Fr)
Quentin Thomas (F-Fr)
LSU will only have one senior in 2012. So looking way ahead, this same group looks like they're going to play together for quite some time. And in due time, the combination of Michael Brockers and Freak Johnson should prove to be a damn strong one for the Tigers.