By Neil Ripley
For much of the 21st century, LSU has been known around the college football world as “Defensive Line U.” From Marcus Spears to Glenn Dorsey to Barkevious Mingo, numerous defensive linemen donning the purple and gold have terrorized opposing quarterbacks, striking fear into the hearts of Southeastern Conference offenses for years.
Last year was not one of those years.
The Tigers registered only 19 sacks in 13 games last year, ranking 102 in the nation in that category, and struggled to sustain any semblance of a pass rush.
LSU lost its two defensive end starters from 2014 to graduation and the NFL Draft. Three other defensive linemen (Maquedius Bain, Trey Lealaimatafao and Travonte Valentine) also departed from the team for various reasons this summer.
Despite last season’s struggles and recent attrition, LSU players and coaches are still confident the unit will perform well in 2015.
“We are going to have an attack-style defensive line that is going to make a lot of plays and play within the scheme of the defense,” first year defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said.
Both Orgeron and first year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele are tasked with trying to improve a defensive line unit that played lackluster in 2014.
Known for his booming Cajun-accented voice and a never ending supply of enthusiasm, Orgeron brings plenty of coaching experience to LSU, with several coaching stops in college and the NFL, including a head coaching stint at Ole Miss and serving as the interim head coach at Southern California.
Kevin Steele, the former defensive coordinator for Clemson from 2009-2011, last coached linebackers for Alabama in 2014.
Junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith arrived on the scene in the middle of the season last year and started the last seven games. Beckwith is optimistic about the defensive end position despite the losses at that position.
“I think we will be pretty solid at defensive end,” Beckwith said. “We have got Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal. Both those guys are workhorses. And we got some pretty talented freshmen that came in, along with the guys that are already here, that have some experience, so I think we will be pretty solid at defensive end.”
Beckwith was second on the team in tackles last year behind Kwon Alexander despite only starting the last seven games.
Defensive veterans Lamar Louis and Christian LaCouture, who was an anchor on the defensive line last year as a sophomore, believe the new coordinator and defensive line coach will do a great job connecting with the players.
“Anytime you have great athletes it’s not hard for a coordinator to fit in and put in their scheme,” senior linebacker Louis said.
“We are really adapting to Coach O and Coach Steele,” sophomore defensive tackle LaCouture said. “We feel like they have a great defensive plan for us this fall.”
LaCouture also mentioned some of the freshmen defensive linemen, such as Arden Key and Isaiah Washington, will be expected to contribute along the defensive line.
Junior defensive end Tashawn Bower said this year’s defensive ends will have more opportunities to get after the quarterback.
“You know I think we have great guys that can come in and can take over,” Bower said. “We have guys that learned behind [Rasco and Hunter], know how to play the position, guys who have experience. We have some young guys, too, that came in and exceeded some expectations, so I think we will be pretty good at defensive end. I do.”
Even though the coaches have changed for the LSU linebackers and defensive line, the fire and enthusiasm is still present within the Tiger defense.
“Coach Orgeron still has that high energy just like Coach Brick [Haley] did,” junior linebacker Deion Jones said. “They do a great job of relaying the same message that the other coaches [Chavis and Haley] did: us being a fast, physical defense.”
With new coaches comes a new system, and the players will have to learn to adapt. According to Coach Steele, they have done just that.
“There is a learning curve, but they have done a great job with it,” Steele said.
While the defense was very solid overall last year, ranking in the top 10 in the NCAA in both total defense and scoring defense, the Tigers only scored two defensive touchdowns and two special team touchdowns.
If LSU wants to get back to contending for championships, they are going to need some help from this defense scoring and setting up scores and veteran defenders like Louis, Jones and Beckwith are just the guys to provide it.