The notion of Ed Orgeron not being excited when he steps on the football field, well, that’s preposterous. It’s just not in his Cajun DNA.
So, yes, the first-year LSU defensive line coach – finally in a job and at a place he professes to be where he always wanted to be – has been jazzed up from Day 1 when he was hired last spring.
It doesn’t take a keen ear to detect it, either. In the handful of early pre-season LSU practices the media had access to earlier this month, Orgeron’s gravelly chirp was audible above anybody else as he urged his position group on.
That enthusiasm, while a nice jolt of energy, might be tempered slightly by concern or anticipation … however you want to define it for a coach who isn’t exactly sure what hand he’s been dealt after the starting four up front.
Those four – defensive ends Lewis Neal, Tayshawn Bower and tackles Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture – are all veterans who got plenty of action on the field the last year or two.
And while each member of that quartet can still get better, Orgeron and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele should breathe somewhat regularly when that crew is on the field. It’s when the Tigers start mixing and matching the reserves in along the line when blood pressures might increase.
How long that is true could be a tell-tale sign of whether the LSU defense takes some strides forward after a bit of a roller-coaster ride in 2014.
There is some depth in terms of numbers. Veterans Quentin Thomas and Mickey Johnson are still around and at this point anything the Tigers get from those two is welcome. Thomas battled a biceps injury last season but is healthy again, a hamstring tendon surgically implanted to fortify the bicep. Johnson nearly wandered away to Louisiana Tech, but was brought back when a wave of dismissals for off-the-field issues affected LSU’s front line depth.
Potential-wise, there is also plenty of reason for hope along the line. However, with at least two of those players, potential has yet to materialize into reliability.
Big tackles Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore were regarded as cornerstones of the 2013 recruiting class, but neither has blossomed. That could be about to change: Both have drawn positive feedback in the spring and this August.
“Greg Gilmore looks like a starter to me, as well as Frank Herron,” Tigers coach Les Miles said recently. “Herron in the spring was a little inconsistent but very athletic. Now you can see flashes, and now he’s much more consistent. We’re going to be two deep there.”
On the ends, the depth could be very young, but promising.
Freshmen Arden Key and Isaiah Washington are poised for playing time early and sophomore Sione Teuhema flashed some promise last fall. Key and Teuhema in particular could give Steele some flexibility to stand up and be either pass-rushing specialists or even drop back and assist in pass coverage, much like former LSU end Barkevious Mingo used to.
There have been hints that Steele might deploy a 3-4 front at times as well, which would tie into the two young ends dropping back from time to time. In those schemes, Gilmore could factor in as a noseguard with LaCouture and/or Godchaux staying on the field at the ends.
Whatever combination gets utilized, Orgeron and Steele will also look for more production from that front four (or three) to improve the LSU defense, particular against the mercurial offenses that pestered the Tigers last season – Mississippi State and Auburn come to mind.
That production might not be measurable by statistics as much as it is the effect the defensive line has on the rest of the defense. This season in particular, with a thin and somewhat untested linebacker crew after Kendell Beckwith and Lamar Louis, the line has to be more resistant to initial blocks and not get pushed around to create gaping holes that linebackers and defensive backs have to close.
Speed will be an asset for the Tigers’ defense for sure. But they need some power and bulk up front to provide some balance.
Is that in place? Can the young players (and old) in reserve roles give LSU a stout first line of defense? Those are the challenges facing Orgeron.