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Young guns will be asked to fire for LSU defense in 2013

Craig Loston returns to LSU to provide a physical and experienced presence at the back of the secondary for 2013.Craig Loston returns to LSU to provide a physical and experienced presence at the back of the secondary for 2013.

Although the offense has underachieved as of late, the defensive side of the ball is where the Tigers take the biggest hit from departures. Early-entry prospects Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Brad Wing, Spencer Ware, Bennie Logan, Kevin Minter, Tharold Simon, Michael Ford, Chris Faulk and Eric Reid are all expected to hear their names during the April draft.

This situation may offer the opportunity for the incoming freshmen to see significant early playing time. That is great to use as a recruiting ploy, but counting on inexperienced talent in the SEC is not. The defense takes the biggest hits by far.

Highly-regarded DE Robert Nkemdiche and LB Ruben Foster still have LSU among their options. The chance to play quickly could help in securing their signatures but LSU cannot count on either signing with them.

The defensive end position does not have a proven playmaker on the roster. The closest thing to that would be junior Jermauria Rasco( 6'3-255, 4.6) who recorded a pair of sacks in 2012. Jordan Allen, a junior, enters the competition with no game experience.

One you might want to keep a watch out for is sophomore Danielle Hunter (Katy, Texas) He was credited with 12 stops in limited duty this past season. His long reach and speed off the edge are reminiscent of former LSU end Kendrick Adams.

A 2013 recruit from Memphis, Frank Herron (6'5-245), is a dominating, fierce player off the edge. He is talented enough to make a case for himself in 2013. A young specimen already, he boasts 5.6 percent body fat. Another 2013 signee-to-be, Michael Patterson (6'4-250) from Winnfield, will be a factor down the road with some experience.

Anthony "Freak" Johnson is ready to step up to be the next big-time LSU defensive tackle. That is certainly needed since the true junior will be the only returning starter on the line. He had 10 tackles for loss and three sacks in '12.

Ego Ferguson displayed improvement as the past season progressed. At 6-foot-3 and 308 pounds, he can be a force alongside Johnson if he can take the next step in his development. A 2011 signee, Quentin Thomas (6'3-294) from Breaux Bridge, will be given the chance to showcase his talent during spring.

Incoming freshmen Greg Gilmore, Christian LeCouture, Tevin Lawson and Marquedius Bain show the type of promise that could help them go down as the Tigers' best young group of defrnive linemen to arrive on campus since the Henry Thomas, Roland Barbay, Tommy Clapp and Karl Wilson era of the early 1980's.

A light has come on for senior-to-be Lamin Barrow, who has evolved into an All SEC type linebacker after notching 104 tackles (second best on team) in 2012. The product of John Ehret High only had 35 total stops the previous two campaigns. Barrow (6'3-230) is also adept in pass coverage. Perhaps he will be asked to slide to middle linebacker to replace Barrow, an All-SEC leader from this past season.

Luke Muncie will have an opportunity to step up into a starter's role again though the senior saw younger talent take his playing time in 2012. Yet the linebacker position will most likely be shared by a committee of highly-skilled 2012 freshmen. Sophomore Debo Jones cut his teeth as a true freshman on special teams ande had 23 tackles with three behind the line of scrimmage. Another true sophomore, Kwon Alexander will be tough to keep out of the starting lineup. Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist arrived with much fanfare and justified all the hype by performing well in rookie action.

Senior Tahj Jones missed the 2012 season due to academics but came back for the bowl game. He will be heavily counted on to provide steady play.

Redshirt freshmen Lorenzo Phillips and Trey Granier will be given ample time to impress the coaches while junior D.J. Welter, a special teams mainstay, has the speed and instincts to make a difference at MIKE linebacker spot lacking much experienced depth.

Speaking of middle linebacker, expected new arrivals Melvin Jones (6'3-258) and Lewis Neal (6'1-245) are downhill tacklers who really bring the wood. Both signees-to-be will be looked at immediately to provide special teams help and to gauge how quickly they can adapt to the scheme of defensive coordinator John Chavis.

The secondary loses two starters from 2012, but tell me any other team that could lose players with the quality of Patrick Peterson, Mo Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon through the last two years and still boast one of the best defensive backfields in the nation?

As true freshmen cornerbacks in 2012, Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins were very solid. Both managed a pair of interceptions this past year; the Jalens will be asked to step into starters' roles.

Sophomore CB Dwayne Thomas (O.P. Walker) would be a clear-cut starter on many teams, so he will likely have first crack at the nickel corner spot. Derrick Raymond (East Jefferson) has all the speed and skills required with only experience holding him back.

Expect Rickey Jefferson, Jeryl Brazil and Tre' Davious White to jump into the fray due to extraordinary talent to compete immediately.

White, from Green Oaks in the Shreveport area, has similar skills to Mo Claiborne at this stage. It is no irony that the two are related. Tre'Davious is a big time play maker. All three signees come February will immediately be counted on to battle for touches in the kick return department. Any of them could prove to be difference makers there in 2013.

Safety has long been a feature spot at LSU. Craig Loston came up big towards the end of the 2012 season, displaying some all-star type ability. He finished with four interceptions. His decision to return to school provides the secondary with an experienced and hungry leader.

The next players that seem to possess that star quality at safety are Ronald Martin (two picks) and Micah Eugene. Martin is enough of an athlete that he spent some time, briefly, on the hardwood with the basketball team. Eugene showed good ball skills along with the ability to play as a physical hitter in the box. A former do-it-all star at Acadiana High, Eugene finished his redshirt freshman year with 29 stops and 3.5 tackles for loss.

Big sophomore Corey Thompson (6'2-210) has all the markings to be an elite run stopper and pass defender. He contributed heavily on special teams as a true freshman. Thompson has 4.5 speed with a 38" vertical and was capable of rim rattling dunks on the basketball court while at Fort Bend Elkins High (Missouri, Texas).

After watching from the sidelines as a freshman from Hahnville, Jerqwinick Sandolph (6'2-190) has size and skill to line up at either corner or safety.

Elite players nationwide have been closely monitoring how successful LSU has been on the field. The number of high-quality NFL players who have been pumped out of the program is taggering. The future shows sunny skies.

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