New tiger, same stripe
LSU's tradition provides confidence with new starters on defense
BATON ROUGE, La. — There seem to be fewer concerns about LSU's untested defense than there were in March.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis faced a major retooling job, having to replace six defensive starters heading into spring practice. But after three preseason scrimmages head coach LSU Miles remarked how difficult the defense is to handle.
Tackle Bennie Logan, ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid skipped their senior seasons and entered the NFL draft.
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The 12th-ranked Tigers have just three returning full-time starters on defense.
"Obviously, the number of guys we lost last year isn't usual," Chavis said. "But, we didn't get caught off guard. We recruited well before this year and the years before that."
The defense is filled with players who have been waiting their chance to play significant snaps and may be just as effective as the ones in recent years under Chavis. They won't have to wait long before being tested. LSU's season opener against No. 20 TCU is less than a week away.
But one thing this retooled LSU defense has going for it is are the number of players who have been around the program a long time. Four new starters — end Jordan Allen, tackle Ego Ferguson and linebackers Tahj Jones and D.J. Welter — are beginning at least their fourth seasons in the program.
Allen, Ferguson and Welter are fourth-year juniors who will be making their first career starts against the Horned Frogs. Jones, who was academically ineligible for the 2012 regular season, is a fifth-year senior.
The returning starters also have experience.
Two of the three returning full-time starters are fifth-year seniors — linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston. Barrow made 104 tackles, while Loston accounted for 55 tackles and three interceptions a year ago. The other returning full-time starter is sophomore cornerback Jalen Mills.
"I am not at all surprised at how good the defense is playing," Loston said. "LSU does a great job in recruiting. These guys either had big names in front of them or they just got here. [Chavis] has a great system. There is not going to be a big drop-off."
Ferguson and Anthony Johnson are have had to wait their turns. Both have been in the rotation at defensive tackle, but NFL draft picks Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan, along with veteran Josh Downs, kept them out of the starting lineup.
Ferguson, one of top defensive ends in the country coming out of high school, has made only 26 tackles in two years. Johnson, who did start three games a season ago when Downs was injured, has been credited with 42 tackles in his career. Both are ready to be major contributors as juniors.
"Ego and me have waited a long time," Johnson said. "We played behind some great guys. We have been waiting so long wanting to show people what we can do."
LSU's defense has been a major factor in the Tigers' 34 victories during the past three years. In half of those wins, opponents scored fewer than 14 points. Johnson expects no dip in production this year despite all of the new full-time starters.
"We don't talk about there being a drop off," said Johnson, referring to the defense in general and the line in particular. "We replace talent with talent at LSU. Tradition doesn't die. We just keep pushing and play good ball."