Les Miles (right) with linebacker Kwon Alexander
Is LSU's defense rebuilding or reloading?
That's the question that has hovered over Baton Rouge this spring. The answer may become more apparent on Saturday when LSU holds its annual National L-Club Spring Game at Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
After six starters declared early for the NFL draft, head coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis are being forced to plug quite a few unexpected holes this spring.
Good news though, it's nothing new for LSU's coaching staff and—as is the case more times than not—they have they personnel to do it.
Up front, the absence of former defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan is looming large. Inside, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson have the talent to be difference-makers, and seeing what the dynamic duo is capable of on Saturday will be interesting.
If they can successfully clog up the middle, it will free up defensive ends to make an impact one-on-one outside. Even though Mingo and Montgomery are gone, LSU is set in that department.
Jermauria Rasco is out for the rest of spring with a shoulder injury, but the junior solidified his spot at one of the defensive end spots this spring.
On the other side, Chavis moved linebacker Ronnie Feist back down to defensive end this spring. Watching how he adjusts to his new role will be interesting to see on Saturday. He's a little on the smaller side for a defensive end at 6'2", 230 pounds; but it's not like Mingo was the biggest player on the line last season for the Tigers.
Other than Feist, Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen will also be vying for playing time at defensive end.
The Tigers will need to find a new leader of the linebacking corps now that Kevin Minter has moved on, and that leader could be "Sam" linebacker Kwon Alexander. Alexander played well in 2012 until an ankle injury forced him to miss the final six games of the regular season.
Lamin Barrow has played both Will" (outside) and "Mike" (middle) linebacker in place of Minter this spring, but D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis are pushing for playing time in the middle this spring according to NOLA.com. Toss in Deion Jones at "Will" and the return of Tahj Jones at "Sam," and LSU's loaded with talent and flexible at linebacker.
The roles for those players need to start sorting themselves out, and Saturday's spring game may be the time for that to happen. Chavis said that he's in no hurry to make a decision according to NOLA.com, and my colleague Michael Felder over at Your Best 11 thinks that's the flexibility on the defensive side of the football for LSU is a luxury for "The Chief."
With cornerback Jalen Mills out with an injury, it's up to Jalen Collins to show what he's capable of on Saturday. He had 30 tackles and two picks last season, and he needs to step up and be that lockdown corner opposite Mills when the season starts.
Where will LSU finish in the SEC in total defense in 2013?
Can he handle it? We'll know more on Saturday.
The return of Craig Loston at safety is huge for the Tigers. He considered jumping early with the rest of the small village that departed the program after last season, but the senior has the experience to step in to a more vocal role as a leader of the secondary.
It should be an interesting season in Baton Rouge. The Tigers are getting overlooked a bit thanks to the Alabama dynasty and the hype surrounding the Texas A&M Aggies.
Something tells me Miles thinks that's a good thing.
Don't sleep on LSU, because the Tigers have the talent to contend for the SEC West title.
If those pieces on defense fall into place early, that will allow Chavis to focus on building depth this summer. With the talent that LSU has up and down that roster, that would be huge news for the Tigers as they head into the 2013 season.