The 2008 LSU defense looks to rebound from its worst performance statistically since 2001—no easy task considering what LSU has to replace in 2008.
Gone from last year's national champions are All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, safety Craig Steltz, linebackers Ali Highsmith and Luke Sanders, and cornerbacks Chevis Jackson and Jonathon Zenon.
Plenty of Tiger fans, including myself, were willing to help Bo Pelini pack his bags for Nebraska midway through the 2007 season. But what us spoiled LSU fans seemed to forget was that the 2007 defense suffered some major losses on the D-line that affected the team's play throughout the season.
First, let's start with Charles Alexander, who missed basically the entire season due to injury. Then there's Ricky Jean-Francois (RJF), who was suspended the entire regular season due to academic problems. RJF would play in the SEC and BCS Title games and make a huge impact.
Oh, and let us not forget that Dorsey played much of the second half of the season hurt due to a bad back and bad knee.
The injuries, combined with what I felt was Pelini's inability to adapt to different personnel, were what hurt the defense last season.
All that said, the season ended with LSU raising the crystal ball. Okay, so let's move on to 2008.
There's no doubt that Dorsey leaves the biggest void on defense, but ironically, I think LSU's defensive line will be every bit as good as last season, if not better. How can that be, you ask?
Well, as I stated above, Charles Alexander was out for the year. RJF did not play until the final two games of the year. And Bo Pelini will not be roaming the LSU sidelines thinking about whom he is going to add to his coaching staff at Nebraska.
Okay, I joke about the last sentence.
In 2008, the defensive line will once again be LSU's strong point. Tyson Jackson, a potential first round pick, comes back at right defensive end. Kirston Pittman, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility, will start at left defensive end.
Prior to 2007, Pittman spent much of 2005 and 2006 on the bench with injuries. When healthy, he has been a solid performer at the defensive end position for the Tigers.
Alexander and RJF will start at the defensive tackle positions. Both men had strong 2006 campaigns serving as backups and look to make a huge impact for LSU in 2008.
Behind this starting four are a number of able-bodied backups, some of whom are guys who saw a fair amount of playing time in 2007. The others are highly touted recruits vying for playing time in 2008.
The depth on the defensive line is awesome. I am not trying to speak like a homer, but it is the absolute truth. One thing that Pelini did well was rotate a number of guys in and out, giving everyone good experience against quality competition. The key backups who figure to get the most playing time are defensive tackles Marlon Favorite and Al Woods, and defensive ends Tremaine Johnson and Rahim Alem.
Senior Mike (middle) linebacker Darry Beckwith looks to rebound from a subpar junior season to lead the LSU linebacking corps. Beckwith, along with Pittman, are the returning leaders in tackles for LSU. Beckwith had 65 tackles a year ago, 6.5 for loss.
Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard will replace graduating seniors Ali Highsmith and Luke Sanders at the Buck and Will (outside) linebacker positions. Sheppard is probably most known for being confused for former LSU QB Ryan Perrilloux. The two shared jersey number 11 last year.
It confused many announcers as well as many LSU fans, often posing the question, "Why is Ryan Perrilloux playing special teams?" Luckily, this season we need not worry about that.
Riley and Sheppard both have to improve their games in 2008. With the injuries accrued along the defensive line in 2007, the linebacking corps struggled at times. If LSU looks to repeat as SEC, or even perhaps BCS champions, this is an area where improvement is extremely necessary.
The one area where the biggest questions arise for the 2008 LSU defense is the secondary.
The only returning starter in the secondary is Curtis Taylor. However, the talent is rich but unproven among the rest. Backing up Taylor will be Harry Coleman, who had a solid game against Ohio State.
Getting the start at strong safety will be sophomore Chad Jones. Jones follows in the mold of a Laron Landry hard-hitting safety type. Danny McCray will back up Jones. McCray needs to improve in pass coverage to get valuable playing time.
Cornerback will be the crapshoot. Jackson and Zenon were very good cover corners. Unfortunately, the guys backing them up in 2007 were not.
Looking to fill the void at corner is redshirt freshman Phelon Jones and true freshman Patrick Johnson. Johnson was perhaps LSU’s most highly touted recruit back in February.
Overall, there are some question marks for the 2008 defense. However, I do think the Tigers can improve in 2008.
A healthy defensive line will go a long way in determining how good this defense can be. Although LSU lost some key guys in the secondary, I think it too can be better, most notably at the safety position.
That's no disrespect to Craig Steltz, who was tremendous for LSU, but at times was a liability in pass coverage. I think better athletes at the safety positions will help the freshman corners transition into their starting roles.
But if this team is to improve from last season, it most look no further than its most glaring statistic—the Tigers ranked 101st in red zone scoring defense last year, something that is absolutely unheard of at LSU.
This defensive unit will be called upon this season to make some key plays, especially with the inexperience at the quarterback position. It will be no small order, but this defense must be up to the task for LSU to have the huge success that is expected of them.