LSU defensive tackles pushing each other

The four players currently competing for the two starting defensive tackle spots in the LSU football team’s preseason camp may be short on experience, but certainly not talent.

While the defensive line has been an area of strength for the Tigers for years, especially under defensive coordinator John Chavis, there are some questions inside after the early departure of juniors Ego Ferguson and Anthony “Freak” Johnson from last year’s team.

There are even more questions now since their most experienced player, junior Quentin Thomas, injured his biceps during the first week of fall practice and may or may not be a factor this season.

If you listen to Chavis and head coach Les Miles, LSU fans need not fret even though Christian LaCouture, Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore have combined for zero college starts.

In fact, only LaCouture has put on an LSU uniform in a real game. He saw action in all 13 contests a year ago as a true freshman while the other three heralded recruits from the class of 2013 were redshirted.

“Yeah, I think we’re pretty good at defensive tackle,” Miles said last week while noting that LaCouture and Herron were working with the first-team defense. “We think that Quentin Thomas, we’ll hopefully get him back here soon.

“Then, I think we’re talented behind that. So I think we’re good there.”

Talented? That’s an understatement.

Herron was a five-star recruit and Gilmore was a four- or five-star depending on what recruiting service you listened to. LaCouture and Bain came to the LSU program with four-star potential.

As a result, the battle to see who will earn the starting nod for the season-opening game against Wisconsin on Aug. 30 will continue until at least the middle of next week when Miles conducts two scrimmages in a four-day span.

Regardless of how it eventually pans out, all are expected to play in the rotation used by Chavis and defensive line coach Brick Haley.

“You’ve got holes that you’ve got to fill,” Chavis said regarding Thomas’ injury. “They (injuries) are unexpected, and the next guy has to be ready to go. We’ve got several guys that could be the next guy. So we get the next guy ready to go, and we go play.

“It’s unfortunate for Quentin; I feel for him,” he said. “We can’t look back. We’ve got to look forward and move on.”

That’s exactly how LaCouture, Herron, Gilmore and Bain are looking at it.

“Some people are going to have to step up,” said LaCouture, who made his mark in the spring and was atop the depth chart when players returned to the practice field this month. “They’re working their tails off and doing everything they can to succeed and help this team. They’re doing whatever they can to get the job done.”

Even though he has never started a game for the Tigers, LaCouture finds himself helping the other three players daily in practice and in meetings.

“With me being a starter, I have to try and help the younger guys to get ready and contribute,” he said. “It’s a little different without Quentin there because I’m the older guy now.”

Gilmore said nothing has changed since the start of fall camp.

“My mindset hasn’t changed from the beginning,” he said. “I think a lot of people have been focusing on who’s going to take Quentin’s spot, but the key is that we need to get better individually and as a unit. That was the goal even when he was here. … We’re all still competing.”

The big thing, Bain said, is all four — and Thomas, if he’s healthy enough — will likely get equal snaps in games.

“Every defensive tackle is going to get the same amount of reps, at least 30 reps for each of us,” he said. “It’s not like the oldest person gets these reps and the next person gets the next reps. Coach (Haley) is going to decide, but we’re all going to be there.

“The good thing is we’re all pushing each other for the starting spots, so the competition makes each one of us better. We all push each other to the max every day in practice until we can’t push any more.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.