LSU defensive ends strive for more productivity

LSU’s pass-rushing unit searches for ways to regain form — but without Allen

The chiseled figure dressed in all black stood off to the side and watched the LSU defensive ends work through drills last week.

All around the Tigers’ operations center, there are nods to history in glass display cases, but Sam Montgomery’s presence on the Charlie McClendon Practice Facility is a nod to the not-so-distant, quarterback-wrecking past.

“Yeah,” junior Danielle Hunter said, “it’s hard to miss.”

After a season in which LSU’s pass rush ran hot and cold, the nostalgia for Montgomery — and Barkevious Mingo and Lavar Edwards — reflects current need.

LSU’s defensive ends sometimes struggled last season, and sorting out the shortage started this spring for the Tigers.

“We’ve got to do better than last year,” Hunter said. “We didn’t live up to expectations.”

Ideally, Hunter, a lean 6-foot-6, 241 pounds, would imitate Mingo’s blurring speed off the edge. Jermauria Rasco’s wait would end as he inherited Montgomery’s reps. Jordan Allen, recovered from knee surgery, would have added depth in the rotation — but evidently, he won’t be around.

On Wednesday, Allen told TigerRag.com he’s seeking his transfer and that LSU has given him a release to leave for any school outside of the SEC.

And what about the other spots?

Maybe converted linebacker Justin Maclin would help. Or one of the young tandem in Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal.

The position group tallied just 9½ sacks last season — about half of the posted total from 2012, to go with 17 quarterback hurries. All total, the Tigers pass rushers averaged just 3.2 “pressure plays” — sacks, hurries or tackles for loss — the lowest mark since 2010.

And the legacy of the 2011 defense, which racked up 181 pressure plays and tallied one on 20.2 percent of snaps, only made last season’s issues more glaring.

“There’s always a standard we have to live up to here, but you want that,” Bower said. “You need to embrace it and try to surpass it.”

So far, scrutiny has fallen on the interior of the line, where six men are trying sort out their places in the pecking order for defensive tackle as the position group replaces Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson.

On the outside, though, the lingering question focuses on how LSU will extract more production. Rasco missed the spring after he had surgery on his right shoulder. Hunter, who had 32 tackles and three sacks, is entrenched at right end.

Asked what improvements defensive line coach Brick Haley is trying to get, Hunter didn’t zero in on technique or knowledge of the playbook. No, it was a trait more elemental to the job.

“Pass rush is all effort,” Hunter said. “It’s 10 percent skill and 90 percent effort. If I give maximum effort, I can get myself a sack any time.”

And that raises the question of what stood in his way.

“I was thinking too much,” Hunter said. “I’d stutter (step) myself out of sacks and all that. I’m just going to let go and play. Coach Brick told me I’ve started to do that, and the young guys have started to do that.”

If the defensive scheme left Hunter firing a millisecond too slowly, then imagine what Bower — a four-star product plucked from New Jersey — endured during his first pass through the rough-and-tumble SEC.

“It was not knowing the whole defense in and out,” Bower said. “In certain situations, we weren’t as confident in what were supposed to be doing and hesitating. You can’t hesistate in this SEC.”

Same with Neal, a three-star prospect already somewhat smaller at 6-1, 232 pounds, meaning LSU’s rotation at end was only three deep with Allen spelling either Rasco or Hunter.

Taken together, the group was short-handed, unsure at times and could be worn down — all of which fostered an inability to apply constant pressure in a year where the SEC became pass-happy and was loaded with veteran signal-callers.

That depth took another hit Wednesday, when Allen said he was seeking to transfer. Still, if the Tigers can cultivate a four-man rotation by the end of fall camp, Rasco said the benefits are obvious.

“It’s going to help us keep fresh bodies,” Hunter said. “Last year we didn’t have that much in the rotation. This year we should have a whole bunch of fresh bodies produce better numbers.”

Bower said Tuesday he feels more assured in the system. The check calls are easily digested. He knows his techniques and duties against the run. The byproduct: speed.

“We’re able to be players now instead of worrying about doing everything too technical and be robots with it. When you know the whole system, you can be faster and fluid with it.”

And more of that trait may help mimic the past.

“That’s exactly,” Hunter said, “what we need to do.”

Jordan Allen plans to transfer

On Wednesday, Allen told TigerRag.com he’s seeking his transfer and that LSU has given him a release to leave for any school outside of the SEC.

Allen would be a fifth-year senior next season. He can transfer to a Football Bowl Subdivision school and play because he graduated in December.

An LSU spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Allen began last season as a starter but lost his job to Hunter after the third game of the year. He played in all 13 games and finished the season with 16 tackles and two sacks.

Allen played in a combined four games as a freshman and sophomore. A four-star prospect and a member of The Advocate’s Super Dozen, Allen left West Monroe High as the top defensive line prospect in the state.

Ross Dellenger contributed to this report.