Next wave of defensive standouts surfaces in LSU’s spring game

After having nine defensive players chosen in the 2013 NFL draft, and with four more expected to go in next month’s draft, the next wave of LSU stars on that side of the ball was on display Saturday.

While it was only the spring game, they certainly didn’t disappoint, proving the well isn’t going to run dry anytime soon.

There was junior defensive end Danielle Hunter harassing quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris — sacking Jennings twice and hurrying Harris on two occasions early in the White team’s 42-14 belting of the Purple squad in Tiger Stadium.

Then, junior linebackers Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones had interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Alexander had a 26-yard pick-six for the White team, which was made up primarily of starters, and Jones took one back 67 yards for the Purple, which consisted of second-teamers.

Strongside linebacker Lamar Louis, who made the switch from the middle this spring, was credited with a team-leading seven tackles and a quarterback hurry for the White team while playing with a broken hand.

Linebacker Ronnie Feist was credited with 14 tackles for the Purple team and two more for the White team after changing jerseys in the second half.

“Everybody’s learning the plays; everybody’s doing a great job,” Alexander said.

Hunter, who was the only returning starter back for the defensive line this spring, made sure his presence was felt early.

The 6-foot-6, 241-pounder came off the edge and applied pressure to force Harris into a pair of incompletions on the Purple’s first two possessions, setting the tone for the White defense.

“The only thing that was going through my mind and that I was focusing on was (forcing) him up into the pocket for the tackles to get a sack,” Hunter said.

Hunter took care of that himself in the second quarter when he got to Jennings after Jennings and Harris switched teams at the start of the second and fourth quarters.

After the Purple team had a first down at the White 48, Hunter tackled Jennings for no gain, then barged into the backfield for back-to-back sacks to push the Purple back to its 38.

“That’s not all because of me,” Hunter said, deflecting some of the credit for his big day. “Me and (defensive tackle Quentin Thomas) talked about running games (stunts) and all that. The first time we ran a game, I got to the quarterback because he had been flushed out by (defensive end Tashawn Bower) from the other side. So that was pretty much it — the D-line working together.”

“You saw it today: He’s a freakish talent,” said defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, who had five tackles. “Danielle is one of the best defensive ends in the country, if not the best. He’s got the size, speed and athleticism. It doesn’t come any better than that.”

The defensive line, along with the linebackers and secondary that provided key run support, held the Purple to 53 yards on 27 carries.

But Alexander and Jones showed their skills in dropping into coverage.

Jones scored the first touchdown of the game when he perfectly read a checkdown form Jennings to running back Kenny Hilliard. He quickly stepped to the outside and picked off the pass; he was untouched on his 67-yard touchdown return.

“(Defensive coordinator John Chavis) called the right coverage, and I kind of sat on it and let the ball bring me down,” Jones said. “When (Jennings) checked down, I just broke on it.”

Alexander scored his touchdown on the series after Hunter had his two sacks of Jennings.

“That was definitely a good start for us,” LaCouture said. “We wanted to set the tone in the spring going into the summer and fall. I thought the defense really had a great spring, so I’m excited for the future.”