Eyes on the lines

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BILL FEIG /
LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery (99) prepares to wrap up West Virginia running back Noel Devine (7) for a loss during the second half in LSU's game against West Virginia, Saturday Sept. 25, 2010, at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.

Young LSU defensive front impressive

The trenches have attracted a lot of attention during LSU’s preseason practices.

The offensive line is the most experienced group on the team, but a series of seemingly minor injuries has led to a variety of combinations being used. Coach Les Miles recently singled out the defensive line as a position that has caught his eye.

The absence of key offensive linemen might have contributed to that, but more than anything else it has been the progress of the defensive linemen that has stood out.

Once the offensive line gets healthy, the Tigers should be deep and experienced on the offensive line and deep and youthful on the defensive line.

Sophomore end Sam Montgomery said expectations for the defensive line should be very high.

“I think you should expect quickness,” he said. “I think you should expect aggressiveness. I think you should expect pass rush. I think you should expect run block. I think you should expect everything.”

Montgomery, the Tigers’ top pass rusher before being lost for the season because of a knee injury in the fifth game last season, is one of the keys to the defense.

“Getting Sam Montgomery back is a big plus,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “He’s raring to go and he brings some special things to our defense in terms of a guy who can play the run well and who can also rush the passer.”

Chavis, who’s beginning his third season with the Tigers, said the ends have improved steadily since his arrival. He expects to play five or six ends.

Senior Kendrick Adams, who starts on the left side, and sophomore Barkevious Mingo, who backs up Montgomery on the right, form as fast a pair of ends as there is in the country, Chavis said.

Miles said Mingo “definitely has outside linebacker and probably safety speed,” adding that he thinks Mingo can add 10 or 15 pounds without losing any speed.

The tackles are especially young after the graduation of Drake Nevis and Pep Levingston. Chavis said he likes to play five or six tackles in every game.

Miles and Chavis both praised sophomore Michael Brockers’ offseason and said they expect him to emerge as a leader.

Chavis said he expects Brockers’ backup, sophomore Bennie Logan, “to be an impact player.”

Chavis said true freshman Anthony Johnson and redshirt freshman Ego Ferguson are ready to play a lot of snaps.

“You’re talking about two quality players that are both 310 pounds plus and they have outstanding speed and outstanding strength,” he said. “Both of them are very aggressive and both do a great job of being run stoppers for us, but they also give us a great pass rush inside.”

Junior Josh Downs provides some experience at tackle.

“I think that there’s some youth and there’s some speed,” Miles said. “I think our defensive front will continue to get better and better.”

The offensive line features eight players who have made at least one start. Miles said he thinks the added reps for younger players in practice will pay off. True freshman La’El Collins is likely to see some action on the left side at guard and/or tackle.

“We think we have guys that will eventually give us the opportunity to be a dominant line,” Miles said. “We’re moving some young guys in, and it’s really good because for us what it does is give us depth at that position that frankly we’re not going to need. We’re going to have a pretty deep line except that a lot of these young guys will have taken a lot of snaps in a two-a-day schedule and it allows them to play early.”

Miles has been vague when asked for updates on injured players, but he’s indicated that none of the injuries are long term.

Seniors Josh Dowarczyk and T-Bob Hebert, who can play all three interior spots, are battling at left guard. Senior Will Blackwell has returned from injury at right guard and junior P.J. Lonergan is the center.

Miles said Lonergan “has the potential to be one of the best players on our team and that I would expect him to be a great center before he’s done here,.” “But,” he added, “that would have to be something that he would want to do.”

Junior Alex Hurst returns at right tackle and the only new full-time starter is sophomore left tackle Chris Faulk, who started two games last season.

“Faulk is just a big, strong, athletic man, and when he gets on you, he has the potential to drive you into the ground,” Miles said, “and he does it with a very pleasant demeanor.”

Lonergan said everything “flows better” on the line because of the group’s familiarity with one another.

“We know what we’re doing,” he said. “When you know what you’re doing it makes it easier to help other people to know what they’re doing.”

Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, who doubles as coordinator, said, “This is definitely as good of an offensive line as I have had.”

“It is a group that works, lives, and hangs out together,” he said. “When you have that cohesiveness, they get to be really good. Right now they have confidence in each other and they know each other. They know what to do at the snap of the football.”