Position competition goes to wire

The hulking presence of Jordan Allen imparts a few stray observations before his sense of urgency.

Sporting a tangled mess of dirty blonde hair, a week’s worth of stubble forming a beard and an angular jaw line combine to make the junior closely resemble a bassist from a Nordic death metal band.

Until the answer about the West Monroe native handicaps his chances at landing a coveted starting spot opposite Jermauria Rasco on the Tigers’ revamped defensive line. The reply, tinged in a soft drawl, is less slash-and-burn and downright communal.

“In the end, it’s whoever’s there and can perform in the coaches’ eyes and perform the best for that situation,” Allen said. “We’ve got a handful of guys that could go in at the defensive end spot, and the coaches will be very (interested) with how they’re playing and responding to the coaching.”

Make no mistake, though. Allen, who is 6-feet-6, 254 pounds, wants to fend off sophomore Danielle Hunter in a duel that began in spring practice and might not have a resolution until No. 12 LSU releases its depth chart Monday for its Saturday matchup against No. 20 TCU in the Cowboys Classic.

“We probably have two different mindsets of what’s pushing us to play that defensive end,” Allen said. “This is my chance to make up for the time I lost last year, and for him — being as young as he was, people forget he was a freshman — for the jump he’s trying to make.”

Since preseason camp opened, coach Les Miles has lauded both options in equal measure. A week ago, they worked as bookends on the edge as Rasco was held out of the Tigers’ second scrimmage to avoid re-injuring a surgically repaired left shoulder.

But after a final scrimmage Wednesday, Miles remained coy about revealing any details about how the two-deep has taken shape in the waning stages of camp.

“We’ll take it right into game week before we release a two-deep,” Miles said after the scrimmage. “I’m probably more set on who’s going to play than who’s going to start.”

So it raises the next question: Might the audition process stretch into Week 2 and the Tigers’ home opener against UAB?

“I honestly think it will,” junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “(Defensive line) coach Brick (Haley) always emphasizes two things. There’s only two things we can control: Alignment and effort. Both of those guys do both very well. So we’re going to see at the end of the week who it is.”

The pair might share a position and a scant amount of reps outside of work on special teams, but they contrast in almost every other respect.

At 6-6 and 241 pounds, Rasco is built on the same template as his predecessor, Barkevious Mingo: lean with only 5 percent body fat and with enough speed and agility off the edge to make battling at the point of attack futile.

“He’s a robot, basically,” Johnson said.

Then there’s Allen, carrying 15 pounds on the same frame and known more for setting an edge against the run and working technically against tackles to compensate for his bulkier build. No, Allen is not a schlub, but he understands his chassis is different than the souped-up Hunter.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you I have a faster 40 time than Danielle,” Allen said. “There’s definitely a realistic look at it.”

Allen’s candidacy might be helped by the fact his size makes him an ideal every down option, a bid buttressed by an advanced knowledge of the playbook. In meetings, Allen’s voice is among the first to answer Haley’s quiz questions.

And Johnson said Allen isn’t shy about asking questions, such as discerning what his job in containing the run might be on a zone blitz, or whether he might need to pick up a running back on a flat route out of the backfield.

Allen, though, shuns the notion that he and Hunter will see reps divvied up based on typecast roles.

“It really hasn’t been a situational thing,” Allen said. “If we’re going a rush package, the coaches feel comfortable with whoever is in there. That’s great to know. Same thing with run stop. Same thing with fourth-and-short.”

The maturation process is apparent when Miles described Allen as a guy “who really just has come of age — a big strong athletic man” who “didn’t really get the opportunity with the guys we graduated at end in front of him.”

“Now, with another year in the program, he’s going to play really, really well,” Miles said. “Our ends are going to be real dominant players.”

The circumstances priming Hunter and Allen in their quest for the job diverge, too.

Allen was healthy during spring but still trying to restore full confidence that his knee was fine — a nagging doubt subdued after a summer spent strengthening his quadriceps and hamstrings to support the joint.

“I never had any problems, except for a little bit of inflammation at one point,” Allen said. “But that took about a week-and-half of one-a-days and two-a-days for it to happen. That’s a really great (and) comforting feeling for me.”

Hunter, a four-star recruit, played in 12 games and had nine tackles last season but was a stalwart on special teams. Similar to Rasco, the exodus of Mingo and Montgomery created a vacuum youngsters are eager to fill.

So if Hunter feels his future is ahead of him, then Allen’s sense is that time is fleeting.

“I can tell you that he’s performing on a level that is higher than his age,” Allen said. “That’s great to have out of a younger guy. To see him have the knowledge and what he picked up last year, he’s able to teach our younger guys.”

Eight months toiling for the same promotion has also unfolded rather blandly. Talk to both, though, and the contrived notion of a camp battle goes out the window quickly.

“It’s not so much fighting for the spot,” Allen said. “It’s human nature. We just want to be better than the other person, and at the end of the day, that’s going to make this team better. That’s what we take pride on.”