Six starters graduating and 10 underclassmen declaring for the 2013 NFL Draft do not scare LSU coach Les Miles. In fact, he looks at the overhaul his team will soon undergo as a testament to the state of the program.
“We are fortunate at LSU to be able to recruit the style of high school player that can develop quickly into an NFL-caliber athlete,” Miles said in a news release. “The good fortune is that we invest in them, coach them and prepare them for the next step of their career.”
With LSU’s entire defensive line on the way out, former five-star recruit and No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the nation Anthony “Freak” Johnson will finally get his chance to shine in his junior season.
Johnson’s performance in the 2012 season was on par with the starters on the defensive line. His 10 tackles for loss are the most among returning LSU players. He also recorded 30 tackles and three sacks.
Johnson will likely be joined by junior defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, who finished the season with 14 tackles.
The probable candidates to fill the defensive end spots are sophomore Jermauria Rasco and freshman Danielle Hunter.
Rasco played in all 13 games this past season, earning 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble, while Hunter registered 12 tackles in 12 games with limited playing time.
LSU is also bringing in two four-star defensive ends in Frank Herron and Lewis Neal who could compete for time.
Despite the loss of Kevin Minter, LSU will still have experience at the linebacker position in juniors Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow.
The Tigers will look to Barrow to be the leader of the linebacker corps, as he put up 104 tackles last season, more than any other returning member of the team.
Freshmen linebackers Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Ronnie Feist, who all contributed in their first seasons, will also be competing for a starting spot.
Safety Craig Loston will likely lead next season’s secondary as the only senior after coming off of a season in which he had 55 tackles, three interceptions and a touchdown.
Still, the departure of cornerback Tharold Simon and free safety Eric Reid will leave LSU’s secondary relatively young.
Loston may take over the free safety position. If so, redshirt freshman Micah Eugene is first in line to replace Loston as the strong safety.
Looking to fill the void left by Simon will be freshmen cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins, who each grabbed two interceptions and combined for a total of 11 broken up passes and 87 tackles.
“Development of cornerbacks will be crucial, because redshirt freshmen and true freshmen will need to come in,” said NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier. “Never before have we seen, since Saban or Miles have been here, where so many young guys will play a big role.”
A slew of departures could make a thin offensive line even thinner for LSU. It will have to rely on players such as junior Josh Williford and sophomore La’el Collins.
“We’re moving some guys around in the offensive line,” Miles said in the Chick-fil-A Bowl post-game news conference. “I think we’re looking forward to getting some age there.”
Depending on the success of incoming recruits such as tackle Ethan Pocic and guard Tevin Lawson, the Tigers could have little room for error or injury next season.
The battle for the starting tight end position could be one of the more interesting to watch. With Nic Jacobs’ spot on the team in question, Travis Dickson seems to be the logical starter, but incoming freshman DeSean Smith may vie for playing time.
Less concerning losses for LSU from a replacement standpoint include position players. Russell Shepard is the only wide receiver leaving, and the running back corps is returning three of its top rushers in Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue.