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Rushing the passer just part of Alem's repertoire

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Rahim Alem thinks he's finally found his niche on the LSU football team.

He's not the guy who used to be known as Al Jones, Jr. only to change his name to reflect his African roots.

He's not the older brother of safety Chad Jones, one of the most sought after prospects in the country when he signed with the Tigers.

He's not a role player, and he's definitely not just a pass-rusher.

Don't even think about referring to him as such.

"It's like everybody wants to box me in as a guy who just rushes the passer," said Alem, who was third in the SEC last season with eight sacks. "I'm the starting right end."

The 6-foot-3, 254-pound senior was the Tigers' best pass-rusher a year ago. For that matter, he was one of the best pass-rushers in the SEC. But because of LSU's depth and bulk on the defensive line, Alem only started one game.

In a lot of ways, he was pigeonholed as the Tigers' designated pass-rusher and was used as part of their "Express" package on passing downs.

But there's much more to his game than just getting after the quarterback, and he's determined to show his full repertoire next season.

"When you're on a team where everybody else is 270-plus and then they see me, they say, 'Oh, he must be the pass-rusher,'" said Alem, clearly miffed by that label. "I'm good at it, but I'm an end. They didn't recruit me to pass-rush. I'm not on half scholarship. I'm on full scholarship. I can do what any defensive end does."

He points to the Alabama game last season as proof. That was his only start, and he went against All-American offensive tackle Andre Smith all game.

"They had the best running game in the SEC behind Florida. Alabama was a downhill running team," Alem said. "The coaches started me because they knew I could play against that kind of team. I played against Andre Smith for four quarters and overtime, so I've played against the best and held up."

Alem will be one of the unquestioned leaders on the 2009 LSU defense, and head coach Les Miles said there's no question that Alem will be on the field for as many snaps as he can stand next season.

"He's good enough to play against everybody we play on every down," Miles said. "He's got a high motor and [is] very physical. His want is very strong. He's got a real passion for the game. Some of the things you see him do when he's not in the game, rooting for the other guys, lets you know where his heart is. I expect him to have a big year."

Alem expects the LSU defense to have a big year and get back to the attacking style that defined the Tigers during Miles' first three years in Baton Rouge.

Last season, LSU finished with 28 sacks. That's after collecting at least 37 in each of the previous three seasons.

First-year defensive coordinator John Chavis loves to play pressure defense, and his fiery approach was exactly what the Tigers were missing last season, Alem said.

"Different coaches emphasize different things," Alem said. "Last year, they were more technical, more about technique. These coaches are about that, too, but their emphasis and what you hear more about than anything is effort, hustle and pursuing the ball. That's the biggest thing they talk about. We did up-downs forever for not running to the ball."

Alem said the little things were what caused the Tigers to lose their edge defensively last season.

Nobody's taking anything for granted this spring.

"We were much more tenacious on defense before last year attitude-wise," Alem said. "It was the same thing in 2006 and 2005. Last year, now that I look back, we didn't have that spark or the attitude we had all the previous years.

"I feel that now, but you can't help but feel it if you're going to play for these coaches."