Davon Godchaux's emergence key for LSU D-line

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Christian LaCouture knew he was going to need Davon Godchaux, so he took the freshman defensive tackle under his wing shortly after Godchaux arrived on LSU’s campus last summer.

“I was working out with him and I knew he was a guy who was going to have to play, and I wanted him to learn the ropes,” LaCouture recalled. “He’s like a little brother to me. If he gets in trouble, I’m on his back, but when he does great things, we’re slapping and high-fives. He’s a great kid and I couldn’t be any more happy to have a guy alongside me like that.”

Despite being just a year younger than LaCouture, Godchaux happily accepts the little brother role in their partnership.

“Christian is like a big brother to me,” Godchaux said. “He taught me a lot, taught me the defense before I was coming in, taught me a lot of things. That’s a guy who I look up to and that’s a guy who I feed off. When he gets going, I get going."

What LaCouture didn’t realize last summer was how early he would need Godchaux. Once the season started, Quentin Thomas struggled to play effectively because of two torn biceps, and the center of the Tigers’ defensive line was a bit of a mess.

But Godchaux eventually seized a starting job -- he started 10 games overall and each of the last nine games -- and formed an effective tandem alongside LaCouture, helping LSU’s defense recover from its early struggles to lead the SEC in total defense.

“Quentin Thomas went down in fall camp, and I used the opportunity to get better and get the starting spot,” Godchaux said. “Last season in Tiger Stadium was amazing. I never thought I would start as a freshman. I came in with intentions of getting playing time, but I never knew I was going to take the job early.”

Their emergence as a tandem was one of the key factors in the LSU defense’s improvement throughout the season. The Mississippi State and Auburn games early in the fall were two of the worst performances by an LSU defense in John Chavis’ six seasons as defensive coordinator. But toward the end of the fall, physical offenses like Alabama and Arkansas hardly pushed around the Tigers.

“I feel like as he came into the starting lineup, and when [middle linebacker Kendell] Beckwith came in, I feel like after the Auburn game the defense really started picking up and doing a good job,” LaCouture said. “I think I really noticed it when we played Arkansas, a big powerhouse team, or even Alabama you could say that, that we stopped those guys. Arkansas, I think those guys rushed for like [218] yards per game and we held them under 100 yards (Arkansas ran 38 times for 95 yards in a win against the Tigers last season).

“I really noticed it was a big-time deal and we were really improving toward the end of the year.”

The situation along LSU’s defensive line today is a complete opposite of where it was a season ago. Last year, LaCouture and a host of unproven players were battling to replace starters Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, while Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco were both back at defensive end. Now LaCouture and Godchaux are established starters and the Tigers return limited experience at end.

It has pushed the starting tackles into leadership roles this spring.

“Last year I was looking to Danielle and ‘Sco for help and I hadn’t played -- well, I played, but I didn’t start -- and now it’s completely the opposite,” LaCouture said.

New defensive line coach Ed Orgeron told ESPN.com this week that Godchaux and LaCouture can both develop into elite pass rushers, and Godchaux should only continue improve after getting a full year in strength coach Tommy Moffitt’s weight training program. At 292 pounds, he’s nearly to his goal of a solid 295 after playing at 288 as a freshman.

The Tigers don’t have considerable proven depth at tackle yet. Backup Greg Gilmore has made some noise this spring, LSU coach Les Miles said Frank Herron is improving and Thomas should return to the rotation once he recovers from offseason surgery to repair the biceps injury. But the position is no longer a huge question mark now that Godchaux and LaCouture have emerged as reliable starters.

“I think it was an issue early in the year certainly because both Godchaux and LaCouture were relatively young,” Miles said. “They were coming themselves, so now the good news is we two real veterans and three talented guys that can step in and play and play very well.

“Now if we can get those guys up to the level that we need them, so that they can not only play, but push the starter, that’s the advantage.”