LSU D-ends expect improved pass rush

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Maquedius Bain was a defensive tackle for his first two years at LSU, and that’s the position he was playing when the Tigers opened spring practice last month. Now he’s apparently in line to become a starting defensive end since changing positions shortly after the team’s first spring workout.

At least, that’s how LSU coach Les Miles seemed to view things Saturday following the Tigers’ third scrimmage.

“Quay Bain is a guy that will certainly … hold down one of those spots,” Miles said. “I think the other’s really kind of going to be a very competitive spot. I think Lewis Neal certainly is probably that guy. But Sione Teuhema and Deondre Clark, those guys are really in the mix as well.”

Freshman Arden Key also seems likely to figure into new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron’s plans once Key arrives on campus this summer. But for now, with two starting spots open following the departures of Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco, LSU has few proven commodities to take over a boatload of snaps.

Perhaps that is why a player who just became an end already is in line to become a starter. It’s not like the alternatives -- junior Tashawn Bower is probably the next most experienced player at the position -- have played a ton of snaps, either.

Bower, however, believes that the experience factor is somewhat overrated.

“If you’ve been behind the guys that have started. You’ve gotten to learn from them and you’ve gotten to see how they work and what it takes to be where they are at the next level,” Bower said. “I think they had that opportunity, I’ve had that opportunity, and so we know what it looks like to be successful. Now we just have to emulate it and do it each and every day.

“So I don’t think the whole young guys or losing two starters is a big deal because we have the guys and the talent in the whole room to replace it and be just as special as those guys were.”

Hunter and Rasco both were consistent players in previous defensive coordinator John Chavis’ scheme, but they were hardly sack machines. The two starters combined for just 5.5 sacks, and the Tigers’ total of 19 sacks tied for 101st nationally and second-to-last in the SEC.

In fact, the past two years have seen a substantial drop from the early days of Chavis’ regime, when LSU’s fearsome defenses tied for 19th (in 2010 with 34 sacks), 11th (in 2011 with 39 sacks) and 16th (in 2012 with 35 sacks) in sacks behind dynamic edge rushers such as Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery.

Orgeron and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele are placing a greater emphasis on taking down quarterbacks this year, and the Tigers say they are confident their sack total will climb closer to those of Chavis’ best seasons.

“We have to do it,” Orgeron told ESPN.com this week. “It’s easy to look back and say, ‘Well, they weren’t that good at this or that.’ Well, here’s our turn. We’re used to having some seasons with some high sack totals and stuff like that, but it all depends on the talent level you’ve got, what teams we play and how can we adjust to it. But I think these guys are going to be fine.”

Added Neal: “I always set a goal that I have to get two or more sacks every practice. Just set goals so you can achieve them because when the game comes, you’re going to have those same goals as in practice and if you do it in practice, you’re going to do it in the game.”

The Tigers still are months away from the next game, of course, but improving their pass rush clearly has been one of the defense’s objectives this spring. Miles said defensive rushers were “all around the quarterback” in Saturday’s scrimmage, singling out Clark and weak-side linebacker Deion Jones for their pressures and adding that Teuhema scooped up a fumble and scored.

Bower also credited sophomores Teuhema and Clark this week for the progress they have made in picking up the Tigers’ defensive concepts. But as Miles mentioned, the race for playing time is still wide open at end -- the only LSU defensive position that is a genuine question mark.

That battle will continue.

“You write your paycheck in practice,” Bain said. “Everybody’s writing their paycheck and everybody’s fighting for that position because we’ve got new coaches. There’s no starting spots. Nobody has won a starting spot, so everybody’s fighting for a starting spot.”

That competition has yielded some encouraging performances, according to Bower.

“I see a lot more pressure on the quarterback, a lot more sacks, small things that Coach O has taught us and we just see from watching film,” Bower said. “That’s really getting us to the quarterback that much quicker because all it takes is a split second for him to throw that ball and there goes your sack.

“So I think all the small things that we’re doing, stuff Coach O is teaching us and stuff that we help each other with off the field, it’s really getting us those sacks and getting a lot more pressure on the quarterback that we need.”