Friday, August 21, 2009

Defense: Injuries?

This time of year, many college football fans (those who follow their teams very closely) start to wring their collective hands about injuries leading up to the opening game. Last year, LSU fans had little to worry about. Except for Ryan Perrilloux's defective character, the team was (luckily) in great shape.

This year, I'm wringing my hands a bit. Specifically, on defense. It seems the LSU first squad defense just cannot stay healthy. I don't know the severity of the injuries, because Les Miles is very tight-lipped, even by modern law-suit fearing standards. He just doesn't say much other than "We expect him back in x days" or "His recovery is a little slower than expected."

My biggest concern is the LB corps. All three first team LBs have been nicked recently. And Jacob Cutrera, who spent a large portion of last season injured, is once again hurt badly enough to have missed effectively a full week of practice. Cutrera is important for many reasons. First, he's a senior. Second, if he's not there, Kelvin Sheppard moves to Mike, which forces Harry Coleman to play every down or Ryan Baker to come in and start. Not a catastrophe. Baker is a stud and Coleman has a lot of experience on the field at safety. But experience at LB is a huge benefit. And, while Baker and Coleman are great hitters - neither have played much Div I linebacker. Another option is to move Minter into the Mike spot, but the question is can the true freshman make that leap? Physically, Minter looks ready. But can he handle it mentally? Dunno. Few true freshman middle linebackers can start from day one. Raw talent and size simply cannot makeup for lack of experience.

My second concern is the defensive line. While Charles Alexander appears to be as healhty as he's been in a long, long time, Rahim Alem and Pep Levingston are currently hurt. Lavar Edwards is also hurt, and JC transfer Akiem Hicks, who has been coming on strong lately, is injured as well. LSU has a lot of talent in this spot, but the remaining defensive ends are all very young - either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. Redshirts Aghayere and Clement at least have a year of practice and understudy. True frosh Brockers and Montgomery are highly regarded. But they were in high school less than 6 months ago.

At the end of the day, how serious is all of this? Very hard to tell. The coaches are likely holding some players out of practice to avoid further injury before the first game. Others, like Cutrera, definitley have significant injuries and the coaches are likely developing plans to start the first game without them. But the bottom line is that we the fans won't likely know what the LSU defensive injury status against UW will be until gametime.

My gut tells me everyone will be there and ready to start. But my gut also tells me that Kevin Minter and Ryan Baker need to mature very, very quickly. Because Cutrera's health seems to be a constant concern.

When you consider that the defense is already adjusting to a new coaching staff and a new way of business, injuries to key experienced defensive leaders don't do much to make one comfy.

In my opinion, defense is the key to LSU getting to the SEC CG this year. I have no doubt the offense will be in a groove by the Georgia game. There are so many weapons there that, even with injuries, I think the offense will be very good. But the defense isn't as solid.

If the Tigers can't pressure the QB and cover receivers over the middle, Tebow and Snead (and maybe the rest of the SEC QBs) are going to exploit the defense. It's going to be tough enough to navigate the schedule this year without a porous short passing defense with a marginal pass rush from the outside.

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