For two seasons, the LSU coaching staff waited and waited to see the things that made Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron two of the most sought-after defensive linemen in the nation in 2013.
Despite carrying impressive résumés as four- or five-star prospects by various recruiting services, they didn’t show it early.
Both redshirted as freshmen, then played sparingly last year even though LSU struggled to provide quality depth for starters Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux, who had to play way too many snaps in an unfulfilling 8-5 season.
Then it happened. In back-to-back games the past two weeks, no less.
Spelling LaCouture and Godchaux, Herron and Gilmore flashed the potential many thought they had when they collected sacks in wins against Auburn and Syracuse, respectively.
Just like that, it seems the preseason questions and concerns about the defensive line, especially inside at the tackle spots, disappeared after Gilmore and Herron each played 26 snaps in Saturday’s victory at Syracuse.
That came after an increased workload the previous week against Auburn.
“Yeah, both guys are playing more snaps … both guys are playing better,” coach Les Miles said. “They’re coming off the football. They’re gap-sound. They both have talent and ability; they’re quick for big men.”
They flashed it the past two weeks.
Herron turned in a highlight-reel play in the Auburn game when he barged into the backfield and sacked Jeremy Johnson, knocking the ball loose and recovering the fumble while crawling on the turf.
“It was unbelievable,” Herron said of the first big play of his college career. “I didn’t expect to get off the ball so fast. I knew (the ball) was out and I was crawling around, but I couldn’t see it. So I was lucky to get it.”
On Saturday, Gilmore recorded his first full sack when he made a move to his right, then spun around Syracuse left guard Nick Robinson to get to quarterback Zack Mahoney for an 8-yard loss.
Gilmore admitted Herron’s sack, fumble and recovery the week before motivated him.
“I was happy for him. … We’re competitive as a defensive line and everybody wants to make plays like that,” he said. “When you see the opportunity, you have to take it.”
That’s exactly what both have done since last season when Gilmore had four tackles and Herron three. Shortly after the season ended with a loss to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, they made a commitment to push each other and get better.
It was just what the duo needed, especially after Miles replaced defensive line coach Brick Haley with Ed Orgeron.
“Last year was tough on us,” Herron said. “I knew I had to work harder, and Greg and I made a commitment to push each other every day in the spring and summer in the weight room and the drills. We didn’t miss a drill.”
So committed were they to getting better that Gilmore hasn’t been back home to North Carolina since the spring semester started in January.
“I appreciate everything coach Brick taught me, but he knew I wasn’t ready (last year),” Gilmore said. “I wasn’t ready mentally to take on the challenges of being on the field full-time. Now that I’m doing it, I feel like I can contribute to the team.”
Both point to the things they learned in the spring and summer, which gives them the confidence to get LaCouture and Godchaux a break every two or three series to keep then fresh for the long season.
“The biggest difference is confidence, and ‘Coach O’ expects the best out of you,’ ” said Herron, a 6-foot-4, 289-pounder. “He’s pushing me and my teammates are pushing me, so I’m playing with great confidence.
“Christian and Davon played a lot of minutes last year, so we’re trying to give them a lift. We have to some (minutes) off them and carry some weight for the defense, too.”
“We’re improved,” Gilmore, a 6-4, 313-pounder, said. “It was a little bit physical, but it was more mental for both of us. We knew we had to be more confident in knowing what we were doing and make a bigger contribution than just letting guys get a little rest on the sideline.”
It’s a lot more fun now for both of them, Godchaux said.
“Nothing good is going on when you’re sitting on the sideline,” he said. “But those guys are coming along real good this year. We can depend on them when we need a break, and we’re depending on them to get the job done. That was the big thing we missed last year.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.