During weekend official visits to LSU, prospects are treated like kings.
They dine, on the school’s dime, at Texas de Brazil. They’re escorted around campus and throughout the city by the program’s current star players.
They eat lunch from the Tiger Stadium suite level and finish the weekend breakfasting and playing basketball at coach Les Miles’ home.
What’s not mentioned above are the meetings coaches hold with each prospect. And, at least for two recruits, that’s what wooed them to LSU – their powwows with new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.
“It was awesome,” said Edna Karr defensive end Andre Anthony.
“I got to see how they’ll utilize me,” said Neville defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence.
LSU’s focus for this recruiting class was obvious: the defensive front seven.
Coaches rolled out the red carpet for guys like Anthony and Lawrence, hoping to convince these highly touted players to join a squad in need of depth at defensive line and linebacker.
With national signing day a day away, LSU has commitments from eight defensive linemen or linebackers. That’s one-third of a 23-member commitment class currently topping the nation in three of four major recruiting outlets.
Seven of the eight committed defensive linemen and linebackers are ranked in the top 17 at their position nationally, according to 247Sports.com’s composite player rankings. Four of those are top five at their positions.
That’s been LSU’s focus for more than a year after the two previous signing classes.
In 2014 and 2015, the program signed a combined nine prospects who played on the defensive line or at linebacker. Just six of those remain on the team. That includes just one linebacker, Donnie Alexander.
Defensive tackle Travonte Valentine and linebacker Clifton Garrett, two high school stars who were a part of the 2014 class, transferred over the summer after their freshman seasons. Valentine is in the process of enrolling at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, and Garrett is bound for UAB after a one-season stay at Arizona Western Community College.
Defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao, also in the 2014 group, was dismissed over the summer, too, following a third off-the-field incident and a second arrest.
The Tigers did not sign a linebacker or defensive tackle in last year’s class, only inking two front-seven prospects in defensive ends Arden Key and Isaiah Washington.
What happened there?
Coaching turnover at those positions ahead of signing day last year didn’t help. John Chavis, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, left the program a month before the 2015 signing day. Defensive line coach Brick Haley was replaced by Ed Orgeron after a demotion just weeks before signing day.
Chavis and Haley, even before they left, were responsible for recruiting their position groups in that 2014 class.
“That’s part of the reason why Chavis and Brick Haley aren’t there anymore,” Scarborough said. “It’s not all on them either. Coaches don’t just recruit their positions. They have territories.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame solely on them, but it is some of their responsibility,” said Sonny Shipp, Louisiana recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com.
Louisiana’s paltry crop of 2015 defensive linemen and linebackers didn’t help either.
The state produced no four or five star front-seven players in 2015. The Tigers didn’t even offer the top linebacker and top defensive lineman in the state that year.
“It was a very, very thin year,” Shipp said. “They had to put the eggs in the basket of going out of state.”
LSU offered scholarships to 49 front-seven players for the 2015 class – 47 of those went to out-of-state players. The Tigers lost out to Texas A&M on tackle Daylon Mack, and they lost to Mississippi State on linebacker Leo Lewis – a signing day decision that stunned many.
“Certainly, we missed on a linebacker we thought we had,” Miles said at last year’s 2015 signing day news conference. “Next year’s class will have to be a very, very heavy linebacker class.”
Did the Tigers meet those needs in the 2016 class? Not exactly, experts say.
LSU had more coaching turnover this year. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who worked with linebackers, left for Auburn a day after LSU’s Texas Bowl win over Texas Tech on Dec. 29.
LSU currently has just two linebackers committed, but both – John Ehret’s Michael Divinity and Texas’ Erick Fowler – are two of the top 7 outside linebacker prospects in this class.
“On paper, you’d probably like to have another linebacker,” Shipp said, “but when you look at Dave Arnada playing multiple fronts, walking linebackers up as edge rushers, there are (other) guys in this class who could do that.”
Anthony is one, for instance. In fact, Aranda told Anthony during his official visit that he’d likely play a hybrid outside linebacker role, as a stand-up defensive end in some packages.
“I like that,” Anthony said.
Anthony is one of three defensive ends in the Tigers’ recruiting class, and LSU has commits from Lawrence and two other defensive tackles.
“I think what they did is they tried to address some other areas that they felt were maybe more of a specific need and the one thing that you start to find out as you start recruiting, you start to get a gauge on where can we place some of our emphasis,” ESPN national director of scouting Tom Luginbill said. “(You) may feel pretty good about this next class coming up and could fill some of those needs in the following class. (You) may need to place our focus on a position or two in this class. You divide your priorities a little bit.
“To me, that’s exactly what they did with this class.”
FRONT 7 DROUGHT
Just one linebacker and five defensive linemen who signed with LSU in the previous two classes remain on the team.
2015 (2 signed/2 currently on team)
- DE Arden Key: Took over as a starter as a freshman and led team in QB hurries.
- DE Isaiah Washington: Missed time with injury but played final five games.
2014 (7 signed/4 currently on team)
- LB Clifton Garrett: Transferred in summer after playing in just three games.
- LB Donnie Alexander: Mostly a member of special teams as freshman and sophomore.
- DT Davon Godchaux: All-SEC player who developed into a starter as a freshman.
- DE Deondre Clark: Played in just four games as a sophomore in 2015.
- DE Sione Teuhema: A rotating reserve who’s seen minimal/situational playing time.
- DT Trey Lealaimatafao: Dismissed over the summer after never playing a down.
- DT Travonte Valentine: Transferred over the summer after never playing a down.
THIS YEAR’S CROP
- LB Michael Divinity: Fifth-best LB nationally and third-best overall player in the state.
- DT Rashard Lawrence: Five star ranked, by some, as the No. 1 player in the state.
- DT Edwin Alexander: 12th-best player in Texas ranked as top 10 nationally at DT.
- LB Erick Fowler: Another Texas product ranked top 10 nationally at his position.
- DT Glen Logan: Destrehan standout is 17th-best DT in the 2016 class.
- DE Rasshan Thornton: Texas’ 31st-best player but the 13th-best WDE in the class.
- DE Andre Anthony: Edna Karr four star ranked in top 15 at position.
- DE Caleb Roddy: 6-foot-5, 275-pound Denham Spring product
Several uncommitted LSU targets have set their commitment/signing announcements:
- OT Scott Lashley, West Point (Mississippi): 4 p.m. Tuesday
- CB Trayvon Mullen, Coconut Creek (Florida): 8 a.m. Wednesday (ESPNU)
- S Deontay Anderson, Manvel (Texas): 9 a.m. Wednesday (ESPNU)
- DT D’Andre Christmas-Giles, St. Aug: Noon Wednesday
- DB Kristian Fulton, Rummel: 11:45 a.m. Wednesday
- OT Jauan Williams, Archbishop Carroll (DC): N/A
- CB Shyheim Carter, Kentwood: N/A
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.