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LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda stocked up on front seven players in the 2018 class.

Two.

That figure represents the number of returning starters on LSU’s defensive front seven.

Several more players could be considered a “returning starter.” Requirements are blurry for such a term. Tyler Taylor started a handful of games at inside linebacker, and edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson occupied a starting role for much of the year.

Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko is an experienced player, too, but the two absolutes are quite clear: linebacker Devin White and defensive end Rashard Lawrence.

Two - it is why a whopping 11 players in LSU’s current 23-man signing class play on the front seven.

“As far as the entire signing class, we had to address some deficiencies up front just in numbers,” defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “I think we did that.”

This class might have missed on cornerbacks (1) and quarterbacks (0), but the haul included two inside linebackers, two nose guards, three defensive ends and three outside linebackers – a collection of speed, strength and size that had Aranda smiling during a recent interview.

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LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who we assume will remain on the 'approved' headset list this season despite a new NCAA rule to limit them to 20 per team.

In Year 3 in Baton Rouge, he expects to have the ability to substitute mid-game more than he ever, a key in keeping defensive linemen and linebackers at full speed throughout a contest. It was his biggest talking point in a 25-minute interview with The Advocate last week.

This is Part 1 of the Q&A, as Aranda details each of the 11 defensive signees – their strengths, their roles and more. Part 2 will publish on Friday.

Aranda also in Part 1 updates the status of Evangel product Davin Cotton, the defensive end who ruptured his ACL in the season opener of his senior season last fall. He touches on a former offensive lineman, Chasen Hines, who signed with the Tigers as a nose guard and will “push to play” as a rookie. Southern Lab linebacker Damone Clark is a “born leader,” Aranda said, and the coach spoke about how mid-year enrollees like Micah Baskerville and Travez Moore are progressing.


Can you give me an overview of each of the LSU defensive guys you signed?

As far as the entire signing class, we had to address some deficiencies up front just in numbers. I think we did that. The ability to reload through the course of a game … our front seven, to feel good about who’s there and what they’re doing and to not miss a beat from when you started the game to when you’re three-fourths of the game through, that cannot be overvalued.

We’ve allowed ourselves, with the signing class, the opportunity to do that – to be able to rotate guys in and out and have the depth, specifically last year, at times we did not have. I’m excited about that.

ILB Micah Baskerville (cross-training at Rover and Mack)

He’s with us now (as a mid-year enrollee). Micah has a great football intelligence, great instincts. His demeanor, I appreciate it. He’s reserved and very serious. His football IQ is very high. We’ve got to get him talking a little more. I think he has the knowledge to help guys get lined up just starting out, talking about five walk-throughs in(to) spring workouts. As we build on that more, it’s going to be even more impressive.

B-OLB Jarell Cherry

He’s going to be coming during the summer time. He gives us length and speed off the edge. Those outside backer spots are so critical. The Peso grouping (2 linemen, 4 linebackers, 5 defensive backs package) is a grouping we’d like to play more of this year. We played that quite a bit two years ago and we’d like to get back to it. Jarell is someone that can be on the line of scrimmage and rush the passer as well as occasionally drop in coverage.

ILB Damone Clark (cross-training at Rover and Mack)

I think Damone is someone that when he gets in your building, in your room and on your team, he changes the dynamic of whatever was there before. He’s at Southern Lab and they’re struggling through a tough year, and you’d talk to him and he was so upbeat and so positive. He’s communicating with his teammates, getting them to follow him and motivating them. The guy is a born leader, man.

That cannot be stressed enough, along with … we were at the school the other day and he put on weight, good weight. (LSU offensive line coach and former NFL line coach) James Cregg was with us and he goes, ‘That guy looks better than some of the guys I just left.’ That was a positive thing. Damone is doing everything the right way.

DE Davin Cotton

He’s with us now in rehab mode. I remember I went to a preseason game (last year) at Southern Lab. Think it was at Southern Lab. It was at the end of spring. Davin was playing. You meet Davin on the hoof and he’s going to be very quiet, reserved and respectful. There was more exciting, colorful words coming from Davin’s mom in the course of that game. He was big play after big play … there’s a fire in that dude. He was motivating his team, calling out the other team. I didn’t know who that guy was just from talking to him on the hoof. He changes his personality on the field, in between the white lines. I’m looking forward to that. I think that’s something we can use.

He’d be a defensive end. He’s got the strike and he’s got the ability to play sideline to sideline.

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Davin Cotton earned All-District honors at Evangel.

NG Chasen Hines

He’s got the ability to strike and he’s explosive. He is an accomplished offensive lineman. When he mentioned he’d like to play D-line, I was all for it. I’m excited to get him here. He gives us some depth. I think he’s going to push to play.

For as big as he is, the athleticism and pop he has is special.

DE Nelson Jenkins

Nelson has the ability to pass rush as well set edges and play the run. He’d be a defensive end for us in a 3-4, (play the) 4i (technique). He as pass rush ability from that 4i spot (aligning over the tackle’s inside the shoulder in the guard-tackle gap). We were able to get some of that this year with some of the guys we had. He’d continue that ability. He’s a football savvy person, I feel.

CB Kelvin Joseph

He strikes me as a leader, strikes me as someone that our guys will follow. He has the ability to play on the field at a real high level but has the ability to have that leadership pull to when something needs to be said, he’s unafraid to say it. We need that.

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We'll have more about Kelvin Joseph and his new role in Part 2 of our Q&A.

That’s something we are, much like a few of the guys we have – Greedy Williams and Devin White – where we’ve had young guys emerge as leaders, I really see Kelvin on that path.

NG Dominic Livingston

He is another big man who’s got quick feet and explosiveness. There’s people, when you watch them play – I put Chasen in the same category – their short-order quickness, how their hips move, how they pop off blocks, their ability flashes at you. Other guys are going to be more of a heavy hand, more blunt force power. You want guys that have the pop and strike. I think he has that and it shows up. We’ll use it.

B-OLB Travez Moore

He’s with us now. From a physical perspective, he’s everything you want. He’s got great length and he is explosive. He has that pop, ability to come out of his hips and strike people, has the ability to run around people when it’s time to rush the passer. He has all the tools. It’s a matter of getting the defense down when he feels comfortable and not thinking.

DE Dare Rosenthal

He would be your prototype of what you’d want that 4i to look like. His ability to come in and get knock-backs on tackles and force double teams on him when they’re running that way, and if they single block him, he’s going to win, especially when it comes to rushing the passer because he’s athletic enough to do so.

He’s a mismatch for us. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for us to do what he can do.

Where does Dantrieze Scott fit in? He signed as an “athlete” with no position designation.

There’s an opportunity for him to play some outside linebacker. That will be there for him. He’s got the necessary length and speed to be able to do that. His upside his huge.

Davin Cotton tore his ACL during Game 1 of his senior season last fall. How is his rehab?

Good. He’s moving around. Not in any of the stuff (offseason walk-throughs) we’re doing, but he moves fine. He’s just about in position where they’re going to start opening him up a little more and getting him moving, along the lines of stuff we’re doing.

I love the fire in him. I put my money on sooner rather than later with him.

How soon? Will he be back for spring practice?

Probably the end of spring.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.