Questions loomed over the LSU defensive line during the preseason, primarily whether the unit could not only replace three starters, but also be more dominant than a 2009 front that often lacked the ability to create pressure.
Led by senior tackle Drake Nevis, the front four have quickly answered any naysayers. After a 27-3 win over Vanderbilt, LSU moved their mark for average yards per rush down to just 1.37 yards – good for fourth-best in the nation.
On Monday, the Marrero, La. native earned Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week honors for his five tackle, 2 1/2 sack performance against the Commodores. His 3 1/2 sacks mark leads the conference, and he ranks seventh in the league in tackles for losses.
After three years playing behind names like Al Woods, Charles Alexander and Ricky-Jean Francois, Nevis is relishing his new leadership role.
“It’s just a good experience to be mentored by the best who have played here,” said Nevis. “Going into my final year, I’ve seen a lot of things. If I feel the team needs something, it’s my job to speak up.”
At his Monday press luncheon, head coach Les Miles said that the senior defensive tackle’s commitment to making his final year count is something you don’t always find.
“Some guys you look back and go ‘Oh yeah, he just played. He was just a part of the team’,” Miles said. “Or, ‘He had the best year that he was capable of having.’ I think that those guys, they continue to get better and better.”
For the defense’s other go-to man, having Nevis around makes life that much simpler.
“He’s basically taking up two and three offensive linemen every snap,” said senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who led the team with nine tackles last Saturday. “I’m just sitting here at times saying, ‘Nobody’s gonna block me? Alright.’”
Nevis points to a strong summer, where he finished among the top performers on the team in a number of weight-lifting categories.
Alongside him through every workout, Sheppard couldn’t agree more.
“This summer and spring he worked his butt off,” Sheppard said. “That’s plain and simple. He got in the weight room and got way stronger.”
Good news for Tiger fans, Nevis isn’t the only lineman making a name for himself out of the gates. Starting defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Ken Adams, pass-rush specialist KeKe Mingo and defensive tackle Josh Downs all recorded tackles for losses, two of which were sacks.
“It’s obvious on film that the d-line this year is one of the best d-lines I’ve ever seen,” he said. “That’s including the Tyson Jackson year, the Glenn Dorsey year. I played with those guys, and they were great, and they’ve gone on to do great things.”
The statistics back Sheppard up.
Through two games, the Tigers, the only team in the league to face two BCS conference opponents, rank first in the SEC in rushing defense and sacks. LSU’s 10 sacks are good for best in the nation. Last season, the Tigers didn’t reach double-digit sacks until the eighth game of the season. The team’s 21 tackles for losses is also good for second-best in the country.