LSU State of the Program: Maason Smith and Mekhi Wingo anchor defensive line
LSU’s spring practice begins on Thursday.
It’s the first real public step on the march to the 2023 kickoff against Florida State. It’s Year 2 under coach Brian Kelly, and like last year, plenty of eyes are on Baton Rouge.
LSU’s expected to begin the year as a top 10 team and one of the reasons is a strong defensive line. We continue our state of the program series, looking at that defensive line that’s led by a couple of big names on the interior: Mekhi Wingo and Maason Smith. LSU’s also added several transfers with a couple of key blue-chip recruits.
Let’s jump right in.
(Check out our previous State of the Program overviews on the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and the offensive line.)
The immediate future at DT
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
On the interior, LSU couldn’t be positioned much better. Wingo transferred in from Missouri last year and proved to be a Third Team All-American. He bounced all around, playing a more traditional tackle role and also pushing the pocket from the edge later in the year.
There was heightened pressure on Wingo due to the absence of Smith after he tore his ACL in the opener. Prior to last fall, the consensus around Smith was that he was prime for a breakout year as the sport’s next big defensive star.
That injury threw a wrench into that plan and his breakout has been put on hold but he’ll be out there in a limited capacity this spring. If the recovery has gone smoothly, Smith should be everything we think he’s going to be in 2023.
LSU added [autotag]Jalen Lee[/autotag] and [autotag]Jordan Jefferson[/autotag] from the transfer portal. Expect both to contribute in 2023.
The immediate future on the edge
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On the edge, it gets a little more complicated. LSU’s losing [autotag]BJ Ojulari[/autotag] and [autotag]Ali Gaye[/autotag] after relying on them for over two years.
The staff has turned to the portal and in a big way. From Arizona, [autotag]Paris Shand[/autotag] has been tabbed to fill the hole left by Gaye. More traditional pass rushers [autotag]Ovie Oghoufo[/autotag] and [autotag]Bradyn Swinson[/autotag] joined the transfer class, too.
Oghoufo led Texas in pressures last year while Swinson showed some nice things at Oregon without a huge opportunity. LSU also welcomes five-star recruit [autotag]DaShawn Womack[/autotag]. He’s got the talent to be LSU’s next pass-rushing star.
Returning is [autotag]Sai’Vion Jones[/autotag]. According to PFF, he notched five sacks and 14 pressures and has the talent to emerge as a real threat.
This area is one of the more uncertain ones on LSU’s roster. It’s got the potential to be really good, especially if the experience of the transfers gel with the talent of the youngsters.
BREAKING: #LSU signee Dashawn Womack put on a show as a senior.
He finished the year with 15 sacks + 26 tackles for loss.
Now, he's moved up double-digit spots.
Womack finishes as a 5-star, No. 3 EDGE rusher and No. 12 overall prospect on @On3sports.https://t.co/RPLUP8NqCg pic.twitter.com/S7NZPupWS5
— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) January 17, 2023
As stated, Womack is the big piece here. He’s the type of guy you hope can be a game-wrecker in the SEC.
Womack will be joined by another blue-chip freshman, [autotag]Jaxon Howard[/autotag]. Both Womack and Howard are early enrollees.
LSU has enough experience at the position to where it doesn’t need the young guys to blossom right away, but if it happens, it could take this group from good to great and put it in a great spot moving forward.
🚨NEW🚨 EDGE Colin Simmons ranks No. 5 and five-stars in the updated 2024 On300. https://t.co/xICL4qntYj pic.twitter.com/9kUuanPPxB
— On3 Recruits (@On3Recruits) February 27, 2023
LSU just picked up its first pass rusher in its 2024 class in three-star [autotag]Ahmad Breaux[/autotag]. One of LSU’s top targets is [autotag]Colin Simmons[/autotag] out of Texas.
Simmons is ranked top three at his position by every major recruiting service and is one of the best overall players in his class.
On3’s prediction machine has LSU as the favorite with Texas chasing, but there’s still a long way to go and almost every big-time program will be in pursuit.
At defensive tackle, LSU’s after [autotag]Dominick McKinley[/autotag]. The in-state recruit is one of the best Louisiana has to offer in 2024.
The bottom line
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
[autotag]Jamar Cain[/autotag] was one of Kelly’s best staff additions.
He’s hit it out of the park so far. His unit made strides in 2022 and expectations are even higher in 2023. He’s one of LSU’s most valuable recruiters too.
Cain now enters his second year with the program, giving him even more time to develop his guys.
LSU’s set with Wingo and Smith up front. Being able to generate pressure from the interior should give LSU defensive flexibility and prevent teams from running it down the middle.
Wingo and Smith can make it a lot easier on the rest of the defense. Pushing action to the outside lets players like [autotag]Harold Perkins[/autotag] use elite speed in space.
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