BATON ROUGE, La. – Coaches could spend hours dissecting and explaining the intricate conceptual differences between a 4-3 front and 3-4. Hey, they get paid to be that complex about it, right?
One element almost any of them will gravitate toward is the middle man of the “3” has to be a big human being whose role is equally as large.
First-year LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a 3-4 disciple, and as soon as he arrived in January, the transformation began with the Tigers. Yes, there were plenty of defensive tackles to choose from, plenty of talented guys who had earned some stripes over the past few seasons.
For the 3-4 to rattle and hum, though, the middle man has to play an unsung (for the most part) job: Take up space and force offenses to use two linemen to block you. In theory, that frees up more athletic teammates to roam around and make plays.
Two primary candidates have emerged at LSU to fill the spot after veterans Christian LaCouture (who is out for the season with a knee injury) and Davon Godchaux took a spin there in the spring. Junior Greg Gilmore has been there more than anybody this month, primarily because JC transfer Travonte Valentine's eligibility status has been an evolving proposition as he finished up at least one class. Valentine has been practicing, and all indications are that he has cleared the last academic hurdle needed to get on the field for LSU after a long, strange trip.
Those two offer loads of potential, although neither has been able to tap into it, albeit for much different reasons.
Gilmore was regarded as a major recruit in 2013 after a stellar career at Hope Mills (N.C.) South View, when he earned the distinction as the top player in his home state and was pegged as a consensus four-star recruit. None of that has translated into college success, though. Gilmore redshirted his first year, and on a unit that has struggled at times for depth, his impact has been minimal.
An offseason under Aranda has given Gilmore a clean slate, and he seems to have embraced the challenge. He has added some weight to his frame – he joked this week that when he slipped under 300 pounds, he urged himself to "go eat a cheeseburger" – and adapted to what Aranda demands from a nose tackle.
Now, more ready than not, Gilmore appears poised to get the first shot as a starter in Aranda's defensive front.
"I think I'm doing pretty well at the nose tackle position," Gilmore said. "I think the 3-4 fits me well.
"I'm not getting too much into the scheme because that's not my place. But I feel like I'm the anchor in the middle and I'm going to do my best to make things cut outside."
Is Gilmore a temporary solution while Valentine rounds into shape? That seems possible. Valentine, a former national top-75 prospect out of Hialeah (Fla.) Champagnat Catholic, is considerably beefier at 356 pounds. Teammates – and Les Miles – have raved about how immovable Valentine has been since he donned pads and began practicing full-time.
The big variable seems to be whether he can steer clear of trouble and distraction off the field. Valentine, who attended two high schools in Florida, had academic issues before he ever stepped foot on campus and wound up redshirting in 2014.
Valentine never turned the corner in the classroom and crossed a line into Miles' doghouse following the 2014 season, leading to his dismissal. A rocky junior college season followed, split between two schools, and that again threw Valentine into an academic trouble area.
So there is some risk with Valentine and the notion of hitching a defense's hopes to his wagon. But he is the most natural fit at nose tackle and that is something his teammates have taken note of.
"He's a big body," Gilmore said. "He takes double teams unlike anybody I've ever seen before."
And that is exactly what Aranda and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron are looking for from the middle man in their 3-4.
(Randy Rosetta covers LSU for GN. You can follow him on Twitter @RandyRosetta)
© 2016, Randy Rosetta. All rights reserved.
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