At a time of year more prone to bad news (injuries, transfers, suspensions, etc.) than good news, LSU received a major boost when freshman defensive tackle Travonte Valentine confirmed that he was ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Update: Monday, August 18 – 1:38 p.m. ET
Apparently, this may have been a bit premature.
According to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, Valentine jumped the gun with his announcement, which has not yet been made official. His paperwork is still going through the "final phases of (the) admission process," so he is not quite ready to join the team:
It still sounds like Valentine will be ruled eligible, it's just not a sure-thing. And he might have even less time to practice with the team.
We'll keep you updated as we learn more.
--END OF UPDATE––
Valentine tweeted the news Monday afternoon, demonstrating exactly how much he has to learn about LSU by calling it the wrong name:
Note: To Valentine's credit, he corrected himself 90 minutes later.
Valentine was the No. 65 overall recruit and No. 3 defensive tackle in the country, per the 247Sports composite rankings. At 6'3", 338 pounds, he ostensibly has the size to contribute as a true freshman.
That is particularly important for LSU at defensive tackle, where last year's starters, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, both declared early for the NFL, and backup Quentin Thomas is dealing with a torn biceps injury that could slow him down at the start of the year.
Thomas was projected to start alongside Christian LaCouture, and even though his recovery from the injury has been impressive, it wasn't so long ago (less than a week) that Ross Dellenger of The Advocate was reporting he might be done for the season.
Even if he comes back to play against Wisconsin, his health, at best, should be considered a major question mark going forward.
Those questions make Valentine a valuable addition behind LaCouture, Thomas, Mickey Johnson and a trio of redshirt freshmen, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. But because of all those bodies, it didn't necessarily make him an imperative one, as Bleacher Report Lead LSU Writer Carter Bryant pointed out:
Valentine will likely take some time getting up to speed during fall camp, which could, in theory, limit his early workload. Twelve days with the team is not enough to master John Chavis' defense.
However, considering LSU's Week 1 opponent—a Wisconsin team with a massive, experienced, road-grating offensive line, arguably the best running back in the country (Melvin Gordon) and a history of jamming the ball down opponents' throats—it might not be afforded the opportunity to ease Valentine into action.
Even Bryant, who didn't want to overstate the importance of Valentine's eligibility, was quick to note that Valentine is the biggest tackle on LSU's roster (which is a priority against the Badgers):
His size might be needed from the get-go.
Herron, after all, is "only" 6'4", 278 pounds, which makes him more of an oversized defensive end than a true defensive tackle.
Gilmore and Bain are 300-pounders whose size should be a benefit on the ground, but neither was as highly regarded as Valentine coming out of high school, and especially if Thomas cannot play or is not at full strength against Wisconsin, all hands will be needed on deck.
Still, it is best not to hail Valentine has a savior for this year's run defense. According to ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required), his raw potential against the run was curtailed by his inconsistency. In terms of crowding the ball, using his hands and maintaining a low enough pad level, he needs to be coached up a little bit.
In this regard, missing the lion's share of fall camp was particularly detrimental.
Valentine, more than most LSU players, could have used the extra time to learn under Chavis and position coach Brick Haley. More likely than not, he will have to develop technical consistencies on the fly, which should expedite his learning curve but also lead to occasional poor results.
Wisconsin has the type of veteran offensive line that can expose such raw deficiencies, so Valentine might be counted on in more of the short-yardage role Bryant alluded to than as a true rotation tackle. If he improves as the year goes on, that should change.
Any way you swing it, though, it's better to have Valentine eligible than to not. He is at the very least another giant body to trot out. The more of those you have, the fresher you can keep the starters at a position where fatigue is often an issue. It's also a safeguard against injury.
Unlike Herron, Gilmore and Bain last season, Valentine will not have a redshirt year to learn from the sidelines.
This front seven needs him to play—and play soon.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT.
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