Spring prediction: Hunter's rush improves

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A brand new version of LSU's football team will take the field on Saturday for its first spring practice.

In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the first team workout, this week we've made five predictions related to the Tigers' upcoming practices.

Today's final prediction: Danielle Hunter becomes a top pass rusher

Since he arrived on campus, the talk around Hunter always centered around his potential.

He certainly looks the part of an all-conference-caliber defensive end, with a combination of size (LSU's official roster lists him at 6-foot-6 and 241 pounds) and athleticism that would appeal to any defensive coordinator. But to this point, LSU fans still think of what Hunter could eventually become and not what he has already proven that he is.

Perhaps this spring is when he takes a big step forward toward stardom.

To be fair, the rising junior is still a young player. After playing largely on special teams as a freshman, Hunter got his first heavy dose of experience on scrimmage downs last season. Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery had bolted for the NFL, leaving plenty of playing time available for Hunter at end -- and he eventually claimed a starting spot for the final 10 games of the 2013 season.

His line for the entire season? He tied for sixth on the team with 57 tackles, was second with eight tackles for loss and tied for second with three sacks.

Those numbers are OK, but LSU simply must generate a more consistent pass rush if its defense is to return to the dominance level of previous seasons. Ends Hunter and Jermauria Rasco will likely be among the key players in making that happen.

Hunter gave us a taste of what he can be against Florida last season, recording seven tackles and batting down two Tyler Murphy passes in the Tigers' 17-6 victory -- a performance that earned him SEC defensive-lineman-of-the-week honors. He also notched eight tackles against Auburn and six each against Ole Miss and Furman.

Our bet is that he becomes much more of a fixture in opponent backfields this fall -- and that progress will start with a solid spring.