Five Questions on LSU Spring Practice: Linebackers

Paul's depth chart post spurred some discussion, so by popular demand, here's a look at the linebacker position for this spring.

Linebackers:

Roster Information

Height/Weight

2011 Season

No. 46 Junior Kevin Minter

6'2, 242

14 appearances (11 starts), 61 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss (1 sack), 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.

58 Junior Tahj Jones

6'2, 205

14 appearances (1 start), 27 tackles, 3.5 TFLs (1 sack), 2 passes defensed (1 interception) and 1 fumble recovery.

57 Junior Lamin Barrow

6'2, 229

13 appearances (1 start), 17 tackles, 1 TFL

52 Junior Luke Muncie

6'3, 220

14 appearances, 13 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 1 pass defensed

39 Junior Josh Johns

6'2, 206,

No appearances in 2011 (suspended first six games)

48 Junior Seth Fruge

5'11, 200

12 appearances, 2 tackles

31 Sophomore D.J. Welter

6'0, 226

Five appearances, 7 tackles

22 Freshman Ronnie Feist

6'2, 225

13 sacks at West St. John High School

23 Freshman Lamar Louis

6'0, 220

37 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery at Breaux Bridge High School

Should we be excited?

...Eh...

Honestly, look at that group, and that's counting Seth Fruge, who only sees the field on special teams. This is a position LSU is definitely getting younger and less experienced at. So, on one hand, the thought of replacing a Karnell Hatcher or Stefoin Francois doesn't exactly sound daunting. But on the other, this group of linebackers features unproven commodities galore, and not a lot of depth. A couple of injuries and suddenly players like Josh Johns or D.J. Welter are suddenly thrust into starting roles.

Okay, should we be afraid?

I wouldn't start power drinking just yet. Well, I wouldn't do it out of fear that LSU's linebackers are going to suck, anyway. Last year's group wasn't exactly a bunch of world beaters either, and only one team (Bama) ever really found a way to take advantage of that. In a 4-3, dominant play at the other levels can overcome mediocre play at one, and that was clearly the case in 2011 with the Tiger defensive line and secondary. And while it's unrealistic to not expect somewhat of a dip from units that lose players like Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor, LSU will still be pretty damn good at those to spots. At least here, there's much more potential for improvement, when compared to last season's group.

Tahj Jones probably takes over at the strongside (sam) position, and while he gives away some size to Francois, he's absolutely an upgrade in speed/athleticism. Jones did manage to play well in his one start this season against Auburn, but at other times seemed to struggle with the mental side of his game. And of course, with his slight frame he's always going to have some struggles at the point of attack. He does have some long arms though, and that can go a long way in helping with the proper technique.

Replacing Ryan Baker's weakside (will) spot is a bit more of a grab bag, with Luke Muncie and Lamin Barrow the leading candidates. At one time Barrow seemed like the obvious heir apparent, even starting in Baker's place for two games in 2010, but since then he seems to have fallen out of favor, seeing very little time outside of special teams down last season's stretch. He has a lot of the same problems as Baker, namely a tendency towards overkill in his pursuit. Getting caught out of position and making mental mistakes. Muncie has steadily seemed time on special teams since he hit campus in 2010, and he certainly has a lot of athletic potential if he could learn the mental side of his game and learn to play with more aggression. Speaking of the mental side of linebacking...

Is Kevin Minter ready for prime time?

We'd better hope so, because he's the linchpin of this unit.

It's certainly not a question of physical talent. Minter has the size to hold up between the tackles as a true middle linebacker, and the athleticism and speed to cover and pursue. His problems in 2011 were between the ears. The mike in LSU's defense calls the defensive front and adjusts to fit the offense, and that was something Minter struggled with last season, especially when opponents shifted or audibled. It was the biggest reason he had to split time in the lineup with Hatcher, especially on third downs.

If Minter adds that piece of the puzzle, he has all-conference potential.

What about the freshmen?

Two members of the best linebacker class LSU has recruited in perhaps a decade or so will be on hand this spring, Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis, and it's anybody's guess as to just how that will impact competition at the position. But either way, getting younger and more athletic is certainly a good thing.

Louis definitely has the athleticism to see the field early on. He turned in one of the best SPARQ scores at his position at last summer's Nike combine, "The Opening," and was something of a do-everything guy for an extremely talented Breaux Bridge team this fall, playing both ways as a linebacker and running back. He is, however, a bit undersized and raw in terms of being a full-time linebacker.

Classmate Feist was more of a full-time defensive end in high school, but showed aggression and a willingness to hit in some of his all-star appearances. It wouldn't shock me at all if he sees some time on kick-off team this fall. But overall, we'll see more of this recruiting class in August when more of its members hit campus.

One thing is for certain. With just a handful of upperclassmen with meaningful playing experienced, the youngsters are going to be needed for depth purposes in case there are injuries.

Who/what is the X-Factor?

If there's an unknown I could see emerging out of this group, it could be Muncie. His film coming out of high school was pretty good, and he's managed to see the field quickly on special teams but still hasn't put it all together out there on defense. He has enough size to hold up flashes some pretty good speed, and sometimes with linebackers things don't really click until, suddenly, they do.

Really, that light bulb coming on is something we'll be looking for out of every starter at LB. If we see it, this has the potential to be a very fast, very athletic group.

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