Fall Camp Position Preview: What's the Deal with LSU's Linebackers?

In 2011, the Tiger linebacking corps was the only noticeable problem in one of the best defenses in the country. After game three of the season, I noted:

This defense has an amazing secondary, an intensely athletic defensive line, and at the moment, kind of a meh group of linebackers. And LSU can live with that -- hell the 2003 and 2007 defenses were pretty similar -- but we're going to need more out of Ryan Baker and company at some point. State managed to exploit it a little by throwing to the tight end, and that's something...

The linebackers don't have to be this team's best asset, but they can't be a liability consistently.

By and large this wasn't a problem with the exception of one opponent, and we all know who I'm talking about. By attacking the linebackers in coverage on early downs, smart coordinators found a way to avoid long-yardage third downs and keep the Tigers out of their best personnel grouping, the 3-2-6 "mustang" dime package.

So what's the deal with this position in 2012?

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

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

Four-star recruit, Under Armour All-American

23 Freshman Lamar Louis

6’0, 220

Four-star recruit

25 Freshman Kwon Alexander

6’2, 220

Four-star recruit, Under Armour All-American

35 Freshman Lorenzo Phillips

6’2, 200

Four-star recruit, Rivals.com All-American

45 Freshman Deion Jones

6’2, 200

Three-star recruit, Louisiana Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year

51 Freshman Trey Granier

6’0, 225

Three-star recruit

Long on potential, short on guarantees.

There’s no doubt that LSU is getting more athletic at this position, but remains short on experience and proven playmakers. Kevin Minter returns after sharing the mike (middle) position last year, and if there’s going to be a breakout player here, he’s the most likely candidate. Prototypical size and the speed to make plays beyond the a-gap, but a lack of consistency and struggles with making the right calls in coverage had the Georgia native splitting time with Karnell Hatcher last year. LSU will be depending on him to take the reins himself this year. If he can, he has as much promise as his predecessor, Kelvin Sheppard.

Fellow junior Tahj Jones will man the sam (strongside) spot, and as of now, will be the second linebacker on the field in nickel and dime defenses. He’s a fast, athletic player that had his share of moments and even did a solid job on tight ends, but there’s no escaping the limitations of playing linebacker in this league at 205 pounds.

The will (weakside) spot is where the new blood has its best chance to contribute. Junior Lamin Barrow is the starter as of now, but he and backup Luke Muncie have LSU’s best crop of linebacker recruits in years nipping on their heels. Barrow is definitely a big, physical presence -- he’s one of those "first off the bus" guys that commentators like to drool over. But it hasn’t translated to the field with all of 35 combined tackles the last two seasons, despite plenty of chances. His position is where one of the freshmen may get in the lineup.

For the first time in my memory, Louisiana produced a gang of talented linebackers: Ronnie Feist, Lamar Louis, Lorenzo Phillips, Deion "Debo" Jones and Trey Granier. Throw in four-star Kwon Alexander out of Alabama, and it may be the greatest linebacker class in LSU’s recent history. It’s not clear who will man what positions yet, but Feist and Louis were on hand for spring practice, and joined Jones with the veterans during split-squad practices. Alexander, who suffered a major knee injury his senior year, has drawn frequent praise from the staff during summer workouts. He was one of the top recruits at his position, and has all of the tools to contribute early if he’s 100 percent. Feist, Louis, Jones or Alexander could all see time in 2012, if on special teams if nothing else, but Alexander, with his size, is probably the most physically ready to get on the field on defense.

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