LSU Spring Football Five Questions: Linebackers

Taking a look at a talented position that was troubled last season.

Roster/Depth Chart

23 Lamar Louis (Jr.)

6-0, 216

25 tackles, 1 fumble recovery.

4 Kwon Alexander (Jr.)

6-2, 218

65 tackle, 6.5 TFL, 4 pass breakups.

31 D.J. Welter (Sr.)

6-0, 226

80 tackles, 4.0 TFL (2 sacks), 1 pass break-up.

40 Duke Riley (Soph.)

6-1, 208

7 tackles, 0.5 TFL.

45 Deion Jones (Jr.)

6-2, 208

15 tackles, 1 TFL.

52 Kendell Beckwith (Soph.)

6-3, 246

11 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), mostly as a defensive end.

What's Good?

Look, nobody questions that there's a lot of talent at this position. They didn't exactly meet expectations in 2013, but LSU has a number of highly recruited players here that have all of the tools to succeed. There's speed, agility and just enough size to hold up against the run, assuming the defensive line can do their job and keep blockers occupied.

Kwon Alexander is a potential star in the making. He made more solo tackles than any other member of the Tiger front seven last year, flying around sideline-to-sideline, sometimes a bit recklessly, but always aggressively. Late in the season, the light began to come on a bit, and in the bowl game it was the job Alexander did in space over slot receivers and flexed tight ends that allowed LSU to stay in base defense on most downs and defend Iowa's running game. He's changed numbers and reportedly added 10-15 pounds and looking every bit the part of the ideal outside linebacker.

And there's a nice level of experience joining Alexander with D.J. Welter, Lamar Louis and Deion "Debo" Jones all back in the fold as well. Welter was everybody's favorite whipping boy for the defensive front last year. And while much of that criticism was warranted, some of it was unfair. Welter did a solid job of staying in position, and keeping the rest of the front in their spots (senior Lamin Barrow, sadly, was a disappointment in this regard). But he simply wasn't athletic enough to make that many plays, and had to deal with more blocking than any mike linebacker LSU's had in some time due to the lackluster play of LSU's underachieving defensive tackles. But he seems to be respected in the locker room, and he'll likely play some sort of role this season, although Kendell Beckwith (more on him later) and super-recruit Clifton Garrett will likely take some playing time from him.

Louis struggled at times playing mike, but has moved back outside where he's a more natural fit. And then of course there's the mercurial Debo. He's got the speed and the aggression and can be a demon on special teams. But he can also play completely out-of-control at times, taking bad angles, playing the wrong gap and making sloppy tackles. That said, Jones has also reportedly added weight, and if the light comes on he could be a dynamic player in space.

And that's kind of the big key to this position. Can the minds of these players catch up to their bodies? Linebacker is a position that can favor a player that can make the right reads and react quickly almost as much as it can a stud athlete, and a lot of times players will sometimes struggle until they don't. Kevin Minter couldn't beat out guys like Karnell Hatcher for playing time, and then suddenly he puts together one of the best seasons any LSU ‘backer has ever had. Guys like Kelvin Sheppard, Ali Highsmith and Cameron Vaughn also took time to put it all together as well. While there's no given that it'll happen for these guys in 2014, there's precedent that suggests it will.

Which brings me to the position's X-Factor in Beckwith. He kind of had a Russell Shepard-esque freshman year on defense. It was abundantly clear that John Chavis wanted Beckwith on the field, he just didn't seem sure what to do with the five-star recruit. Linebacker, defensive end -- he even played inside at tackle sometimes. But this offseason he's made the move to linebacker full-time, and by many reports has made a move towards claiming the starting job in the middle. Beckwith was a big-time high school linebacker and would offer LSU its biggest body at the mike spot in some time.

What's Bad?

Well...we said a lot of this stuff last season. Depth's a little thin, but there's at least enough to make a solid two-deep. Beckwith's full-time move and the coming addition of Garrett really help.

What's the Goal this Spring?

There's some versatility in this group, and establishing roles and filling out said two-deep is the most important thing for Chavis and these linebackers to establish this spring. Alexander can play the most roles, while guys like Louis and Jones are more pursuit/coverage players. Welter will be one of the defenses' leaders, and we've yet to really see what Beckwith can really do here.

My best guess at a starting three will be Louis on the strong side, Beckwith in the middle and Alexander at the will spot, but I'm betting that a number of bodies will rotate in at different times.

What am I Watching For?

If there are two guys I'm really paying attention to this spring, its Alexander and Beckwith. Both guys look like future NFL linebackers, and they're probably the two best athletes at the position right now. Alexander's already great on the move, and with a little added size to take on blockers, he could break through into All-SEC territory.

And then there's Beckwith. We know he has the size to be that classic "sluggo" type mike linebacker that mixes it up in the gaps but can also drop down the seam. But he has some intriguing athleticism that could be deployed as a blitzer as well -- hence the Chief's eagerness to get him on the field in some capacity last season.

If the defensive line can return to form this season, this group of linebackers could help form one very scary defensive front in 2014.

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