In part one of the series we covered scheme, and part two we dove into our first position specific review, touching on the defensive line prototypes. Today, let's take a look at the LB prototypes. First, let's take a look at some of Steele's preferences.
Here's Dr. B on the role of the Mike in the Steele defense:
Steele has indicated that his Mike Backer will be his "Quarterback," but Mike can't make all the coverage calls in the secondary, he will give the sideline call and then likely only adjust the defensive front.
As Billy noted here, Steele is known to be pressure-centric:
At Clemson, Steele trended towards a lot of man-to-man coverage, with cover-one, robber and two-deep safety looks on the back side. His units are also known for pressure. In those three seasons in South Carolina, Steele's defenses averaged 89.6 tackles for loss -- that's actually 4.5 more per year than LSU averaged in Chavis' six seasons (85.1). It's also worth noting that in that time, Chavis produced 15 front-seven players that have made NFL rosters, and that number should increase to 18 this year with Danielle Hunter, Jermauria Rasco and Kwon Alexander all entering the NFL draft. In his three years at Clemson, Steele had seven NFL prospects.
Safe to assume we will see the LBs used to blitz more than we once did under Chavis.
Let's look further now at the 4-3 Under defense and the role the LBs play within. The basic terminology here won't change much. LSU will utilize a SAM (strongside LB), a WILL (weakside LB), and a MIKE (Middle LB).
Considering Steele's preference for the MLB being the "quarterback" I think we can assume his ideal of the MIKE is similar to Pete Carroll's, expressed here:
The Mike linebacker is a traditional middle linebacker. He is instinctive and makes a lot of calls for the defense. He may be the guy with the most experience or the best feel for the game.
This sure sounds a lot what Steele desires. The MLB will be the guy making the calls. He needs to be the heady, intelligent, instinctive leader. The MIKE's role responsibilities will vary, but the player should be able to do a little bit of everything: play the run, blitz, cover. The MIKE doesn't need to be the most dynamic athlete, but he does need to be able to win with smarts. Size isn't the be all, end all here.
Potential Roster Fits: Kendell Beckwith, Lamar Louis
The Will linebacker can be a smaller player. He is generally protected in the defensive schemes and will not see as many blocks. All you want him to do most plays is flow and chase the football. We want our fastest linebacker at this position.
The WILL is a chase player in the 4-3 under. This is ideal for a player who isn't particularly skilled at taking on blocks, but can run free and make tackles. He doesn't have to be a big, thumping type. He should be smart enough to read the flow of the game and attack the ball carrier. He should be able to cover a back in the flats.
Potential Roster Fits: Debo Jones, Donnie Alexander, Clifton Garrett, Duke Riley
The Sam linebacker has to be a good containment player. He has to be big and strong enough to play on the edge of the tight end. He has to be able to run in pass coverage also.
The SAM is probably the role LSU is least equipped to fill right now. Physically, players like Kendell Beckwith and Clifton Garrett both suit the role the best. This player needs to be an excellent run defender. He likely won't rack up the glory stats, but he'll serve a key role in making sure the run defense remains sound. He also needs to be able to cover, most typically, a TE, but sometimes sinking underneath a slot in zone coverage. This could be a role occupied by some of LSU's leaner DEs.
Potential Roster Fits: Clifton Garrett, Sione Teuhema, M.J. Patterson
The LB spot is where you see the most difficulty in LSU immediately transitioning to a 4-3 Under look. Chavis recruited, generally, smaller, athletic LB types. Though some of his best defenses utilized a bigger, thumper type at MLB, the 2011 squad rotated a converted safety (Karnell Hatcher) and a yet to emerge thumper (Kevin Minter) with good success.
Beckwith and Garrett mark two of the biggest LBs recruited in the Chavis era. Both remain on the roster. Garrett's skills, however, seem to best suit the WILL role. On tape he seems a natural chase player. Still, his size and strength could make him a good fit at SAM. That said, if he's as good of a playmaker as his tape suggests, why waste that on a guy largely confined to containment and keeping TEs in check?
There's really no other natural SAM candidate on the roster. Players like Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist could make do, though neither are as big as you'd like. Louis is athletic enough to excel in coverage, but how can he hold up as an edge setter in the run game? Feist is the opposite, seeing as he played DL in HS.
The roles for LB play shift a lot in the 4-3 Under. We just watched Kendell Beckwith struggle to get on the field due to his inability to make the calls, the supposed strength of D.J. Welter. There's no natural successor there, and there won't be in 2016 either, unless we plan to groom Garrett. If Garrett is groomed, what happens to the WILL? Even more questionable is who plays the SAM in all this time?
The LB corps alone leave a lot of questions to be answered. Many of which will need to be addressed in recruiting, both for depth and player types. At best, it could be called a work in progress.