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LSU Spring Football Five Things: Linebackers

One of the more intriguing positions on LSU’s new defense, for a number of reasons.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Roster/Depth Chart

11 Lamar Louis (Sr.)

5-11, 229

29 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 passes broken up and 1 forced fumble.

52 Kendell Beckwith (Jr.)

6-3, 245

77 tackles, 7.5 TFL (2 sacks), 4 passes broken up (1 interception) and 2 fumble recoveries.

45 Deion Jones (Sr.)

6-2, 220

27 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 pass broken up and 1 fumble recovery.

40 Duke Riley (Jr.)

6-1, 218

20 tackles, 1 fumble recovery.

22 Ronnie Feist (Jr.)

6-1, 224

4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery in four game appearances.

30 Clifton Garrett (Soph.)

6-2, 240

Accumulated no statistics in 3 game appearances.

35 Devin Voorhies (Soph.)

6-2, 208

5 tackles, 1 forced fumble in 8 game appearances.

48 Donnie Alexander (Soph.)

6-1, 201

1 tackle on special teams in 12 game appearances.

93 M.J. Patterson (Soph.)

6-3, 231

1 tackle in 3 game appearances.

What's Good?

There's experience and athleticism here for Kevin Steele and Bradley Dale Peveto (who is working more with the linebackers this spring as Steele kind of gets the lay of the land for the entire defense) to work with. Two seniors and a pair of juniors that have played a lot of football here.

The headliner is of course Kendell Beckwith, who had the ol' lightbulb come on in a big way about a third of the way through his sophomore campaign. He took over the starting Mike spot and instantly became a playmaker all over the field. Beckwith has the prototypical, next-level size you look for in a linebacker, especially in the middle, and has the athleticism of somebody who played quarterback in high school. He can thump in between the tackles, get deep down the seams and run plays down wide. Everything is in place for him to break through this season as a superstar for this team. His keys this spring are to learn his responsibilities in Steele's scheme and become a leader for this defense.

Buttressing him outside are a pair of seniors in Lamar Louis and Deion "Debo" Jones. Both have played a lot of football here the last three seasons, but neither has ever been able to truly stand out or take a starting spot for any significant amount of time. Jones, in particular, has always been an exciting special teamer, but never showed the discipline to hold down a regular role. If he can learn to play under control, he has some exciting speed and could be a perfect weakside pursuit/coverage linebacker. Louis fits a little better on the strong side, and has experience there. He's also played in the middle before. In particular, Louis has expressed some real enthusiasm for Steele's coaching.

There's another pack of juniors in reserve in special teams demon Duke Riley and last year's spring game hero, Ronnie Feist. Riley has been impossible to keep off the field here, from special teams to even an 8-tackle performance in spot duty last season versus ULM. Feist fits more in the middle or the strong side, but has never really been able to show much in games. Perhaps a fresh approach from Steele could help there.

After the upperclassmen is a gaggle of sophomores, headlined by former superstar recruit Clifton Garrett. He's the only other ‘backer here with the prototypical size for the position, and spent his freshmen season on a couple of special team snaps. If Steele doesn't have a bigger role planned for Garrett in 2015, he definitely has to have one ready for '16. Classmate Donnie Alexander found a role on special teams, similar to Riley.

The remaining two are conversions: Devin Voorhies from safety, and M.J. Patterson from defensive end. Both are mostly just numbers at the moment, but there's some intriguing potential for the future.

What's Bad?

Well, the fact that two players had to change positions here should say it all. Depth's not great. It's not as bad as it's going to be in a year, but LSU's still a couple of injuries away from having to depend on a number of inexperienced linebackers. Fast forward a year and this unit will be down Louis and Jones and possibly Beckwith. And whatever additions will be what come in the 2016 signing class.

What's the goal this spring?

This is kind of the position where Steele can really make his mark on the unit. The line and the secondary are kind of set in terms of the main players, and in how they'll likely be deployed. If Steele's going to make substantive changes from what his predecessor did, this will be where we see it.

Linebackers in the "under" front have very defined roles, as Paul has previously documented. And the players are here to fit them, for the most part. Beckwith is a classic Mike, likewise Debo at Will. Louis is slightly undersized for Sam, but has the requisite athleticism for coverage. He could also wind up on the weakside.

And the depth present some different options. Garrett's another big thumper that could play in the middle or the strong side. There are a ton of undersized speed guys that could chase plays down from the will, like Riley, Voorhies and Alexander. Patterson has the build for the strong side, and his defensive end experience could help with a lot of the responsibilities that position has for setting the edge and containment. But can he handle the coverage responsibilities?

There's also the question of hybrid looks, with an end/linebacker combo that flexes the defense into more of a 3-4 look. If there's going to be anything like that at all, Patterson certainly fits the bill, as could some of the true ends on the team like Lewis Neal, Deondre Clark or Sione Teuhema.

But before Steele deploys any of these pieces in a new way, he has to figure out exactly what pieces he has.

What am I watching for?

How the pieces fit together. It won't be a complete puzzle yet, but what does Steele have in mind? Will there be the defined roles of an under front, or something closer to what LSU did last year? Will the roles be heavily defined at all?

One criticism of John Chavis was that, for all his talk about "getting the best three on the field," he could be VERY rigid in his definitions of the linebacker positions. Specialization can be a useful tool in football, but it should be a pathway to the field for players, and Chavis sometimes made it a hindrance. Almost like he came up with reasons not to play guys like Beckwith, or Kwon Alexander or even Kevin Minter, versus ways to use their talents.

Players like Jones and Garrett have the talent to contribute on the field, and if there isn't a true position where they fit, it's in Steele's best interest to find one, even if it's a not necessarily an every down role. I've said it a number of times before, linebacker is one of those positions where players don't get it until they do. The light can come on in a sudden way. Is that the case for some of the younger or less-experienced guys here? I don't know. But Steele gives them a clean slate, and maybe that's enough juice to get the lightbulbs flickering.

Steele's going to spend a lot of the time recruiting linebackers in the next few months. It's a chance to really find the specific type of player he wants. But in the meantime, he has to work with what he has.