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LSU Spring Football 5 Things: Linebackers

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The big question mark of Dave Aranda’s new defense.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Depth Chart

Inside Linebackers (Mack & Rover)

52 Kendell Beckwith (Sr.)

6-3, 252

84 tackles, 10 tackles for loss (3.5 sacks), 1 pass break-up and 2 fumble recoveries.

35 Devin Voorhies (Jr.)

6-1, 216

6 tackles and 1 forced fumble.

48 Donnie Alexander (Jr.)

6-1, 215

12 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.

56 M.J. Patterson (Jr.)

6-3, 223

Did not play.

24 Devin White (Fr.)

6-1, 255

Four-star recruit.

F-Linebacker

40 Duke Riley (Sr.)

6-0, 227

24 tackles and 0.5 TFL.

23 Corey Thompson (Sr.)

6-2 221

15 tackles in nine game appearances.

46 Tashawn Bower (Sr.)

6-5, 240

18 tackles, 4 TFL (1.5 sacks), 1 pass break-up and 1 forced fumble in nine game appearances.

45 Michael Divinity Jr. (Fr.)

6-3, 224

Four-star recruit.

Buck Linebacker

49 Arden Key (Soph.)

6-6, 231

41 tackles, 6.5 TFL (5 sacks), 1 pass break-up and 1 fumble recovery.

58 Sione Teuhema (Jr.)

6-4, 251

13 tackles, 2 TFL in seven game appearances.

94 Isaiah Washington (So.)

6-4, 241

3 tackles, 1 forced fumble in six game appearances.

What's Good?

Well, out the shoot the numbers situation here looks a lot better than we would have thought a month or two ago. Between position switches, scheme evolution and two new freshmen the Tigers have some 12 bodies here, with more on the way in the summer.

And it's a group that overall, has played a lot of football. Granted, it's a new scheme and new positions for some, but there's a nice number of guys here with actual game experience, which can only help with the transition.

Plus, as headliners go, Kendell Beckwith is a pretty good one. Getting the senior middle linebacker back for his final year was Dave Aranda's first big coup once he came on board, and he'll play a key role in this unit as the "Mack" inside linebacker.

Beckwith didn't quite make the jump to stardom last season. He's not quite the sideline-to-sideline runner that we thought he might be, and struggled getting down the seam in coverage as well. The new 3-4 scheme might fit him better, actually, as he can work more inside against the run and shoot gaps as a blitzer. The Mack will occasionally roll down over the center to create a "bear" front in some nickel/dime situations. LSU experimented with more of a pass-rush role with Beckwith in the bowl game against Texas Tech, rolling him down into an edge linebacker position in dime sets.

His partner inside at the "Rover" linebacker spot will come from a crowd of juniors like Donnie Alexander, Devin Voorhies, M.J. Patterson and true freshman Devin White, who saw the writing on the wall and jumped into the linebacker competition rather than being back of the pack at running back.

Senior Duke Riley may also work inside. He's currently competing with classmate Corey Thompson, converted defensive end Tashawn Bower and freshman Michael Divinity at the F-Linebacker spot. The F will serve as the outside linebacker to the field side of the defense, and will largely play a role similar to the Sam in the 4-3 -- setting the edge in the run game, covering tight ends and dropping into the curl/flat area in zone.

The sizzle for this unit will obviously be the "Buck" position, manned by Arden Key on the boundary side of the defense. The buck will be the end/linebacker hybrid, mostly charged with rushing up field or setting the edge, with some light coverage responsibilities in the flat on occasion. In terms of a breakout guy, Key has the most potential of anybody in this defense. He flashed the talent to be special as a pass-rusher, and really improved as the season went along, learning how to set up blockers and use counter moves. He could easily double his 2015 sack total, or even better, help set up other players for them by occupying the offense's attention. He's backed up by Sione Teuhema and Isiah Washington, both of whom look the part of the big hybrid pass-rush type. Teuhema has shown the potential at times, but can't seem to break through consistently. But he'd be another on the list of veterans that could have a new lease on the game in Aranda's scheme.

What's Bad?

Now the numbers are there, but that doesn't make this a position of strength. The aforementioned veterans like Riley and Alexander have never been able to make much of themselves in their on-field work. And while Voorhies and Thompson are natural fits at linebacker as opposed to safety, there's still a transition involved there.

And that's why Beckwith's injury scare this spring has been treated with kid gloves -- he doesn't really need the physical work, just to learn his new role. Word has been that it was nothing serious, but why even take the risk? Given the players around him, he's the most irreplaceable player on LSU's roster at the moment.

The silver lining to that, is that it's more work for the rest of this group. And as we've seen time and time again with basically every big-time linebacker LSU has had in the last 10 years, it's kind of a lightbulb position. Kevin Minter couldn't beat out Karnell Hatcher for a starting spot, and the next year he put together one of the best seasons in school history. To say nothing of Debo Jones' breakout last year.

One thing that's been surprising has been the confidence I've seen publicly in Aranda. Not that he doesn't deserve it, but when you see talk of positions that are pretty equivalent to having a "drop" and a "rush" linebacker, I thought people that remember the Lou Tepper days might break out in hives a little.

What's the goal this spring?

Spring has largely been about a feeling-out process or Aranda and his staff/players. Per this interview with the Advocate, the installation is still very early on -- he mentioned getting the coverage responsibilities down and some front basics now during the clinic presentation, and then getting more of the pressure packages in during the fall.

In terms of the division of labor, Aranda mostly works with the inside linebackers during practice, while the F and Buck positions are split up. Bucks work with Ed Orgeron, which makes sense given that the position is largely just a glorified defensive end spot. Meanwhile, F-linebackers are working with Bradley Dale Peveto.

What am I watching for?

Mostly just how it all come together. Aranda seems to be taking the right approach to this, working in his principle and evaluating how the players fit in. There's already been a little bit of movement, with Bower moving to F-linebacker and Riley starting to work inside as well as out. It would not surprise me at all to see more moves like that come the fall.

Guys like Bower and Thompson offer some intriguing option for different packages to try against pass-heavy versus run-heavy offenses. Bower's move in particular is interesting because it doesn't seem like a necessity -- he's already bigger than guys like Lewis Neal that are staying on the defensive line. It sounds like more of a "get him on the field" type of deal.

And then there are the freshmen. Divinity is a true linebacker that is probably more talented than a lot of these upper-classmen. Have to believe he's going to be tough to keep off the field. White has been getting a lot of strong reviews from program insiders, and allegedly led the team in tackles at the most recent scrimmage. He's certainly one of the best athletes working with this group and will be a player to watch in the spring game.

Much like with special teams, we won't see the finished product here really until the games kick off. But how it all comes together has been interesting, and exciting, to watch.