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LSU Football 2016 Position Previews: Linebackers

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Possibly the most intriguing position with the new defense being installed.

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This was a position that was expected to be a big concern for LSU in 2016. A number of years of lax recruiting from John Chavis left LSU with just a handful upperclassmen, few with significant experience. But with some position reshuffling and a strong group of freshmen, there’s at least the necessary numbers to make a four-linebacker depth chart work.

And all the excitement of Dave Aranda’s new defense has created some real anticipation for what we might see out of this group.

Inside Linebackers

52 Kendell Beckwith (Sr.)

6-3, 247

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

40 Duke Riley (Sr.)

6-1, 230

24 tackles and 0.5 TFL.

35 Devin Voorhies (Jr.)

6-1, 223

6 tackles and 1 forced fumble.

48 Donnie Alexander (Jr.)

6-1, 212

12 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.

56 M.J. Patterson (Jr.)

6-3, 225

Did not play.

24 Devin White (Fr.)

6-1, 255

Four-star recruit.

The headliner here is of course Kendell Beckwith, who returned for his senior season and will take over the “Mack” linebacker position. Of the two inside positions, he’ll align to the field and be responsible for making the calls for the front. One of the major features of Aranda’s defense will be pressures that adjust to the offense’s formations and protections. The same play can feature different players blitzing based on the opposing play call, and Beckwith will be responsible for making sure everybody’s on the same page. It will be interesting to see how often Beckwith himself will be able to shoot gaps, because that’s something he’s shown a talent for at times.

His partner inside will be senior Duke Riley, a long-time special teams standout and one of the more well-respected leaders in the locker room. To date, Riley has never really shown much in the defensive lineup, but he’s one of the players Aranda seems fonder of, and has adapted to the new scheme quickly. He has at least increased bulk, which should help him hold up better in between the tackles.

True freshman Devin White will be the top backup at both inside positions. The converted running back moved to defense as a spring enrollee and has made an impression on the coaching staff. Conditioning may be an issue at times, but in a backup role that shouldn’t be a major issue. Junior Donnie Alexander will backup both inside positions as well while Devin Voorhies and M.J. Patterson provide depth.

F-Linebacker

23 Corey Thompson (Sr.)

6-2 222

15 tackles in nine game appearances.

46 Tashawn Bower (Sr.)

6-6, 253

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, 234

Four-star recruit.

43 Rahssan Thonrton (Fr.)

6-3, 222

Four-star recruit.

The “F” linebacker, or the outside linebacker to the field side, will serve a similar function to the classic “sam” or strong-side linebacker in the 4-3: responsible for setting the edge against the run and jamming tight ends in pass coverage. Look for Aranda to take a committee approach to the position. Senior Tashawn Bower will work at F in the base defense. A former defensive end, Bower will also backup at the “Buck” position on the boundary side and some of the defensive end positions. He should fit well against the run and in the pass-rush responsibilities, but the thought of him having much of a role in coverage is a little unnerving.

Hence, Corey Thompson is set to spell Bower at the position in the nickel package once he returns from a broken leg. A converted safety who has bulked up for the move to linebacker, but always struggled with injury, Thompson could fit well in this defense. Although you have to wonder how much this injury will set him back. Freshmen Michael Divinity and Rahssan Thornton will rotate in with Bower for the time being, and if they do well it may be tough to take them off the field. Both have the size to split the difference between a converted defensive end like Bower and a converted defensive back like Thompson.

Buck Linebacker

49 Arden Key (Soph.)

6-6, 238

41 tackles, 6.5 TFL (5 sacks), 1 pass break

‘-up and 1 fumble recovery.

94 Isaiah Washington (So.)

6-4, 236

3 tackles, 1 forced fumble in six game appearances.

87 Sci Martin (Fr.)

6-4, 240

Three-star recruit.

The Buck will be the money position in this defense, and Arden Key appears poised to be the biggest breakout star of LSU’s defense this year, coming off his five-sack freshman season. Key will align to the boundary and play an end/linebacker hybrid position with minimal coverage responsibilities designed to create the best possible pass-rush matchups for him.

Sophomore Isaiah Washington was set to be his backup after a strong spring, but a torn ACL will keep him out this year. True freshman Sci Martin however, has had a strong camp and should be able to carve out a role spelling Key from time to time.

Depth Chart

Buck

Rover

Mack

F-Linebacker

Arden Key
Tashawn Bower
Sci Martin

Duke Riley
Devin White
Donnie Alexander
Devin Voorhies

Kendell Beckwith
Devin White
Donnie Alexander
M.J. Patterson

Corey Thompson*
Tashawn Bower OR
Michael Divinity
Rahssan Thornton

*Out with injury, should return after first few games.

This is as basic of a depth chart as I can think of, but there will be a lot of rotation. Bower will serve as the F-linebacker in the base defense, with Divinity coming in for nickel. Bower, likewise, will be backing up Key at the Buck position, and will also occasionally line up at defensive end. Lewis Neal will likewise move around and occasionally stand up in certain pass-rush situations as well.

Speaking to sources it’s really hard to peg down one set lineup, and look for things to continue to evolve when Thompson returns from injury, and as Aranda figures out sets and matchups that he likes.

Possible X-Factor: Sci Martin or Rahssan Thonrton

All of the freshmen linebackers should see time this year in some form or fashion, but these two have been noteworthy through the summer and fall camp. Martin was the final cherry on top of the 2016 signing class, an insanely productive high school defensive end that played in the 215-220 range. Well, with a summer of work he’s up to 240 and been really impressive as an edge-rusher type, and will likely rotate in at Key’s Buck linebacker spot.

Thornton, likewise, has been one of the more dedicated members of the freshmen class this summer, and emerged as a leader as well. He’s behind Divinity for now at F-LB, but allegedly that’s more a case of Divinity having the edge of being an early enrollee. Don’t be surprised if he jumps the line once things kick off.