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LSU Spring Football 2017: Linebackers

The big question mark for the Tiger defense.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

LSU’s transition to Dave Aranda’s 3-4 defense was relatively seamless in year one, largely because the Tiger defensive coordinator inherited A) a very natural, very talented pass-rusher for the “buck” outside linebacker position in Arden Key and B) three seniors for the other three positions – particularly Kendall Beckwith and Duke Riley inside.

Aranda’s second spring practice in Baton Rouge features a few more question marks on the depth chart.

LSU Linebackers

Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
OLB (Buck) 49 Arden Key (Jr.) 6-6, 265 40 6.30% 14.5 12 0 3 3
87 Sci Martin (So.) 6-4, 256 2 tackles in 5 game appearances.
46 Andre Anthony (Fr.-RS) 6-5, 242 Redshirted.
43 Ray Thornton (Fr.-RS) 6-3, 228 Redshirted.
4 K'Lavon Chaisson (Fr.) 6-4, 240 Four-star recruit.
OLB (F) 23 Corey Thompson (Sr.) 6-2, 228 Injured.
45 Michael Divinity (So.) 6-2, 239 10 1.60% 1 0 0 0 0
35 Devin Voorhies (Sr.) 6-2, 233 4 0.60% 0 0 0 0 0
ILB (Mack or Rover) 48 Donnie Alexander (Sr.) 6-1, 230 29.5 4.60% 0.5 0 1 1 0
56 M.J. Patterson (Sr.) 6-4, 236 No game appeareances in 2016.
40 Devin White (So.) 6-1, 248 22.5 3.50% 3 1 0 0 1
50 Layton Garnett (Fr.-RS) 6-4, 247 Redshirted.
51 Jonathan Rucker (Sr.) 6-1, 240 7 tackles in 6 game appearances.
8 Patrick Queen (Fr.) 6-1, 220 Four-star recruit.
24 Tyler Taylor (Fr.) 6-2, 238 Four-star recruit.
6 Jacob Phillips (Fr.) 6-3, 237 Four-star recruit.
Returning starters in bold.

What do we like? The players here all know their roles, and that could help a couple vets to break out. Lots of young talent on hand.

Question marks: Replacing a ton of production inside, and missing your best player outside. Injuries and absences, have you scraping the bottom of the depth chart.

For starters, the biggest story of this unit is Key’s mysterious leave of absence. Sources inside the program are still very quiet on whatever’s holding the junior pass-rusher out, but they also seem confident that he will be back for the fall. Key flashed big-time talent as a freshman and he made good on that with a school-record 12 sacks last year. Another jump, and he could easily find himself as a top-10 NFL Draft prospect. You can bet that he, and his family, are aware of that, and of how it could be impacted if he doesn’t return.

Ordinarily, his absence wouldn’t be a huge deal, because as a known commodity he doesn’t need the spring, and its more reps for the younger backups there. But sophomore Isaiah Washington has found himself academically ineligible to practice. He’s also expected back for the fall, but coming off a knee injury he needed the extra work. Likewise, sophomore Sci Martin suffered a knee injury in a scrimmage two weeks ago. His status isn’t clear, but people don’t seem optimistic for 2017.

That leaves a pair of redshirt freshmen, Ray Thornton and Andre Anthony. The staff is extremely confident in Anthony as a future star, but it’s still not the ideal depth situation.

On the field, or “F” outside linebacker, side of the defense, the staff is working with a pair of senior converted safeties in Corey Thompson and Devin Voorhies for now. Thompson was a player Aranda was very fond of last summer before his training camp injury, but it’s tough to imagine him actually staying healthy at this point. Depth at this position will come from the freshmen that haven’t arrived yet.

Inside, senior Donnie Alexander does look ready to step in at the “Mack” position after a pair of nice games following Beckwith’s injury, but was already battling a shoulder injury that will require surgery. It’s easy to see him following the path of players like Riley or Debo Jones before him – undersized special team stalwarts that broke out in starting roles as seniors – but he won’t have a full spring of work like those two did before him. For now, redshirt freshman walk-on Layton Garnett has been working in his spot. Garnett has good size, and most considered him about at three-star level talent that was hampered by injuries in his time at state football power West Monroe. But it’s still not the best spot to be in when a walk-on is forced into the starting lineup. Sophomore Michael Divinity seems to be rotating at a couple of different spots, including the F-outside position.

The Rover inside spot will be manned by sophomore Devin White, and if there’s an ascending star at this position it’s probably him. The former stud running back recruit converted to linebacker last spring as an early enrollee, and showed some tremendous big-play ability in spots during the season.

White has the size to handle the inside running game and showed the speed to run sideline-to-sideline and be a very explosive blitzer last season. The key this year will be the little things. Making the right reads and tackles consistently, and keeping the rest of the front in the right positions making alignment and pressure calls.

The depth concerns have made this something of a patchwork unit in the spring, but there’s still some major potential in those limited pieces.