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Spring Football 2019: Linebackers

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Depth and talent abound, but there’s a big hole to fill for LSU at the defense’s second level.

LSU v Miami Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

LSU will have to move on from one of, perhaps the, greatest linebackers in school history now that Devin White is headed to the NFL.

Two starters return from the group overall, but there are still a host of others with starters’ minutes on their résumé, including one noteworthy talent who missed out on his breakout season due to a game one injury.

LSU Linebackers: Spring 2019

Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles TFL Run Stuffs* Sacks PBU (Int) FF
Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles TFL Run Stuffs* Sacks PBU (Int) FF
OLB (Bench/Field) 4 K'Lavon Chaisson (So.) 6-4, 238 4 1 1 1 0 0
45 Michael Divinity (Sr.) 6-2, 238 37 10.5 10.5 5 2 (1) 1
46 Andre Anthony (Jr.) 6-4, 238 9.5 0.5 2.5 0.5 0 0
43 Ray Thornton (Jr.) 6-4, 226 14 2.5 3 1 0 0
49 Travez Moore (Jr.) 6-4, 253 One tackle in 3 games. Redshirted.
55 Jarell Cherry (Fr.-RS) 6-3, 235 No stats in one game appearance. Redshirted.
ILB (Mack/Rover) 6 Jacob Phillips (Jr.) 6-4, 229 57.5 5.5 6 1 1 (3) 0
8 Patrick Queen (Jr.) 6-2, 232 28.5 5 4.5 1 0 0
23 Micah Baskerville (So.) 6-2, 233 12.5 0.5 1 0 0 0
35 Damone Clark (So.) 6-4, 238 One tackle in 13 game appearances.
Returning starters in bold.

What’s Good?

Remember Dave Aranda’s first spring on LSU, when the Tigers had more kickers and specialists on scholarship than linebackers?

Those days are certainly over. There’s a full two-deep here at all four positions (buck, rover, mack and field), and gone are the days of converted defensive backs trying to bulk up. It’s a full house of big, physical linebackers, seven of which have started at least one game in the last year.

The two starters back were two of the defense’s breakout players in 2018 — junior Jacob Phillips and senior Michael Divinity. Phillips put together a big year inside playing next to White, and is expected to progress into an all-conference caliber performer in his second season as a starter. He has the speed and athleticism to play sideline-to-sideline and the size to handle the interior run as well. Divinity, a former big-time recruit who seemed lost in the shuffle through his first few seasons, came into his own as a well-rounded player that can do everything you want out of the F-linebacker spot on the strong side; set the edge in the running game, contribute to the pass rush and also drop into coverage. He’s also developed into one of the key vocal leaders of the defense as well.

But the player all eyes will be on is definitely sophomore bench linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson. He looked poised to explode as a dominant playmaker in the season opener against Miami, but blew out his knee late in the game and missed the remainder of the season and redshirted. He’s reportedly 100 percent from the injury, but coaches are still taking it easy with him in the spring, because there’s no reason to take much risk. Chaisson can be the missing piece to this front seven as a dominant pass-rusher off the edge. The kind of force-multiplier that creates better opportunities for even more players, a la Arden Key in 2016.

The odds-on favorite to take the other starting spot inside would to be junior Patrick Queen, who started the Fiesta Bowl while Phillips served a first-half suspension, and actually led the team with nine tackles, two for loss. He’ll compete with sophomores Micah Baskerville (who started the Florida game last year with Phillips injured) and Damone Clark.

What’s Bad?

There’s no two ways about it; you don’t just replace a player like Devin White easily. He could do so much athletically against the run and in coverage, and made so many clutch plays at big moments in 2018. In general, this group needs to find ways to create more negative plays, both sacks and tackles for loss.

But on top of that, White was the unquestioned heart and soul of the defense and the team at large. He also handled the calls and front adjustments for the front seven, something invaluable with how Aranda likes to have his unit read the offense pre-snap to designate rush lanes.

Is Phillips ready for that responsibility? Or will it be Divinity or Queen? Chaisson will likely play with his hand in the dirt more often.

What’s the goal for this unit in the spring?

LSU can’t answer every question for this unit, but they can set the board for the fall and begin to get the pieces in place. Three of the four starting spots are relatively settled, but the rotational roles for guys like Ray Thornton and Andre Anthony before the freshmen arrive in the summer.

Likewise, there’s also that starting spot up for grabs. It looks like the light came on for Queen in the Fiesta Bowl, but I would not expect Baskerville to go quietly.