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2019 LSU Football Preview: Linebackers

Deep and talented group could put LSU’s defense over the top.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Alabama at LSU Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the most exciting aspects of LSU’s defense this upcoming season is that this group is Dave Aranda’s complete baby. He’s recruited just about every member of this group — certainly every major contributor — and he’s been here longer than any other previous stop. Ever year we see another different twist, and it’s always fun to see how he’ll evolve this group.

But the biggest area we’ve seen Aranda’s influence overall (it’s the position he personally coaches as well) is in the linebacking corps. When he arrived, Aranda remarked that LSU had more kickers on scholarship than inside linebackers. Now, this group is 11-men strong, returns two starters plus a third-would be starters that only saw one game last year before injury. And a host of experienced depth, plus two incoming freshmen (if Donte Starks is cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse).

2019 LSU Linebackers

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) 18 K'Lavon Chaisson (So.) 6-4, 250 4 1 1 1 0 0
46 Andre Anthony (Jr.) 6-4, 250 9.5 0.5 2.5 0.5 0 0
43 Ray Thornton (Jr.) 6-3, 227 14 2.5 3 1 0 0
49 Travez Moore (Jr.) 6-4, 246 One tackle in 3 games. Redshirted.
ILB (Mack/Rover) 6 Jacob Phillips (Jr.) 6-4, 233 57.5 5.5 6 1 1 (3) 0
45 Michael Divinity (Sr.) 6-2, 241 37 10.5 10.5 5 2 (1) 1
8 Patrick Queen (Jr.) 6-1, 227 28.5 5 4.5 1 0 0
23 Micah Baskerville (So.) 6-1, 228 12.5 0.5 1 0 0 0
35 Damone Clark (So.) 6-43 239 One tackle in 13 game appearances.
12 Donte Starks (Fr.)* 6-1, 212 Four-star recruit.
26 Kendall McCallum (Fr.) 6-5, 225 Three-star recruit.
Returning starters in bold. *presently awaiting NCAA Clearinghouse approval.

Now given the modern offenses LSU’s going to see in most games, the defense will very rarely have its base front on the field with the Bench, Rover, Mack and Field linebacker positions all out there at the same time. That said, here’s a best guess at the top four overall players here, which will be deployed in several ways:

K’Lavon Chaisson, Michael Divinity, Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen

However, don’t be surprised if sophomore Damone Clark winds up stealing a spot from one of these four.

Chaisson will be the constant outside, and looks good on the potential he showed in the Miami game with five tackles and a sack in about three quarters of action. Chaisson has worked hard to make it back, put on about 15 pounds and earned the No. 18 number. He has the talent to be this unit’s most well-rounded Bench linebacker yet. He can bring heat off the edge as a pass-rusher, but also play in space as a cover man.

Divinity, a blue chip recruit that had struggled to find his role through four seasons, put together a really complete season last year in the Field linebacker spot. He set the edge in the running game, covered tight ends and even showed some talent for getting after the quarterback with five sacks. As a senior, he looked set to move inside to Devin White’s Mack position, where he looked very comfortable in the spring. But I suspect he still slides outside in nickel sets. Clark’s development may necessitate a move back to the Field position for Divinity.

Phillips returns at the Rover position, where he put together a really strong sophomore effort with 87 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. But he still has a lot of room to grow — he had a tendency to run himself out of some plays or get caught on misdirection. Missed a few tackles as well. And with Phillips missing the spring with an injury, his classmate Queen has made a big push for playing time. They’ll likely share the position, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Queen moves outside to the Field spot in some base looks.

Clark and Micah Baskerville are likely the future at the inside position, but the future may come a bit sooner for the former. Baskerville got on the field quickly, although he struggled when pressed into a starting role. Watch for junior Andre Anthony to see the field in some pass-rush situations as well, opposite Chaisson on the “Green Team” unit.

The question for this group, which won’t be answerable until the games kick off, is whether someone will step up in the big moments, the way White did. The big fourth-down stop against Auburn; the forced fumbles against Texas A&M and UCF. Its one thing to produce, its another to do it in the clutch.