Heading into the 2020 season LSU faced a steep task: replacing its entire starting linebacker corps while also switching to a new defense.
Gone was Dave Aranda’s 3-4, in came Bo Pelini’s 4-3 approach. The problem? LSU had spent the past few seasons loading up on smaller, quicker linebackers that could cover sideline to sideline instead of the “see ball, hit ball” attacking type.
The skillsets of Jabril Cox and Damone Clark didn’t mesh with Pelini’s philosophy. Now LSU, who has been producing phenomenal linebackers as of late, is hoping that the new defense Daronte Jones and position coach Blake Baker can get this group of linebackers playing like Devin White, Debo Jones, and Patrick Queen.
2021 LSU Linebackers
|10 Josh White (So.)||6'0"/215||4||2||0||0||Was on the field for 10 snaps|
|18 Damone Clark (Sr.)||6'3"/245||10||39||4||1||3 QB Hurries; 1 PBU|
|*23 Micah Baskerville (Sr.)||6'1"/231||8||55||4.5||0||2 QB Hurries; 1 FF|
|34 Antoine Sampah (So.)||6'1"/205||1||0||0||0||Was on the field for 5 snaps|
|39 Phillip Webb (So.)||6'4"/226||0||--||--||--||No snaps|
|**6 Mike Jones (Rs. Jr.)||6'0"/220||10||30||4||0.5||3 QB Hurries; 4 PBUs; 2 INTs|
|**Navonteque Strong (Jr.)||6'2"/220||6||59||12||5||2 FFs; 2 PBUs|
|Zavier Carter (Fr.)||6'5"/190||Four-star freshman|
*Baskerville won’t be with the team in spring practice as he focuses on academics
***At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
Micah Baskerville won’t partake in spring practices as he’ll need to focus on his schoolwork to remain eligible for next season. That’s a blow because Baskerville’s late season emergence was a bright spot for the LSU defense.
But it could be an even bigger blow to Baskerville and his professional aspirations because Damone Clark is getting high praise from Blake Baker.
“Right now, you know I think Damone has the most experience. He’s a coach’s dream. A phenomenal, phenomenal kid,” Baker said during Wednesday’s coaches caravan. “Wants to do everything to perfection. He’s probably one of the hardest working players I’ve seen out there on the field on a day-to-day basis. I’ve challenged him to bring the other guys along.”
That kind of praise is encouraging for a guy who had an underwhelming 2020. It remains to be seen how much of Clark’s struggles are owed to Bo Pelini’s defensive philosophy, but I’d expect a bounce back year from Clark.
If Clark and/or Baskerville aren’t up to task, however, Orgeron and staff hopefully have readymade solutions in the form of JUCO product Navonteque Strong and Mike Jones (WHO?).
Strong comes to LSU via Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College as the top inside linebacker at the junior college level. Strong was long thought to be headed to Starkville, but earned a late LSU offer and signed with the Tigers one day after decommitting from Mississippi State. LSU lacked an enforcer at the second level and Strong looks to fill that void.
Jones on the other hand looks to inherit the safety/linebacker tweener role Jabril Cox played last season. Jones is athletic enough that he could be asked to both come off the edge as blitzer or run with an opponent’s tight end. He also brings a winning mindset to LSU, playing in three CFPs while at Clemson and winning a national championship in 2018.
The competition for playing time will be fierce and we haven’t even gotten to second year players like Josh White, Antoine Sampah and Phillip Webb. Considering how badly the Tiger linebackers struggled last season I’m surprised White, Sampah, and Webb didn’t get a chance to show what they could do. I mean really, could the worst defense in school history have looked that much worse with a freshman playing linebacker? But the trio of White, Sampah and Webb are now entering their second year with the program and combined 15 snaps between them. Can they use these 15 practices to show Carter and Baker they deserve more playing time?