Baton Rouge -- Karnell Hatcher didn’t nab his first career start until the regular season finale against Arkansas in 2009, a night that saw the sophomore record nine tackles from his strong safety spot in a winning effort.
After nursing a groin injury last spring and a knee injury in the fall, Hatcher missed the season opener against North Carolina and came in off the bench against Vanderbilt. From there, the junior started 10 games in a row, finishing the season with 63 total tackles – third most on the team.
This offseason, defensive coordinator John Chavis decided to move Hatcher away from the strong safety position that he started double-digit games at. His new home: strong side linebacker.
TigerSportsDigest.com caught up with Hatcher to talk about the move.
Q: When did coach Chavis first come to you with the news that you would move positions for your last year with the program?
Hatcher: It was about two weeks before camp started. He was telling me that the position really fits me. Instead of going nickel all the time we can stay in our base fronts, because I am athletic enough to play those coverages.
Q: What was your immediate reaction?
Hatcher: At first I was a little upset. I had played safety all my life and wanted to continue. But I did research on the position and feel like I can make some plays. I will get a whole lot of blitz opportunities. I think I will be very good at the position.
Q: How did Chavis explain the decision?
Hatcher: I think it’s just a thing Chavis does. He came and the first day he moved Harry (Coleman). Now they are taking that same approach with me.
Q: How have you started your approach to learning the position?
Hatcher: I watched a couple tapes of Harry to see how he played it. It seemed like it was easier to him, so I feel like it will be easy because I know the defense and everything. I just have to get my reaction time down.
Q: Who have you talked to the most about the move?
Hatcher: I have talked to coach Chavis the most. Working with Chavis as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, he knows the ins and outs. I can ask him a lot of specific things about where I should be and what I could do better. It’s better that way, for me to defer to our defensive coordinator first. And he keeps telling me that he wants me out there to produce for the team and that this is a position I could excel at.”
Q: Do you think you will ever go back to safety?
Hatcher: I will be exclusively at linebacker. The move is permanent.
Q: Nearing the midpoint of spring ball, what has been the biggest adjustment for you?
Hatcher: It’s a little closer to the line so everything is quicker. I have to make quicker reads and my reaction time has to be way quicker than playing in the backfield. I just have to get my steps down.
Q: Where has coach Chavis been working you out so far?
Q: What’s the competition been like?
Hatcher: The competition will be high. It will get us better. We want to succeed and both want to start, and we will at least be having depth at the position.
Q: How have the other spots shaken down?
Hatcher: Ryan Baker is at the other outside spot, and we still defer to him to lead us. He’s replacing Kelvin Sheppard as the veteran, but as time goes by more people need to step up and take responsibility. Kevin Minter will start in the middle. We’ve worked in Lamin Barrow a little bit.
Q: Have you changed your playing weight since the Cotton Bowl?
Hatcher: I am at 225 pounds. I was at 210 during the season. I never looked it. I guess I am carrying it well. Now I just have to keep in shape.”
Q: How does it feel to play through an offseason at full-strength for the first time in over a year and a half?
Hatcher: It feels good. Losing a spring is a big disadvantage with the weightlifting and conditioning and learning the defense. This feels good just to be healthy.