Pieces of the puzzle: Karnell Hatcher

Karnell Hatcher, who spent three seasons at safety for LSU, is making a move to middle linebacker for his final year in the program.

When talking about LSU’s secondary, senior Karnell Hatcher is one of the most experienced names on the block.

After he broke onto the scene as a true freshman to the tune of 13 tackles and a forced fumble on special teams, Hatcher moved into a more prominent role over the next two seasons – eventually starting 11 games at strong safety last fall.

Headed into his final year with the program, Hatcher has 109 tackles, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles under his belt.

No matter, his days roaming the secondary are over.

Somewhere between the emergence of safeties Eric Reid and Craig Loston and the Arkansas game, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis drew up a new vision for Hatcher.

Last spring, Chavis sat Hatcher down and asked him his thoughts on moving positions – from safety to linebacker.

Chavis had two thoughts:

1)   Let Hatcher blitz off the edge from the strongside linebacker spot, meaning he would be in competition with returning starter Stefoin Francois.

2)   Put Hatcher at middle linebacker, where sophomore Kevin Minter is attempting to fill the void left by Kelvin Sheppard.

For Hatcher, the decision was made before Chavis left the room.

“Coach told me to learn both, but I told him I wanted to play middle,” Hatcher said.

Five months later, Hatcher is working on reaching that goal.

“As soon as fall camp started, I have been at middle linebacker,” he said. “It’s been going good. Instead of playing one side I get a chance to be everywhere.”

Like with any move, there was change.

“There’s a lot of contact and it’s a battle in there with the linemen, so that’s something new,” Hatcher said. “You have to get your reads quicker. The play develops fast.”

There were also countless hours spent in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, a change of pace from Hatcher’s days as a safety.

“We really got after it,” he said. “I am up to 228 pounds right now. Last year I played at 215. I like the weight. I have to get used to carrying it, but I feel good out there. I am moving with it.”

When asked about his chances of nabbing a starting job over Minter, Hatcher remained politically correct.

“It is a competition,” he said. “We are going to keep competing and see who has the better camp.”

At LSU Media Day Tuesday, Chavis was a little less discreet about Hatcher’s potential impact.

“I think the one guy that’s going to really impact us the most at linebacker in terms of people not knowing him is Karnell Hatcher,” Chavis said. “He’s still learning, but let me tell you he’s a football player and he’s got great instincts and can find the football.

“Having him inside is going to be a big plus for us, particularly with the number of spread teams we’re going to be facing this year.”

Nearing the midway point of fall camp, Hatcher said that he feels like he’s inching closer to feeling completely comfortable with the transition.

“I went to one practice and pretty much had the hang of it,” Hatcher said. “Instead of playing one side of the field I could be in the middle and roam, and that’s what I’ve liked a lot about it.”

While Hatcher might come across as overly confident about his linebacker abilities given he has suited up as an SEC safety the past three seasons, Chavis is buying in.

“Let me tell you he’s taking on quite well,” Chavis said. “To be honest it’s natural for him and he played some linebacker in high school.

“In the scheme we play we have safeties that have assignments to be in the box and they will be box players from time to time. He’s going to be in ground he’s been on before, he’s just going to be doing it every down now is the only difference.”

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