All this week, with LSU spring football approaching quickly on the horizon, TSD will tackle a question a day surrounding the 2013 gridiron Tigers.
Today's Question: What alignment will Chavis go with at linebacker?
In the same vein as Monday's question (Who still start at left tackle?), there's no definitive answer yet, but there are two options which have emerged as favorites in the clubhouse. Now it's up to the coaching staff, in this case defensive coordinator and position coach John Chavis, to choose which one best suits his fancy.
The good news for Tiger fans is that there is no debate as to who the top three linebackers are entering spring practice. Here they are in list form, alphabetically, with measurable and years.
Kwon Alexander (So., 6-2, 215)
Lamin Barrow (R-Sr., 6-2, 232)
Tahj Jones (R-Sr., 6-2, 205)
Collectively, they project as the best starting corps LSU has fielded since the stacked 2009 group, which featured Jacob Cutrera, Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard and converted-safety Harry Coleman. That group included three seniors in Cutrera, Riley and Coleman. This one has two, with Barrow and Jones actually coming into 2013 as fifth-year players.
Since that 2009 season Chavis has elected to run significantly more nickel, dime and Mustang sets than he did in his first season, a byproduct not only of the fact that he wanted to get talented DBs some snaps in the box but also that he had to mask a deficiency at linebacker.
That trend slowly began to turn around in 2012 with improved play on the defense's second tier, and it should continue in that direction this fall. Not only will the three players above be in the fold, but so too will capable backups Deion Jones (So., 6-2, 202), Lamar Louis (So., 6-0, 220) and D.J. Welter (R-Jr., 6-0, 226).
Almost amazingly linebacker has gone from a weak link to the strength of the defense. The question that remains, however, is who's going to step into starter's shoes in the middle? That's the real basis behind today's spring question.
After Kelvin Sheppard's time on campus expired, the torch at Mike linebacker was handed to Kevin Minter, who briefly shared duties in 2011 with Karnell Hatcher but kicked the door down a season ago with the gig his and his alone (130 tackles and 15 tackles for loss, both team highs, will attest to that).
With Minter now NFL-bound, Chavis is faced with two options. The first involves moving Barrow into the middle from his customary weakside position. The second involves pushing Alexander inside in a similar fashion. Whichever player doesn't end up at middle linebacker will start on the weakside opposite Tahj Jones, who will occupy the stronside linebacker spot with sprinter's speed.
On the surface it may not seem to matter which way Chavis goes, considering LSU knows which three guys will be in there as long as everybody's healthy. But the truth is middle linebacker, along with free safety, is one of the most important positions on any defense and requires a cerebral player for organizational purposes and to be able to track the ball to both sides of the field.
It's no minute detail.
And so Chavis likely enters spring ball with preconceived notions, but he'll have the entire five-week period and all of Fall Camp in August to make up his mind.
Barrow gives Chavis the best option from an experience and physical standpoint, weighing 17 pounds more than Alexander, but the sophomore, who could well end up as the Mike linebacker of the future in 2014 and beyond, is a player the staff holds in very high esteem.
In his first campaign on campus, Alexander finished with 12 tackles, one for loss, despite missing the majority of the second half of the season with injury. Barrow, meanwhile, developed as one of the true surprises of the team, exiting what seemed to be the doghouse in 2011 to become the team's second leading tackler a season ago with 104 stops (fifth in the SEC).
Conventional wisdom says Barrow, who has even cross-trained some at Mike linebacker during his career in Baton Rouge, is the guy, but more and more whispers are hinting that Chavis may try Alexander in the middle.
At any rate, while this certainly qualifies as one of those good problems to have, it's one of the big storylines worth monitoring when spring practice is in session.
One final thing to consider: With the abundance of talented linebackers at Chief's disposal this year, it would stand to reason that LSU could try out some 3-4. It almost comes as heresy to say that about a John Chavis defense, given his obvious penchant for a base 4-3, but it would allow more linebackers (like Deion Jones, who would be next up and whose speed the staff loves) to play at once and help cover up a depth problem on the defensive line.
Hey, after the guy basically revolutionized SEC defense the past few seasons with the Mustang package (using dime personnel in an NFL-style 3-4 look), I wouldn't put anything past Chavis.
Schedule for pre-spring preview stories
Tuesday, February 26: Spring Preview - New names to monitor
Thursday, February 28: Spring Preview - Two-deep depth chart
Monday, March 4: Spring Question 1 - Who's going to start at left tackle?
Tuesday, March 5: Spring Question 2 - How will the new-look defensive line fare?
Wednesday, March 6: Spring Question 3 – What alignment will Chavis go with at linebacker?
Thursday, March 7: Spring Question 4 – Who will step up as leaders on this 2013 team?
Friday, March 8: Spring Question 5 – How will Cam Cameron's presence affect the offense?
Monday, March 11: Video – Offense Preview
Tuesday, March 12: Video – Defense Preview
Wednesday, March 13: Video – Early Enrollees; What to Watch: Staff Picks
Spring Question: How will Chavis arrange LBs?
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