Almost two weeks removed from LSU's spring game, it's time to take stock of the 2013 Tigers and where they stand all over the gridiron.
Every day this week I've put a different position grouping under the microscope, filling out my picks to a set list of seven different categories (eight today) and providing two numerical ratings.
For Monday's look at the offensive line, CLICK HERE.
For Tuesday's look at the offensive skill players, CLICK HERE.
For Wednesday's look at the defensive line, CLICK HERE.
Today it's onto the linebackers.
Best Player: Lamin Barrow
The conversation here starts and ends with the fact that Barrow amassed 104 tackles last season. That means coming into spring, Barrow was the most proven entity and the workhorse of a suddenly loaded corps. The redshirt senior did nothing to let up through five weeks of practices and the spring game. His name was mentioned by Les Miles after every scrimmage for total tackles and being around the football. Barrow then posted seven tackles in the spring game. Whether he ends up in the middle or stays on the weakside, the productive Barrow will be the constant in LSU's starting lineup at LB in 2013.
Best Spring: D.J. Welter
Anytime you enter spring as a surprise starter and then don't lose your job during more than a month of heated competition, you've had a pretty good run. Such is the case for Welter, a 6-0, 226-pound redshirt junior who sat out all but the bowl game in 2012 after a course snafu left him academically ineligible for the regular season. Upon his return, John Chavis saw fit to carve out snaps for him in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and, this spring, immediately inserted Welter as the starting Mike linebacker. Welter's strengths include communication, diagnosing plays and physicality. Time will tell if those attributes win out in Fall Camp or if a player with more size takes over in the middle, but for now, Welter made enough of an impression this spring to remain on top.
Best Young Player: Kwon Alexander
The 6-2, 215-pound sophomore-to-be showed in the spring game what he's capable of when given consistent P.T. Going against the first-team offense, Alexander, manning an outside ‘backer spot, led the Purple squad with seven tackles, including one for loss, and two pass break-ups. Many will remember he also started two games for LSU as a true freshman in 2012 before a broken ankle at Florida ended his regular season. Alexander made it back to play in the bowl game, and he finished the campaign with 12 tackles, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. No matter what the situation is with Welter in the middle, Chavis will find time for this guy in 2013. He's too good.
Worst Spring: Nobody
I gave thought to putting names here like Trey Granier or Lorenzo Phillips, but there's no reason to pick on those kids. The truth is they came in a step or two behind the rest in the stacked 2012 linebacking corps (Alexander, D. Jones, Louis), and they're still looking up to them on the depth chart. Granier, who's worked as the third-team Mike linebacker, may be making the move to fullback eventually. Phillips will continue to be a special teams stalwart and provide a reliable reserve at outside linebacker. Honestly, nobody to my knowledge had a bad spring at linebacker. Going forward it's just a matter of Chavis picking out the four or maybe five he likes best.
Banged Up: Nobody
Lamar Louis mentioned via Twitter that he sustained a small injury on the first series of the spring game, but it isn't serious. Welter was forced to miss a practice or two toward the end of spring drills, but he quickly returned and participated in the spring game. All was good on the injury front for the linebackers this spring.
Don't Forget About: The brothers Jones
Okay, so they're not actually related, but Tahj Jones and Deion Jones are at the very least brothers in speed. Tahj, a redshirt senior, was in the same boat as Welter in 2012, missing the entire regular season due to academic ineligibility. But, showing you just how much Chief thinks of him, Tahj immediately returned to his starting strongside linebacker spot for the bowl game after 12 games out. He's expected to reprise that role in 2013. Deion, a.k.a Debo, is as quick as they come. More than just flat-out speed, Chavis likes to refer to what Deion possesses as "suddenness." That suddenness will make Deion hard to keep off the field in his sophomore season. Look for him to be one of the primary hit men on several special teams units and, should his progression or injury dictate, a nice role player at outside linebacker.
Biggest Summer Subject: Shift in the middle?
This is the type of problem, discussion or argument that only the most fortunate have. It's the equivalent of having 10 luxury sports cars in the garage and being unsure about which one to take out that day. Welter takes the mantle of starting middle linebacker into the summer, but questions remain – probably more so in the eyes of fans and reporters – as to whether he'll stay there. Very little of the skepticism seems to be directed at Welter himself. Instead many are giddy at the notion of Alexander seeing the field with Barrow pushing inside. Bottom line: it's a good problem for Chavis to have. It should also be noted that Louis, not Alexander, worked in the middle with the second team this spring.
Biggest Summer Subject, Part 2: The 3-3-5 look
Don't act like you didn't see it during the spring game. We saw glimpses of it in the portions of practice that the media was allowed into, too. LSU definitely experimented with a 3-3-5 defense this spring, working from it on occasion when taking breaks from Chavis' customary 4-3 front. How much the Tigers will actually use it this fall is still more of a debate than a known. But it is interesting to watch Chief tweak the defense, finding ways to best harness his group's speed and personnel. In years past, LSU's nickel was a standard 4-2 front, taking out a ‘backer and bringing in a nickel back like Tyrann Mathieu or Jalen Mills. This year it appears Chavis may favor leaving his talented linebackers in and taking out a defensive lineman in substation.
LB Starter Rating (on scale from 1-10): 8.5
LB Depth Rating: 9.5
Spring Listing: Linebackers
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