Finding the best three

The LSU linebackers have had a different look this spring. A handful of players have switched positions as John Chavis looks to find the best combination. But this experienced corps of LBs have welcomed the changes with open arms.

John Chavis likes options.

The LSU defensive coordinator fiddles, tinkers and rearranges his linebacker corps until he finds the right combination, and these early spring practices are evidence of his mad science.

D.J. Welter remains entrenched as the first-team middle linebacker, but he's got a new backup in Kendell Beckwith, who was a defensive end last season. Kwon Alexander has flipped sides of the field, moving from the strong-side to the weak-side. Lamar Louis is also in a new spot, switching from the middle to the outside.

It's all about finding the best fit.

"They're always going to play the best three," Welter said. "So you have to go out there every day and give it your best. If not, you'll get passed up."

That's an attitude the LSU linebackers have embraced. Cross-training is just a part of the job, and when you have a group as experienced as this, switching positions isn't all that hard.

Even for guys like Louis and Alexander, who only learned of the moves the day before spring practices began.

"Cross-training has helped me a lot," Louis said. "Knowing what the guy next to me has to do, it's a big deal. When you know what someone else has to do, you can help him out and he'll help you out. It makes the game easier. That's the biggest upside of it."

With youth aplenty along the defensive line and in the secondary, that veteran corps of linebackers will need to be an anchor for Chavis' unit. They certainly have the experience. Alexander, now a rising junior, has been in the starting lineup since his freshman season. Louis received plenty of playing time last year, and Welter's entering his fourth year in the program.

That will especially come in handy for Welter, who's now the old guy in the linebacker meeting room. Though he received plenty of criticism last season for his lack of athleticism, what he has between the ears is why he's earned the respect of his teammates.

"DJ's a verbal leader," Louis said. "The thing I like about DJ is his work-ethic. He's a blue-collar guy. He's going to work hard, and he's not afraid to open his mouth."

Kendell Beckwith will no longer play with his hand in the dirt
But LSU wasn't afraid to use two middle linebackers last year, and Beckwith will have plans of continuing that in 2014. The rising sophomore spent his freshman season with his hand in the dirt, but he came to LSU a linebacker and switched back before the Outback Bowl.

Beckwith said he feels "way more comfortable" at linebacker, so he welcomed the change with open arms. But he'll admit there's a lot he still has to learn when it comes to playing the quarterback's role in Chavis' defense.

"That's the biggest thing I need to work on is the mental part of playing linebacker," Beckwith said. "I really got to get in my playbook and learn all the audibles and calls."

Beckwith's already receiving his fair share of praise from his teammates.

"I always knew he was coming back to linebacker," Louis said. "I knew he wouldn't stay with his hand in the dirt. With his athleticism and size, I've never seen too many people that can move the way he can move. He displays good hands. He's a smart guy and he's willing to work."

In addition to these four linebackers, Chavis has even more he can count on. Deion Jones has been an early standout during spring practices, and Duke Riley, a special teams star as a freshman, will want to have an impact on defense in 2014.

So Chavis definitely has those options, and he'll experiment with all of them this spring.

"We're just trying to get a different feel," Louis said. "We want to get a lot of speed and experience on that field."


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