The players agree.
“I expect to see more faces than we usually see during the season,” said junior LB Lamar Louis. “Our depth is a whole lot deeper. We have guys that can step in and play. Guys are more prepared this year compared to others.”
Chavis doesn’t rush linebackers to the field if he doesn’t feel they’re ready. In the past, that’s meant only a handful of guys see significant playing time. That number should increase considerably this fall with as many as six or seven linebackers in line to have an impact.
The question becomes — how will they get them on the field?
That’s up to Chavis, but the players are excited to see the rotation.
“We’re expecting Chief to play a lot of guys and we’re looking forward to keeping everyone fresh,” said senior D.J. Welter. “In the fourth quarter, being able to roll guys in is a big deal. We can do it this year. Everybody’s grasped not only the game plan but the playbook as a whole.”
LSU’s lack of linebacker depth has bit them in the past. Kevin Minter infamously went down with cramps in that 2012 loss to Florida after playing a large portion of the snaps. Louis said LSU won’t have that problem this year.
“We’ve had to play guys close to 90-100 snaps [in the past],” Louis said. “We never want to do that. If we can have one guy play 60 snaps and another play 40 snaps, that’s ideal for us. That’s what we want.”
One particular linebacker spot that fans will want to see rotation is in the middle. Welter holds down the starting nod, but Kendell Beckwith has received a lot of praise and has inserted himself squarely in the discussion.
“I expect him to be ready to play in the first game,” Welter said. “It’ll be Chief’s call whenever he gets in, but he’s definitely going to see the field.”
WHO’S UP NEXT AT DEFENSIVE END?
Everyone knows about Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. They’ve been entrenched as the starting defensive ends since the spring, and the fans are optimistic they’re each due for breakout seasons.
But who comes on the field when they need a breather?
“That’s the question that me and [Danielle] talk about all the time,” Rasco said. “But at the same time, we just have to focus on what we can and put our best foot forward.”
Those two veterans aren’t being pessimistic. They have loads of confidence in guys like Tashawn Bower, Justin Maclin and even the freshmen Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema.
“We don’t know who coach has in mind, but we just know that in practice all those guys are getting the same amount of reps,” Rasco said. “He’s pushing everybody to get the best out of them.”
From that list, Bower seems most poised to have a major impact as a sophomore. He played in six games in 2013 and is now the Tigers’ No. 3 defensive end on the depth chart. Rasco said Bower’s ready for a much bigger role in 2014.
“He became a student of the game,” Rasco said. “As a freshman, he was adjusting to everything and he did get his feet wet a little bit. This past camp, he really paid attention to all the things I’ve been trying to preach to him. He’s coming along, and he’ll be a great player here.”
WISCONSIN’S EVER-CHANGING FRONTS
The Badgers’ defense doesn’t fall into one particular category, according to the LSU offensive line. Though it may be listed as a 3-4, the Tigers said the Wisconsin front seven can change at the drop of a hat.
“They like to line up in different fronts, and move to a different front right before the snap,” said senior La’El Collins. “You just have to be ready and be prepared for whatever they may throw at you.”
That’s where LSU’s experience along the offensive line comes in handy. If left with little time to communicate before the snap, the players have to already know what the person next to him is thinking.
“If we don’t have enough time to communicate in that split second, we all know what to do and each other’s jobs,” said junior Vadal Alexander. “We just do it on the run.”
It’s typically the center’s job to make the pre-snap calls. Wisconsin’s ever-changing front can put a lot of pressure on that center, especially considering that Ethan Pocic will be stepping into the starting lineup for the first time.
That doesn’t concern his teammates though.
“He knows everything,” Alexander said. “He’s very intelligent just like the rest of us. It might be his first time starting, but trust me, he’s very prepared.”