TSD is running a story a day over the coming week, combing through each position with a detailed look at who and what is being lost and the names/games of the 2015 targets that will be groomed as replacements in the short- and long-term.
Here are previously published breakdowns: Offensive Tackle, Defensive End and Safety.
Next position up: the Linebacker Corps.
LEAVING A VOID
Of the three starting linebacker positions in John Chavis’ primary 4-3 scheme, two figure to remain intact for the 2015 season – strongside LB Lamar Louis and, most importantly, middle LB Kendell Beckwith. There are legitimate questions surrounding the third, weakside LB Kwon Alexander, and the potential that the junior from Alabama could throw his hat in the ring for the 2015 NFL Draft. While that is still up in the air, one bit of attrition is not. The Tigers will lose redshirt senior D.J. Welter, a starter for basically a season and a half in the middle and a player that gave LSU credible depth toward the end of his career.
On Alexander, he’s one of the hardest players for me to figure at this point when it comes to staying or going (probably right up there with the other Alexander – Vadal). The argument for Kwon to stay: He’s only been a starter for one full season and can still grow his game in areas of coverage and blitzing. The counter: He’s experienced serious lower-body injuries twice over the last four to five years and was highly productive this season when given his chance to shine.
Kwon led the Tigers in tackling during the regular season with 79 total stops and finished second in tackles for loss (7.5) and quarterback hurries (five) while also forcing two fumbles. And even though he doesn’t specialize in pass coverage, Chavis did trust Alexander enough to leave him in on virtually every nickel, dime and Mustang set this fall. Something else that can’t be overlooked in the conversation of “leaving a void,” if Alexander does indeed turn pro, is that he’s been the defense’s and the team’s emotional leader in so many ways. Go pop in a tape of almost any LSU game this season and watch which player is the most vocal when it comes to challenging his teammates, uplifting his teammates and taking up for his teammates against the opposition. I’ll save you the time – it’s No. 4.
As for Welter, no, he doesn’t start for LSU anymore and wouldn’t next year either even if he had more eligibility. But that doesn’t negate the fact that his moving on from the program is a loss. The Crowley native registered 122 career tackles during his stay, finishing second on the team in that department a season ago. The Tigers have Beckwith and Clifton Garrett on the roster at the position, but they’ll have to keep developing the communication/leadership skills of both to match that part of Welter’s game.
FILLING THE VOID
Kwon Alexander will be tough to replace should he bolt for the NFL after this season. Deion Jones or Duke Riley would be the next in line to step in at the WILL linebacker position. Jones will be entering his fourth season in the program, but both he and Riley have only played reserve roles in their career. That will likely leave the competition wide open for that outside spot entering the 2015 season, meaning a true freshman could jump into the rotation.
Without a linebacker yet committed in the 2015 class, LSU has been pressing hard to change that in recent weeks. They'll have a big chance this weekend with four-star OLB Adonis Thomas (pictured above) set to take an official visit to Baton Rouge. The former Florida commit appears to be focusing most on Alabama and LSU, with the Tide getting him on campus several times in the last month. His last visit to LSU came for the Alabama game, so the coaches will try to make a big push this weekend to keep pace with the Tide.
The other big name to watch is Malik Jefferson. Ranked as the No. 1 OLB, LSU is one of seven schools considered a "finalist" but one of only three that will have received an official visit from him before he decides on Dec. 19. He came to Baton Rouge for the Alabama game, followed that with an official to Texas A&M the following week and will be at Texas next weekend. Those three schools are considered the biggest contenders, though the Aggies are the favorite. LSU's tried selling him on immediate playing time, and he certainly could earn it as a talented early enrollee.
Outside of those two, the other top LB targets project to play the middle. LSU met with Ole Miss commit Leo Lewis this week. Four-star Roquan Smith is set to take an official visit in January, and the Tigers are also trying to get in on Auburn commit Richard McBryde. But the bigger need is certainly at outside linebacker, so the Tigers will continue pressing hard to land Thomas and/or Jefferson in this class.