As the center of the defense, the communicators, play callers, hub of information, pass rushers and run stoppers, LSU’s linebackers must do it all.
With the addition of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, in comes the 3-4 defense, featuring middle linebackers known as “Mack” and “Rover” and two outside, switch-hitting defensive ends/linebackers, known as “F” and “Buck” as they are nicknamed.
Returning: Kendell Beckwith (Sr.), Duke Riley (Sr.), Donnie Alexander (So.), Corey Thompson (Jr.), Tashawn Bower (Sr.), Devin Voorhies (Jr.), Arden Key (So.), Isaiah Washington (So.), Jonathan Rucker (Jr.), M.J. Patterson (Jr.)
Incoming: Devin White (Fr.), Michael Divinity Jr. (Fr.), Rahssan “Ray” Thornton (Fr.), Sci Martin (Fr.)
Buck? Mack? Rover? F?
All positions in Aranda’s defense.
Buck and F are expected to be on the corners, beside the defensive ends in a two-point, pass-rushing stance — and sometimes a three-point. Mack and Rover — two-point, typical linebacker stance positions — will be stationed at the center of the defense.
What we know so far: Beckwith is the Mack, Riley the Rover, Key is the Buck and Bower is the F.
Mack and Rover
The title of Beckwith’s middle linebacker position may have changed, but he’s role remains the same, he said.
“Just control everything. Fly to the football,” he said. “He’s going to try his best not to complicate things and just have us fly around.”
After reading the offensive lineman, Beckwith and Riley, the starting middle men for LSU, are free to fly into and around double teams caused by the defensive line to make tackles or drop into pass coverage.
Projected first and second middle linebacker units:
Mack: Kendell Beckwith, Donnie Alexander
Rover: Duke Riley, Devin White
From the above list, four players are listed defensive ends, and two others have since been injured during LSU’s first week of camp.
Corey Thompson, a recently converted linebacker from safety, suffered a lower leg injury to his ankle and is expected to miss a handful of weeks to recovery. Isaiah Washington, Key’s presumed backup at the “Buck” position, is out for the season with a knee injury, he confirmed on Twitter.
Buck and F
With the new scheme, comes part-time, stand-up pass rushers and pass coverage men on the edges of the front seven.
Being on the corners requires different responsibilities. “F” stands for field and mostly resembles a strong-side linebacker (4-3 defense), which LSU has used since Miles took control in 2005. The “F” position is responsible for reading, covering the tight end, zone coverage and blitzing, too. But, as the extra linebacker, the “F” isn’t always on the field if, and likely when, the Tigers align a five-man defensive back unit.
When thinking “Buck,” think boundaries. Formally known as “B”, the “Buck” linebacker is mostly responsible for pass rushing, but lengthy, athletic guys like Key and freshman Sci Martin may also drop into pass coverage, further camouflaging Aranda’s niftiness in the freshly implemented 3-4 defense.
“The ability to have that has made us better so people aren’t always working one way and not working the other,” Aranda said in April.
So yes, both Key and Bower, lifelong defensive ends, will drop into pass coverage (zone and man coverage) at times this season as part of Aranda’s system.
Thompson was expected to backup Bower at the “F” and Washington was behind Key as the “Buck” reserve. Now, freshman Michael Divinity and Rahssan Thornton have made pushes for Thompson’s role and Martin has since assumed the spot behind Key.
“Our underclassmen are providing us with good depth,” Miles said on Tuesday.
You can reach Christian Boutwell on Twitter, @CBoutwell_