RELOAD: Tigers stockpile talent at linebacker

The LSU Tigers have reloaded. There really is no better way to say it. Going into the home stretch of the 2005-2006 recruiting season, the Tigers needed linebackers. Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini and his defense has only one starting linebacker returning from last year's 11-2 team, placing the defense into an unusual position.

Replacing talent with talent should not be a problem for Pelini and his staff a with stable full of potential sitting on the sideline, but game time experience will surely be a concern going into the season.


"We think we signed some really tremendous guys, and not just quality players but quality people," said Pelini. "There is going to be a lot of competition because a lot of these new guys now of days don't want sit and take a redshirt, they want to play. I say if they can help us win a national championship, let's go."


Sam linebacker Ali Highsmith is the lone returning starter in LSU's tenacious 4-3 defense. He is the most experienced linebacker on the squad, and the most decorated since being nominated to the 2006 preseason watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented annually to the top defensive player in college football.


As for the remaining two spots, Jason Spadoni and Luke Sanders represent a talented pair of athletes, however they lack game experience. Sanders is a mammoth of a defensive back at 6-4, 229 pounds and played in 11 of 12 games, but only managed seven tackles on the season.


Spadoni's experience is even more of a factor. The former John Curtis standout spent three season's at LSU as an offensive back until converting to linebacker before his junior season. He has one start under his belt against Arizona State, but was only filling in until E.J. Kaule's health would permit him to return. Following Kaule's return, Spadoni's playing time was drastically cut.


With so little experience at the linebacker position, Head Coach Les Miles knew he would need a new crop of talented linebackers to provide depth at the position. So he went recruiting.


The 2006 recruiting class was indeed a statement maker at the linebacker position. Miles and his staff landed four of the best linebackers in the nation on signing day, and did so with three out of state athletes.


"We took four linebackers for specific needs with Kelvin Sheppard, Perry Riley, Derrick Odom and Jacob Cutrera," Miles said. "Those linebackers will come in and have the opportunity to play and play very early."


Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard were both home grown in the state of Georgia, and both dominated the same playing field together at Stephenson High School. The two signed together with the Tigers and both have the opportunity to be the future of the LSU defensive backfield.


Riley is a solid linebacker and was rated in the top three at his position in Georgia. He is a  versatile, athletic presence who also saw action at running back and strong safety, and is known for toughness with a combination of speed and strength. As a senior, Riley recorded 131 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, five tackles for losses and one defensive touchdown.


His teammate, Sheppard, was one of the top linebackers in Georgia and is exceptional at reading defenses. He was a key member of a trio of Division I linebacker prospects at Stephenson High School and was instrumental in leading his team to a 12-2 record with 102 tackles, 10 sacks, an interception for a touchdown, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.


"We need to grow fast," Miles said. "We need to stop the rush."


The third out of state linebacker product comes from Jackson, Miss. named Derrick Odom. The 6-1, 205 pound athlete is one of the top linebacker prospects in the nation and has a unique combination of size, speed and quickness. He is a tremendous physical specimen who tallied 100 tackles, 12 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns as a junior en route to the Class 4A playoffs.


Perhaps most impressive are his physical attributes. The Callaway High School graduate bench presses 330 pounds and squats 480 pounds, and is capable of sprinting a 4.5 time in the 40-yard dash.


As impressive as the three out of state recruits look to be, none of the newcomers stand out as much as Acadiana High School product Jacob Cutrera. The 6-4, 255 pounder from Lafayette has already enrolled at LSU and participated in spring drills with the Tigers, grabbing five tackles in the spring scrimmage.


Cutrera is considered the top linebacker prospect in the state of Louisiana and is an aggressive middle linebacker with the speed to play on the outside. He is a hard hitter that uses strength and good technique to take on blocks and led Acadiana High School to its first ever appearance in the Class 5A State Championship Game in 2005.


He finished his senior season with 98 tackles, including 17 tackles for loss, and three sacks while earning the honor of Class 5A Defensive MVP.

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