Spring Preview: Linebackers

Heading into Thursday's spring practice, new Tiger defensive coordinator John Chavis is sitting in a good place with his linebacker corp. Returning its two leading tacklers from last season, the unit looks to be a focal point of the defensive turnaround that many hope to see.

Note: This is part six of a series that takes a look at each position heading into spring camp.



Projected Spring Depth Chart


First Team

SLB 56 Perry Riley              6-1, 240, Sr.    Ellenwood (Ga.)

MLB 54 Jacob Cutrera         6-4, 236, Sr.    Lafayette (La.)

WLB 11 Kelvin Sheppard     6-3, 237, Jr.     Stone Mountain (Ga.)


Second Team

SLB 17 Shomari Clemons    6-1, 232, So.    West Monroe (La.)

MLB 47 Kevin Minter           6-0, 231, Fr.     Suwanee (Ga.)

WLB 22 Ryan Baker            6-0, 213, So.    Grand Ridge (Fla.)


Key Reserves

41 Kyle Prater                   6-1, 222, Fr.      Kerrville (Texas)

53 Kellen Theriot               6-1, 227, Fr.      Houston (Texas)

52 Ace Foyil                      6-3, 230, Sr.      Madisonville (La.)



A Look Back


Heading into the 2008 season, all eyes were on middle linebacker Darry Beckwith. With the senior expected to lead the defensive unit from the middle, the Tigers were left disappointed after he was injured early in the season and never seemed to find his groove.


Underclassmen Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard finished ahead of the injury-plagued Beckwith in total tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks. It wasn’t the showing that head coach Les Miles expected, and the lack of production was one of the problems with LSU’s defense under first-year co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto.


Sheppard finished the season with 64 total tackles, second to just Harry

Coleman’s team high 71, and 4.5 tackles for a loss from his WILL linebacker position. High school teammate Perry Riley finished third in total tackles (60) and tackles for a loss (7).


Jacob Cutrera, who like Beckwith spent the majority of 2008 short of full strength, finished the season with 33 total tackles.


Spring Forward


With Beckwith out of the picture, Cutrera heads into spring drills as the man to beat in the middle. Miles said last week that the senior was as healthy as he has been since he arrived at LSU, which should carry Cutrera a long way in securing the starting spot this spring.


Yet, the pressure is coming by way of an early enrollee.


Kevin Minter, the true freshman from Suwanee, Ga., is looking to make the jump from the prep field to the Southeastern Conference in just six months time. If he had shown up this summer with the rest of the 2009 class, his chances of making the leap early would have been slim.


Minter used the last two months to get into the weight room with Tiger strength coach Tommy Moffitt, and the time between now and April will present him his first opportunity to showcase his talents on the field.

Kelvin Sheppard is one of three linebackers that hail from the Peach State

Even if the starting spot is not earned, look for Minter to rotate in and be flanked on each side by Sheppard and Riley at some point this season. For a team that plays its game on the bayou in south Louisiana, the Tigers will look to showcase a Georgia-born linebacker corps for the first time in the school’s history.


Sheppard and Riley should take a majority of the snaps at the WILL and SAM linebacker positions, with Ryan Baker and Shomari Clemons serving as backups.


Baker, who blew onto the scene in his freshman campaign with a bevy of special teams highlight reel hits, looks to make the move to a Saturday role player on the defensive side. The Grand Ridge-native saw action in all 13 games, finishing the year with 16 tackles, seven of which were solo stops.


Clemons played in six games for the Tigers during his redshirt freshman campaign, finishing with four tackles, all assisted.


Lone Star State redshirt freshmen Kellen Theriot and Kyle Prater also look to see action in spot duty. While Theriot heads to spring practice on the injured list, Prater is hoping to work his way past Clemons or Baker for a spot on the two-deep.



Two Burning Questions Heading into the Spring


1) What Tiger linebackers look to benefit from first-year defensive coordinator John Chavis’ style of defense?


Chavis has long been known for his development of linebackers, highlighted by turning out four First-Team All Americans with the Vols in Leonard Little (1997), Al Wilson (1998), Raynoch Thompson (1999) and Kevin Burnett (2004).


Chavis has also been known to favor smaller linebackers who can run in coverage, much like the six-foot Wilson.


For the Tigers, look for the six-foot, 213-pound Baker and the six-foot, 231-pound Minter to benefit the most from the hire, where as six-foot might be looked at as being on the smaller side by most coaches, The Chief is surely licking his chops to get his hands on the rangy out-of-state talents.


Hoping to make room for Chad Jones at safety, Chavis may drop Harry Coleman into the linebacker group during the spring for further evaluation. The six-foot-two, 205-pound senior appears to be the ideal candidate for snaps from the linebacker position in nickel and dime packages if Chavis chooses to go that route.

2) Who will be the Tigers big play guy in 2009?

Perry Riley makes one of his 11 stops in Chick-fil-A win

Last season, Beckwith put the leadership role on his shoulders and held on for his life as the Tigers rolled out of control through league play.


LSU will need a more consistent performance from the unit this season, and the spring could see Riley step forward as the leader of the group.


In December’s bowl blowout over Georgia Tech, Riley recorded 11 tackles, eight solo, en route to earning the game’s defensive Most Valuable Player honors.


Starting at the SAM, also known as the BUCK spot, once more, the Ellenwood-native will be looked to for a big performance this spring. If the progression continues from last season, Riley could throw his name into the hat as one of the conference’s top linebackers.

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