Fall Camp Preview: LB's

TigerSportsDigest.com is taking a look at each position as LSU prepares for the start of fall camp and it's time to take a look at the linebackers.

Following the 2008 regular season, Les Miles was in the hunt for not only a defensive coordinator but also a linebackers coach to replace Bradley Dale Peveto.


Finding someone he was comfortable with to handle both duties may have limited Miles’ options to some degree but as it turned out he didn’t have to venture out of the Southeastern Conference to find his replacement.


Additional Fall Camp Features:

When John Chavis was officially named as the Tigers new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach on Jan. 5 LSU got one of the best in the business.


Chavis, who has 20 years of experience in the SEC, served as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator for 14 of the 20 years he spent with the Volunteers. 


In addition to serving multiple roles over that span, Chavis oversaw the linebackers for 19 years and coached four linebackers to first-team All-America honors – Leonard Little (1997), Al Wilson (1998), Raynoch Thompson (1999) and Kevin Burnett (2004).


The stats are there to illustrate just how effective Chavis’ defenses were over the years, but rather than throw out more numbers it takes just one comment from one of his former players to drive that point home.


“They are getting a very intense coach,” said All-America safety Eric Berry, who played under Chavis for two years at Tennessee. “[Chavis] will have those guys NFL ready. Look at the players he has coached in the past – Jason Allen, Jonathon Wade, numerous linebackers from Jerod Mayo to Robert Ayers. It is just the way he goes about coaching and how intense he is.”


“I was kind of like, why couldn’t you go to the ACC or something?” added Berry with a laugh. “Knowing coach Chavis, he loves the competition in the SEC. He would not rather be anywhere else.”


LSU fans are glad that Chavis is at LSU but not nearly as much as senior middle linebacker Jacob Cutrera.


“He’s brought so much intensity and aggressiveness to our defense,” Cutrera stated at SEC Media Days. “We learned as soon as he got here that we were going to work hard and we were going to be well prepared. He’s going to put us in situations to succeed and he’s always going to demand that you leave it all out on the field. We respect that because he leaves everything on the field when he’s coaching us.”

Jacob Cutrera plans to go out with a bang in 2009

Cutrera has waited for his time to start and in the meantime has contributed in a reserve role in three years – making five starts over the course of his career. He’s totaled 91 career tackles, including 33 stops and 3.5 tackles for loss last season, but more is expected now that he is as healthy as he’s ever been since arriving to Baton Rouge in the spring of 2006.


“Jacob is a guy who has waited his turn and is healthy and ready to have a big year,” Miles said. “He’s a guy we’re going to count on this year.”


Along with Cutrera, LSU returns two starters at linebacker from last season in senior Perry Riley and junior Kelvin Sheppard.


Riley started nine games last year but played in all 13 and finished third on the team with 60 total tackles (37 solos and 23 assists) and 7.5 tackles for loss.


The 6-foot-1, 232-pounder saved his best for last as he posted a career-best 11 tackles against Georgia Tech and was named the Chick-fil-A Bowl Defensive MVP.


Meanwhile, Sheppard, who has been teammates with Riley since they were freshmen at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., started five of the 13 games he played in last season and finished second on the team with 64 stops (25 solos and 39 assists).

The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Sheppard left the game when LSU went to its nickel package and he’s expected to do the same this year even though the Tigers will not be playing as much nickel as they had in the past.


One reason for that is that Chavis likes to have three linebackers on the field and believes in sticking with his base set. However, he will still matchup with the opposing offenses when it’s needed.


“Well matchup when we need to,” he said. “We’ll play very little nickel but we’ll play some dime when we need to. Right now when we play dime Harry Coleman figures on being in the game for sure.”


Coleman, who led the Tigers in tackles last season with 71 (42 solos and 29 assists) from his strong safety spot, made the move to strongside linebacker late in the spring and will compete for a starting job in fall camp.

LSU's linebacker corps received a boost when Harry Coleman made the move over from strong safety

With only a few practices under his belt, Coleman was behind the eight ball in terms of learning the position. That hasn’t stopped him, though, from making a good impression on Chavis in a short time and he figures to give Sheppard a run for his money on the strong side.


“He’s responded really well,” said Chavis. “There’s some carryover to what our safeties do and what our strongside linebackers do with technique. It’s a different position in terms of playing close to the line of scrimmage all the time but in our scheme we’ll have both safeties lock down and play close to the line of scrimmage at some times so there’s some carryover.”


“Not only is he [Coleman] an outstanding football player but he’s also an outstanding person,” added Chavis. “I’ve been so impressed with him from that standpoint and with his willingness to do what he can to make this a better football team.”


Ryan Baker played in all 13 games of his true freshman campaign in 2008 and will also push for playing time, along with true freshman middle linebacker Kevin Minter, who participated in spring practice, and senior Ace Foyil.


Redshirt freshman Kellen Theriot is reportedly healthy from offseason shoulder surgery and could factor into the equation but much will depend on if he gets a look at fullback in camp.


Another redshirt freshman, Kyle Prater, will be in the mix to crack the two-deep as will true freshmen Barkevious Mingo, Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones – assuming that Jones is cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse.


A pair of freshman safeties could fit in at somewhere along the way with the way Chavis likes speedy linebackers in Rockey Duplessis and Josh Johns but that remains to be seen for now.


Chavis knows that the players are still adapting to his system and terminology, and he’s aware of just how important fall camp is. But in the same breath, he’s upbeat about how they’ve responded in such a short period of time.


“We have a lot of work to do in fall practice,” said Chavis. “We have to make sure our players go out with a great understanding of what they’re doing. They’ve done a great job of working and preparing mentally but getting back into fall practice you’ve got to prepare physically as well. They’ve done a great job in the offseason preparing that way but the mental preparation is really key right now in terms of them being on the same page and knowing exactly what to do.”



Will Linebackers

56 Perry Riley   6-1, 240, Sr.

22 Ryan Baker   6-0, 213, So.

49 Barkevious Mingo   6-5, 209, Fr.

58 Tahj Jones   6-2, 205, Fr.


Mike Linebackers

54 Jacob Cutrera   6-4, 236, Sr.

46 Kevin Minter   6-0, 213, Fr.

52 Ace Foyil   6-3, 230, Sr.

48 Kellen Theriot   6-1, 227, Fr.


Sam Linebackers

11 Kelvin Sheppard   6-3, 237, Jr.

24 Harry Coleman   6-2, 205, Sr.

41 Kyle Prater   6-1, 222, Fr.

57 Lamin Barrow   6-2, 209, Fr.

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