Spring Football Preview: LB

With the loss of three of the primary names from the 2009 linebacker unit, the Tigers can't thank Kelvin Sheppard enough for coming back for his senior season. As for the other spots, here is our take on what to watch.

During his sophomore season in 2008, there was no doubting the talents of Kelvin Sheppard – who finished the season with 64 total tackles, which ranked second on the team.

Yet, when John Chavis took on the role of LSU’s linebacker coach and defensive coordinator last year, Sheppard took his game to new heights. After the Penn State game, the Stone Mountain, Ga. native had racked up 110 tackles – nearly double his total from the year prior, which was good for best on the team and among the top-three in the Southeastern Conference.

Sheppard credited his development in the short time to Chavis, who now has a spring, summer and preseason in the fall to get a young group of linebackers ready for Atlanta - and the run that follows. If the results are anything like those Sheppard saw in 2009, buckle up.

Here is our take on who – and what - to watch for this spring:


Kelvin Sheppard

6’3”, 240, Senior

Stone Mountain, Ga.

Last Season: 12 starts in 13 games played. Recorded 110 tackles, including 8.5 for losses, one sack, two pass break ups, one quarterback hurry, one interception and a forced fumble.


Ryan Baker

6’0”, 221, Junior

Grand Ridge, Fla.

Last Season: 12 games played. Recorded 16 tackles, including one sack and one pass break up.


Stefoin Francois

6’1”, 210, Junior

Reserve, La.

Last Season: 11 games played. Recorded eight tackles and one forced fumble.


Kevin Minter

6’1”, 240, Freshman

Suwanee, Ga.

Last Season: True Freshman


Kyle Prater

6’1”, 224, Sophomore

Kerrville, Texas

Last Season: Two games played.


Lamin Barrow

6’2”, 212, Freshman

Marrero, La.

Last Season: True Freshman.


Tahj Jones

6’2”, 205, Freshman

Sulphur, La.

Last Season: True Freshman


Kellen Theriot

6’1”, 227, Sophomore

Houston, Texas

Last Season: Redshirt freshman


KeKe Mingo

6’5”, 215, Freshman

West Monroe, La.

Last Season: True Freshman


Looking at the Linebackers:

There are only a few returning Tiger linebackers that have ever logged minutes for LSU, which means that Chavis’ task this spring will be to sure up a unit that lost three starters: Perry Riley, Harry Coleman and Jacob Cutrera.

With Sheppard returning in the middle, the center of the Tiger defense has its’ emotional leader back for a final run. With NFL eyes watching and another season of tutelage under The Chief, here is to betting that Sheppard has his best season yet.

How will the two spots around him fill in?

The easy one is Ryan Baker, who will replace Perry Riley as the weakside linebacker. Baker has been a special teams animal for two seasons, and his junior year will give him the platform to bring that intensity on every defensive snap. With freshman Justin Maclin expected to back Baker up, the Tigers look solid at the WILL.

Who replaces Coleman as the strongside linebacker is the tougher question – yet one that the spring should answer.

The leading candidate appears to be Stefoin Francois – a junior who saw action in 11 games last season. A one-time safety – much like Coleman – Francois has the speed coupled with tackling ability that Chavis looks for at the SAM. The same goes for Karnell Hatcher, who is currently listed as a defensive back but could make a transition to linebacker this spring. Just something to watch for, as last preseason Hatcher showed good ability to move in space and was an evident run-stopper, but lacked the hands to move over Brandon Taylor as a starting safety. If a position change happens, Hatcher could find himself in a battle with Francois.

Freshman Kevin Minter was with the team as an early enrollee last season, so this won’t be his first spring. Expect Minter to come in focused, because the Tigers will need him to provide ample minutes in the middle with Sheppard.

The names that need to step forward before the freshmen arrive in the summer – from Kyle Prater to Kellen Theriot – will also be ones to watch over the next month. Theriot is one Tiger that could move to the opposite side of the ball if playing time at linebacker appears to be drifting away.

Mingo, who is still listed as a linebacker, can be expected to work out as a defensive end on third down rushing situations. Word back is that not only has Mingo bulked up his frame, the true freshman has also increased his speed off the edge. Playing time, with a solid spring, appears to be right around the corner.


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