We've already taken a look at the quarterbacks and offensive skill positions, the offensive linemen and tight ends as well as the defensive line. Today we'll turn our attention to John Chavis' linebackers.
How They Exit Spring … Despite a decent bit of musical chairs around familiar middle man D.J. Welter, LSU leaves spring football filled with confidence in its second level of defense. Said Miles following the spring game: "I think the linebacking corps may be one of the strengths of our team easily." The continued growth of junior Kwon Alexander, who amassed 65 tackles (6.5 for loss) a season ago, is a big reason why Miles and Chavis are bullish going into 2014. Arguably the Tigers' most talented linebacker, Alexander had a successful spring swapping from the strongside to the weakside, capping things off with a pick-six in the spring game. Rising junior Lamar Louis, formerly a reserve at Mike linebacker, backfilled for Alexander on the strongside and solidified himself as a starter even though he played the entire spring with a broken hand. That didn't stop Louis, who should bolster LSU's run defense, from leading the White Team in tackles with seven in the spring game. In the middle Welter is still the man while second-year player Kendell Beckwith is learning the ropes of the position.
Addressing Spring Storyline … The question posed in the above primer on March 5: "Which weakside linebacker option will take a step ahead of the other this spring?" The answer: Chavis shook up the whole Etch A Sketch and started anew, so the outlook changed completely. Back then, presuming Alexander stayed on the strongside, I wondered aloud if either Deion Jones or Duke Riley would step up to claim Lamin Barrow's old job on the weakside. The only problem with either arrangement is that both players are on the slight side in terms of their physical build. Well, Chavis sidestepped that dilemma by turning to one of the Tigers' stronger options in the corps – Louis. Now the former Breaux Bridge product is running first at Will linebacker while Jones and Riley are relegated to reserve roles. For what it's worth, Jones, who finished the 2013 campaign strong, impressed at times this spring and also joined Alexander in the pick-six club during the spring game. It'll be hard for Chavis to keep Jones and his speed off the field entirely this fall.
Offseason Priorities … Louis needs to allow that hand proper time to heal. Miles himself remarked on that in the aftermath of the spring game, saying "I'm just thrilled we don't have to extend him anymore." He's a tough player to slow down, even in the face of injury, but Chavis & Co. want him to be at full strength come August. Outside of that the Tigers need Beckwith to enter Fall Camp more mentally aware of his surroundings and what's expected of a middle linebacker in LSU's defensive system. At 6-foot-3, 246 pounds, Beckwith possesses all of the physical tools. He'll be best served this summer to pick Welter's brain and grow the mental side of his game. As we've seen the past few years, it takes a certain level of understanding for Chavis to trust his Mike linebackers in game situations. LSU's LB corps will be more complete if Beckwith can be a full participant, not just a physical freak playing the position, in 2014.