Originally posted on Saturday Night Slant  |  Last updated 3/1/12

SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEWS
Quarterback
Running Back
Wide Receiver
Tight-End
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Kevin Minter & Lamin Barrow make a
tackle inthe SEC Championship Game


Technically, LSU must replace three starting linebackers from 2011, but it's not as bad as it sounds.  Ryan Baker played at a high level for the last two seasons and will be missed.  In the last two seasons, Baker compiled 128 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks.  He proved to be a great fit on the weak side in John Chavis' scheme.  Converted safeties Karnell Hatcher and Stefoin Francois have also moved on.  Neither guy ever looked truly comfortable at linebacker, and their playing time diminished throughout the 2011 season.  

Many linebacker positions are up for grabs and some newcomers may have something to say about them.  However, the emergence of a cornerback may have more to do with LSU's linebacker play than any linebacker.  

 

Historically, John Chavis likes to run the defense through his linebackers.  In 2009, the top four tacklers on the team were all linebackers.  Chavis preferred to remain in his base defense as much as possible rather than constantly substitute in and out of a nickel package.  Typically playing a converted safety at Sam linebacker (Harry Coleman, Stefoin Francois) allowed him this luxury.  However in 2010, Tyrann Mathieu arrived and proved that he needed to be on the field making plays from the nickel spot.   Truth be told, Mathieu's role as a nickel back is not all that different from the strongside backer.  

Like 2011, Mathieu will likely start at one of the outside cornerback positions.  But when the offensive personnel dictates, I have no doubt the staff wants Mathieu in that nickel back role.  When he moves inside, someone else has to play cornerback.  Does LSU have someone capable?   If so, you'll see a lot of the Honey Badger on the insideand a lot less of a third linebacker.  If a third cornerback does not emerge, then LSU may play a bit more base, leaving Mathieu outside.   I suspect the staff will find a way to let Mathieu stir up some more mayhem from the nickel, but someone has to step up at corner.  

One reason why we saw less of Karnell Hatcher was the emergence of middle linebacker Kevin Minter.  Entering his junior season, Minter looks poised to establish himself as LSU's leader at linebacker.  Minter appears to be following the path of fellow Georgia Tiger, Kelvin Sheppard.   Like Sheppard, Minter did not play much as a redshirt freshman.  Then, he moved into a part time starter's role as a sophomore.  Their stats from their sophomore seasons are very similar.  Sheppard blew up as a junior and had an All-SEC caliber season.   Let's hope Minter continues to follow the same path.  This spring, Minter needs to serve notice that he is the man by taking on a leadership role with the linebackers.  

Junior Tahj Jones looks like the clear front runner for the strong side linebacker position.  Jones played quite a bit during the stretch run of LSU's 2011 season, and he played fairly well.  Jones could still use some more bricks in his seat, listed at just 205 pounds but what he loses in size, he makes up for with speed.   Jones made 27 tackles last year, including 3.5 for loss and one sack.  He also intercepted a pass, defended two others, and broke up one.  And he recovered a fumble too.  That is awfully good production from someone who did not play a ton.  Like Minter, Jones is in his fourth year with John Chavis and he is a guy that Chavis trusts.  

The competition to replace Ryan Baker on the weak side is more open.  Juniors Lamin Barrow and Luke Muncie are the front runners heading into spring.  Barrow showed a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman and early in 2011.  However, something seemed to have happened with him.  He suddenly stopped seeing the field and barely played in the second half of the season.  Muncie saw the field in key situations at times in 2011 and looks like a solid player.  Both guys were mainstays on LSU's special teams units.  Barrow seems the most likely to develop into a difference maker like Ryan Baker, but the competition between the two will be heated this spring.  

Sophomore D.J. Welter heads into spring as the clear backup to Minter in the middle.  Welter has not shown much during his first two years on campus, but he has plenty of time to continue developing.  With a surge of young linebackers entering the program this year, Welter needs a strong spring to keep his head above water on the depth chart.

One interesting story line this spring will be true freshmen linebackers Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis.  Both guys have plenty of talent and will be trying to acclimate themselves to the college game.  Will one of them (or both) really make a statement and show that they belong in the conversation at Will linebacker?  It's not out of the question.  Feist has the body type to eventually end up as a middle linebacker, so it will also be interesting to see where each guy lines up.  

Junior Josh Johns rounds things out on the depth chart, possibly working in the two-deep as the backup to Jones on the strong side.  

In the fall, a number of other talented freshmen arrive.  Lorenzo Phillips, Kwon Alexander, Trey Granier, and Deion Jones all show up, and they will all be looking to crack the playing rotation.  

In the end, I expect Minter, Jones, Barrow, and Muncie to get the large majority of the work with the first group this spring.  In the fall, all bets are off.  


Big Questions:
1)  Is Kevin Minter ready to take the next step?
2)  Who will win the job on the weak side?
3)  Can either of the true freshman make a serious impact and compete for early playing time?


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