BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU football training camp is approaching. SEC Country is counting down the days until camp with a position-by-position preview of how the Tigers stack up this season.
Last week we kicked things off with the offense. This week it’s time to look at Dave Aranda’s defense. Next week? Football will be here.
There’s no position where LSU has to replace more talent in 2017 than at inside linebacker. The Tigers’ two leading tacklers from a year ago, Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith, have both moved on to the NFL.
In the spring, LSU’s inside linebacker situation looked dire. But thanks to a talented recruiting class, depth shouldn’t be an issue this season. Experience? That’s a different story.
Back in the spring, the LSU football team only had two true scholarship inside linebackers. One was Donnie Alexander, a senior who looked poised to continue the Kwon Alexander-Deion Jones-Duke Riley tradition of veterans coming off the bench and thriving in their first seasons as starters. The other was Devin White, a converted running back who has the physical tools to succeed as an inside linebacker, but perhaps not the polish.
Four months later, these two are the front-runners to start at inside linebacker. Both Alexander and White stepped up when asked to fill in for an injured Beckwith at the end of 2016, combining to amass 18 tackles in two games. And White’s development as both a linebacker and leader was one of the main topics of conversation during the spring.
Given where they played in the spring, White is expected to replace Riley as LSU’s “rover linebacker” and Alexander will fill in for Beckwith at “mack linebacker.” However, both players have been trained to play both positions in the advent of an injury or need to switch things around.
The new guys
Though the process took a little longer than the coaches might’ve liked, LSU came out of National Signing Day with three inside linebacker commits. Most notably, LSU brings in Jacob Phillips, the consensus No. 1 inside linebacker recruit in the class of 2017. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Phillips is one of the bigger options LSU has at inside backer and has the chance to compete with Alexander for playing time at mack.
Beyond Phillips, LSU brought in a second inside backer of almost identical size in Georgia native Tyler Taylor. Taylor is listed at 6-3, 234 and enters as the No. 11 inside linebacker prospect in the country.
The Tigers’ third linebacker signee is Livonia, La. native Patrick Queen. Queen was listed as an athlete out of high school, recruited by some schools as a running back and others as a linebacker. As a result of his running back past (like White), Queen is a speedier option at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and is likely to profile as the rover as a result.
What about the other guys?
One player to keep an eye out for at inside linebacker is sophomore Michael Divinity Jr. Divinity moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker to help with the lack of depth in the spring, backing up White and Alexander at various points.
There’s been no indication as to whether Divinity will move back to the outside or if he’ll stick with the inside guys. This likely won’t be decided until the LSU football coaching staff decides how it’ll handle its redshirt situation with Phillips, Taylor and Queen.
Additionally, LSU received major contributions in the spring from walk-on Layton Garnett. If any walk-on has a chance to see the field in 2017 as a result of his spring performance, it’s Garnett. At 6-4, 247, Garnett neither looks nor plays like your average walk-on, and wowed Aranda with his willingness to fill in, especially when Alexander had surgery and missed a couple of weeks of spring.