LSU’s spring practices have kicked into full gear and one of the major storylines is how first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is putting his stamp on that side of the ball.
Aranda has worked closely with the inside linebackers in two sessions, but there are a host of players at other positions who will need to stand out in order to secure starting gigs.
Here are five players that will need to impress Aranda this spring for a shot to climb to the top of the Tigers’ depth chart:
One of a handful of early enrollees to participate in spring practice, Divinity is in the running for a starting job at outside linebacker.
The former four-star prospect is currently working with a group of outside backers that includes Isaiah Washington, Tashawn Bower and Arden Key.
Outside linebacker is one of the more glaring positions of need on the LSU defense following the departures of Lamar Louis and Deion Jones. Given Divinity’s head start in practice, the nation’s No. 5 prospect in the Class of 2016 should gain an edge on earning a starting role.
Divinity seems to be the perfect fit for Aranda’s linebacking corps, which should rotate back and forth between a 4-3 and a 3-4 front. Divinity was an All-State defender at John Ehret High School (Marrero, La.), proving to be effective against the run, in pass coverage and at pressuring the quarterback.
The true freshman has all of the tools to thrive in Aranda’s new-look defense. With a successful spring, Divinity could find a way to separate himself as a clear-cut starter.
It’s a bit interesting to see Key’s name appear on this list.
After all, as a freshman last season, Key took the SEC by storm, registering 3.5 sacks in LSU’s final five games and garnering praise from Tigers defensive line coach Ed Orgeron in the process.
Overall, Key notched 41 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and five sacks in his first season. Of course, much of that success came when lined up as a true 4-3 defensive end.
With Aranda putting his stamp on the unit, Key has seen time as a stand-up outside linebacker during the first two practice sessions, perhaps signaling a position change as he prepares for his sophomore campaign.
The 6-foot-6, 231-pound pass-rusher will have to prove he can get off the edge and penetrate opposing backfields with ease if he’s to round out LSU’s outside linebacking corps. Otherwise, Aranda could be on the verge of making a major mistake as he tries to mix and match talent at different positions.
While Jamal Adams is all but cemented as the starter at safety, the departure of Jalen Mills leaves a gaping hole for LSU to address in the back end of its secondary.
Incoming freshmen Cameron Lewis and Eric Monroe will likely make a push for playing time opposite Adams, but in the meantime there are incumbents eager to take on the role.
One player that fits the bill is Jefferson.
The younger brother of former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, Rickey quietly started nine games last season and early on seems to have the nod for the same role entering 2016.
In nine starts in 2015, Jefferson recorded 36 tackles, an interception and a sack. This spring, all accounts indicate the safety has bulked up a bit and will have to shed some weight over the next couple of months.
Jefferson’s toughest competition for the starting job comes from fellow senior Corey Thompson, but both Monroe and Lewis could push the veteran for playing time in the summertime.
The spring offers Jefferson a chance to take an early grasp on the job and make it his to lose.
White won’t be surpassing Kendell Beckwith on the depth chart as LSU’s No. 1 inside linebacker this spring, but that won’t necessarily preclude the true freshman from being part of the linebacker rotation.
White, the nation’s No. 7 athlete in the Class of 2016, has lined up on the defensive side of the ball instead of running back, the position coach Les Miles originally indicated he would play after National Signing Day.
The reason: White has a chance to see the field quicker should he take on a position of need.
White played both running back and linebacker at North Webster High School (Springhill, La.), as the 6-foot-1, 260-pound former four-star prospect was an All-State selection.
Boasting a big frame and outstanding quickness, White should make a seamless transition to an inside backer. If Aranda does in fact utilize multiple fronts throughout the game, there is a strong chance that White could be on the field alongside Beckwith, giving LSU an outstanding one-two punch in its linebacking corps.
The true freshman adds depth to one of LSU’s major positions of need, if nothing else. Beckwith, the lone starter returning to the unit with a handful of mid-year enrollees and longtime backups, rounds out the depth chart.
White is a player to get excited about, no matter what the coaches decide for his role. With that combination of size, speed and athleticism, he’ll find a way to get on the field in some capacity.
With Kevin Toliver II and Donte Jackson nursing injuries this spring, Smith has found a way into LSU’s cornerback rotation right off the bat.
Smith, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound former four-star prospect, is one of the highly-regarded newcomers about the become a part of LSU’s secondary. Should he impress Aranda throughout the spring, he could find his way into the Tigers’ rotation when Toliver and Jackson are healthy.
Accounts from practices suggest Smith has held his own early against some of LSU’s wide receivers. There will definitely be a learning curve, but coming out of high school, Smith was considered an immediate impact type of player.
He is proving that theory to be true, and more importantly, a successful spring could land Smith a higher spot in the defensive back rotation ahead of incoming freshmen Kristian Fulton and Andraez Williams.
Smith has been working closely with Tre’Davious White, obviously a good mentor to heed advice.
It would not be a surprise to see Smith land at No. 4 on the cornerback depth chart behind White, Toliver and Jackson by spring’s end.