BATON ROUGE, La. — Unlike his coworkers on the LSU football coaching staff, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda isn’t a loud guy. So that’s where Devin White comes in.
Even though he’s a sophomore and has never started a college game, White has assumed the leadership status left behind by graduates and Day 2 NFL draft picks Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith. And since Aranda is more of a subdued coach than say Ed Orgeron or Matt Canada, a lot of that leadership means communicating with teammates on Aranda’s behalf.
“Yeah, I kind of need to get his point across to the whole defense and what he’s trying to say or what he wants done and how he wants it done because he’s really not going to say too much,” White said. “But he’s going to give us the plan and we’ve got to follow the plan. It’s kind of cool doing that for him because he doesn’t really ask too much of us. He just wants us to do what he wants us to do.”
In executing Aranda’s plan, that’s where White trades in vocal leadership for leading by example. LSU’s linebacking corps is deeper than it has been in years, but it’s also younger. True freshmen Jacob Phillips, Patrick Queen and Tyler Taylor are the future of the unit, but also the immediate backups, as there are no scholarship players to buffer between them and starters White and Donnie Alexander.
Those freshmen were fall enrollees, meaning these first two weeks of camp have been their only practices with LSU. That is why White finds himself working harder than before. He feels the competitive fire of a trio of freshmen nipping at his heels. He also knows if he doesn’t work hard, the freshmen won’t have anything to work for at all.
“They’re coming after me, so that means I’ve got to set the bar high,” White said. “If I set the bar high and they chase my bar, even if they fall short, it’s because I set it so high. I feel like if they see me lacking, they’ll feel they can lack. But if they see me out there going hard and communicating, that’s the stuff they’re going to want to do because I’m leading by example.”
The unintended consequence
Back in the spring, before Phillips, Queen and Taylor arrived, LSU’s depth at linebacker was dire. So dire, in fact, LSU moved sophomore outside linebacker Michael Divinity from the F (or field linebacker) position to help White and Alexander on the inside.
Now that reinforcements have arrived, Divinity has moved back to the F, competing with sixth-year senior Corey Thompson for the starting job. In a way, the arrival of those freshman linebackers has bolstered LSU’s depth on the inside and the outside.
But this comes with a catch. F linebacker is a specialized position. Aranda only puts an F on the field when LSU is in its base 3-4 defense with four defensive backs. More often that not, that F is replaced by a nickel defender to add extra defensive backs on the field to counteract pass-happy offenses.
But Divinity has made it his purpose to show Aranda that the F should be on the field.
“If he decides he wants the F on the field a lot, great. That’s better for me,” Divinity said. “But at the same time, I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity he gives me to be on the field at F. If we sit there and we make everything we do all of the time good, he’s going to sit there and think, ‘Maybe we need to get the F on the field a little bit more. Maybe we need to run a little bit more base.’ I would love for that to happen. And I’m going to try to prove to him that F can be a big part of the defense.”
For Divinity, the move from outside to inside back to outside hasn’t been too difficult. If anything, it has helped him develop better habits as a linebacker thanks to a wider breadth of knowledge. He’s also packed on a significant amount of weight, jumping from 218 pounds as a freshman to his sophomore mark of 246. However, Divinity said he’d like to trim down to 240 and make sure his weight is muscle.
That way, Divinity can achieve his main goal of being more physical and aggressive at the point of attack.
“That’s what’s been my major key and one of my goals,” Divinity said. “Position Coach Meatball, Dennis Johnson, he told us to write our goals, and my No. 1 goal that I put a star by and everything is I need to be more physical at the point of attack. Right now that’s my most valuable goal.”