SEC Country is examining each LSU position group following the Tigers’ spring as we await the start of fall camp.
Thursday’s breakdown features LSU’s 2016 collection of linebackers.
You should already know: Arden Key, Devin White, Kendell Beckwith
And also, be familiar with: Isaiah Washington, Tashawn Bower, Corey Thompson, Duke Riley
Analysis: Linebacker is far and away the most polarizing position on first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s new 3-4 front.
The shift in the front seven has coincided with a number of prominent players switching positions.
Arden Key, who finished tied for third with 5.0 sacks last season, has been moved from a 4-3 defensive end to a stand-up outside linebacker role. The same goes for Isaiah Washington.
Outside linebacker is one of the most important positions in Aranda’s system, so naturally, it made sense for the LSU coaches to plug one of the top players in the SEC into that role.
“Arden Key is having a really nice spring,” LSU coach Les Miles said of the rising sophomore.
A nice spring? That may not do it justice.
In addition to rushing the passer, Key also intercepted LSU quarterback Brandon Harris during a scrimmage.
It may be a new position, but Key’s transition has been seamless for the most part, and the entire defense has quickly followed suit.
“I feel like we’re all learning, but it’s all becoming second nature to us now,” Key told SEC Country this spring.
With Key and Tashawn Bower on the outside, that leaves Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley patrolling the middle linebacker spots.
Early enrollee Devin White spent much of the spring filling in for an injured Beckwith, and thrived in doing so.
Quietly, LSU has mixed and matched a number of quality defenders into its linebacking corps. And with reinforcements from the 2016 signing class on the way, Aranda’s system is already earning a reputation.
“It’s different because they throw a lot of things at you,” Leonard Fournette told SEC Country this spring. “Sometimes, I get confused. That’s probably their main goal — to get us confused. There’s a lot of movement with Jamal Adams and you see a lot of things, but every day I try to catch on to what they’re saying and what it means.”
Key question: Will depth — or lack thereof — be a constant theme throughout the season? LSU may be able to trot out four quality linebackers in its starting lineup, but behind them is very much a question mark. As mentioned earlier, Key and Bower made the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker. As did Washington. Now we await the fate of the 2016 signees that were labeled as defensive ends, but have undefined roles in Aranda’s system heading into fall camp. How quickly they can assimilate into Aranda’s system will give us a better indication of LSU’s depth chart heading into the season.
Bottom line: It’s going to be an adjustment, plain and simple. Under Aranda, LSU’s defense is shifting from a 4-3 to a 3-4, meaning there is going to be a learning curve for a number of high-profile players. Key is among the many prominent players to switch positions this spring, and more could be on the way. Aranda is going to have to mix and match with multiple players trying out multiple positions until he finds the right formula. There are bound to be some stumbling blocks along the way.