LSU’s highly-anticipated football season gets underway March 7 with the start of spring practices.
Each day, SEC Country will take a look at one key position group on the LSU roster and analyze the talent returning, the departures and the new additions while providing expert analysis on the most prominent storylines to keep an eye on.
The spring football preview series will continue weekdays through March 4.
Linebackers coach: Bradley Dale Peveto
Key returners: Kendell Beckwith
Other returners: Donnie Alexander, Duke Riley
Newcomers: Michael Divinity, Rahssan Thornton
Departures: Deion Jones, Lamar Louis
Outlook: The greatest turnover on LSU’s defense comes at the second level, where first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will have to plug in at least two new starters to replace Jones and Louis.
The question remains, of course: who will fill those spots?
One thing we know for sure is that stud middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith is back after he opted to return to the Tigers for his senior campaign.
As a junior, Beckwith was LSU’s second-leading tackler with 84 total stops, including 10 for loss, to go along with 3.5 sacks.
Beckwith will be the unquestioned leader of the unit in 2016, as the coaches likely mix and match his surrounding cast.
Two incumbents that should be in the mix for starting roles are Alexander and Riley, but neither are guaranteed an inside track to a starting job with Aranda now calling the shots.
Alexander started one game in place of Jones last season, and both he and Riley saw action in all 12 contests. Both illustrated the lack of depth behind Beckwith — at least in a 4-3 defense.
That issue could certainly rear its head if Aranda opts to install a 3-4 defense, which he’s expected to do at least for certain game situations.
The two veterans will have to stave off incoming freshmen Divinity and Thornton, who are also expected to compete for starting jobs.
An early enrollee and former four-star recruit, Divinity should be considered one of the best linebackers on the Tigers’ roster already.
An All-State selection out of John Ehret High School (Marrero, La.), he is a hard-nosed tackler with the ability to drop back into coverage and get after the quarterback. As a senior, Divinity racked up 13 sacks as he lead his team to the Class 5A state championship game.
Divinity will have an edge as he participates in spring practices. The same can’t be said for his freshman counterpart, Thornton.
The four-star Texas linebacker is a known threat to get in opposing backfields, evident by 10 sacks his senior season at Shoemaker High School (Killeen, Texas). Thornton brings the kind of versatility that Aranda covets, as the first-year defensive coordinator can line him up all over the place — on the edge, in a three-point stance or as a stand-up ‘backer — and take advantage of different situations.
Whether or not Thornton can earn a starting role remains to be seen, but it seems likely the freshman will carve out a contributing role on LSU’s defense given his skill-set and the lack of linebacker depth up and down the roster.
Here’s a look at our past and upcoming previews:
- Quarterback an area of stability entering 2016
- Heisman Trophy hopeful headlines talented backfield
- Newcomers aim to make instant impact at wide receiver
- Last year’s surprise the clear-cut tight end
- Competition expected along the offensive line
- Defensive front boasts strengths in numbers
- March 2: Health, inexperience a theme at cornerback