BATON ROUGE, La. — On the surface, no position group at LSU is facing more adversity this spring than the outside linebackers.
The undisputed leader of the pack, Arden Key, has been gone all spring since he left campus for a “personal leave of absence.” Another hybrid pass rusher, sophomore Isaiah Washington, was recently ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the spring. And a third outside linebacker, sophomore Sci Martin, is out for the rest of the spring because of an undisclosed injury in LSU’s March 18 scrimmage.
On top of that, there’s a rookie position coach in the mix. Dennis “Meatball” Johnson is in his first spring as LSU’s outside linebackers coach after being appointed to the position in September.
With all that happening, it would be understandable if coach Ed Orgeron were underwhelmed by what he has seen.
But as it turns out, that’s from from being the case.
“Overall, the outside linebackers (have impressed me the most),” Orgeron said of his defense two-thirds of the way through spring practice.
The group does have a natural leader in sixth-year senior Corey Thompson. However, Thompson has not played the position for long — he switched from safety last spring and then was lost for the season in August camp.
“We have some talent, but not a lot of experience,” Orgeron said. “Corey Thompson is going to be an excellent linebacker.”
Thompson will start on the opposite side of Key as the “field” linebacker when the Tigers play a true 3-4 alignment.
Redshirt freshmen Andre Anthony and Ray Thornton are also getting plenty of reps because of Key’s absence.
“Those guys are really good, talented guys,” Orgeron said.
And that doesn’t even include Michael Divinity Jr., who was moved to inside linebacker this spring because of thin numbers until a talented group of freshmen arrive this fall. Orgeron said Divinity is proving versatile enough to be used at either position once the season arrives.
“Michael Divinity will play ‘Mike’ or outside,” he said.
Like Key, one more potential difference-maker on the outside isn’t even on campus right now. That would be 4-star recruit K’Lavon Chaisson, who looks poised to push for playing time as a true freshman.
“We also have K’Lavon Chaisson coming,” Orgeron said. “So I really feel good about that group.”
Orgeron also put any questions about Key’s return to rest, noting that Key will lead the way when he gets back to LSU this summer.
“They don’t have experience, but that’s OK,” Orgeron said. “We have Arden.”