After last spring I thought Jarvis Landry and Kevin Minter had made the biggest strides and were primed for big falls. Even so, I totally undersold Minter who was probably the best linebacker in the country last season. Had his helmet been spray painted gold he would have had a seat in New York, too. Having watched every snap of his career live and in person, his progress over three seasons was simply phenomenal. I fully expect Minter to play for 8-10 years at the next level. He’s strong, fast and instinctual at the middle linebacker spot. It’s quite a hole in the heart of the LSU defense entering the season. There are options to replace Minter, but none are nearly as accomplished. John Chavis can go with experience or raw talent here. It’ll be a little bit of a battle in fall camp as I don’t believe the position was won in the spring.
The Departed: Kevin Minter- NFL Draft
They’re Back: D.J. Welter (6’0”, 226, Jr.); Lamar Louis (6’0”, 220, Soph.); Trey Granier (6’0”, 227, rFr);
Who’s New: Kendell Beckwith (6’3”, 225, Fr.); Melvin Jones (6’3”, 245, Fr.)
What We Know: D.J. Welter entered the spring with a shot at winning the middle linebacker spot, and he enters the fall with the same opportunity. Nothing was set in stone. Welter led the linebackers through the drills this spring alongside Lamin Barrow, but in the spring game he didn’t produce. The spring game is certainly not a concrete indication of what type of player Welter can be, but it was not a ringing endorsement after missing the 2012 regular season due to academics. Having been in the system for three years, Welter is as familiar with it as possible. He’s got the size and speed to play the position as well. He just hasn’t done quite enough to prove himself. As camp begins, Welter holds a lead at the middle linebacker spot, but he’s got some really good players to fight off.
It’s interesting to me that Lamar Louis is getting a look at middle linebacker. And I kind of like it. Louis possesses exceptional speed, and he carries a lot of weight to run that fast. Maybe it’s that size that the staff likes in the middle. Louis was a really good special teamer last season. He wasn’t fabulous on defense, though. Even with five starts down the stretch he wasn’t able to produce more than two tackles in any game. His best effort there came against Florida when the Tiger linebackers were dropping like flies. He made four stops that day but was part of the middle of the defense that allowed Mike Gillislee to pound the ball down the field for UF’s first score. In terms of talent, Louis is the total package. He’s still got to gain in-game experience and become a better tackler.
Trey Granier sat and watched his fellow linebacker classmates play during the 2012 season. The Thibodaux native took a redshirt year to get bigger and more acclimated to college football. Grainier has played a lot of middle linebacker, so that adjustment wasn’t as steep as it will be for some. He’s just not as physically blessed as some of these other candidates. Granier does it with his first step and feel for the game rather than raw speed or power. Granier is in a tough spot this year because he doesn’t have a talent or experience edge on the other players.
I have no idea what position Kendell Beckwith will play in two years, but it looks like he’s a middle linebacker as of today. Beckwith basically ran at the ball carrier from no real position in high school. He was just better than everyone else on the field. At 6-foot-3 and well over 200 lbs., Beckwith is already a big linebacker. He’s also a tremendous athlete. I watched Beckwith very closely in camp last July, and his coverage skills weren’t great. He had some trouble flipping his hips and changing direction against quicker players. He wouldn’t have to do that much playing in the middle. I think he’s already strong enough to take on blockers and make plays in traffic. That’s more a middle linebacker’ s duty. This is a little bit of a position change for him, but there is no question that he’s gifted enough to figure it out.
I don’t know where Melvin Jones ends up either, but he’s a linebacker right now. And since he’s a linebacker, he’s got to play the middle because he’s so big. Actually for his size, he’s a pretty freakish athlete. That’s what the staff likes more than anything. They’ll figure out the position part later. Jones will either have to maintain or cut his weight to stay a linebacker. He could also add some and shift down to end or even tackle. It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen. It’s crazy to think that a guy who played some quarterback in high school could end up a tackle. He’s just that kind of athlete. Jones is raw. He had a way of overpowering kids at the high school level and making plays that way. He’ll have to learn to engage and shed blocks no matter what position he plays.
What To Expect: I think Welter is the starter on opening night. It would take a pretty serious effort to overthrow him, especially with the talent at outside linebacker. That can mask a little of a drop off at the middle spot. Welter won’t be as productive as Minter. That’s far too much to ask. If the junior can stay in position and make sure tackles, that will be all LSU needs. It’s the missing tackles and blowing assignments that won’t fly. As I said on the outside, I think there will be a little bit of a rotation in the middle, but I think Welter gets the majority of the early snaps.
Louis played a bunch last year. He just didn’t play great. Too many missed tackles and poor angles at times hurt him. That, to me, is an adjustment to the speed of the game. Now Louis has been a part of two springs, two summers and a fall. He should be ready. And with his speed, it’s not like he can’t catch up. In high school he just outran people. Now he’s got to use angles. I think you’ll see Louis in there a bit in the middle, especially against some of the spread teams that put a premium on quickness.
I still think Granier is a year away, maybe two, from playing defense. This looks a good deal like Welter’s path to the field. And that’s ok. I’m not certain that Granier has the speed to find a spot on kickoffs, but I could see him on the punt coverage unit. He needs to spend as much time around the older linebackers as possible. Plenty of good players to learn from on this roster.
It looks to me like Beckwith is going to play right away. I think you’ll see him working in the middle against UAB and Kent St. just so the staff can get a look at him. He’s got the best combination of size and speed in this group, but he’s new to the spot. How well he picks it up and how well Welter handles the position will dictate just how many snaps Beckwith plays.
It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to walk on to the field for the first practice and see Jones working with the defensive linemen. With Beckwith moving to linebacker, it would appear that Jones’ eventual move down is a foregone conclusion. Either way, I don’t see Jones playing any middle linebacker for LSU this year. The guys above are in a better position to play.