Five things to know: Linebackers

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
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Heading into the summer, here are five things to know about LSU linebackers

1. 2012 was a down year: It wasn't just your imagination. Surrounded by projected first-round draft picks on the defensive line and secondary, the 2012 linebackers were the LSU defense's weak link.

The Tigers had three senior linebackers last season -- Karnell Hatcher, Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois -- who tested poorly at either the NFL combine or LSU's pro day, verifying what you thought you saw on the field. Ultimately, none of the three were drafted although Baker did ink a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay.

Considering that they were lined up behind a first-round draft pick (tackle Michael Brockers) and in front of another (cornerback Morris Claiborne) and were surrounded by a multitude of younger players who project to be future first-round picks (safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo), the lack of high-end talent at the position stood out.

[+] EnlargeAlexander Kwon
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comKwon Alexander was ranked as the No. 1 linebacker in the class of 2012 and will compete for a staring job.
2. LSU upgraded in recruiting: LSU aimed to rectify any lack of linebacker talent in recruiting and succeeded in a big way. The Tigers added six linebackers in the 2012 class, led by Kwon Alexander, the nation's No. 29-rated player overall and the top-rated player in the Tigers signing class.

"Year in and year out in this state, this is the best (linebacker) class I've seen," head coach Les Miles said on signing day.

A couple of the 2012 class members -- Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis -- enrolled early and had solid springs. Louis returned an interception for a touchdown in the spring game.

3. Minter in the middle: Although LSU will be young at linebacker, the Tigers will have a solid veteran to build around in Kevin Minter.

The 6-foot-2, 242-pound Georgia native took over the starting middle linebacker job early last last season and wound up with 61 tackles, second among LSU linebackers behind Baker. As the year went on, Minter's role on the defense seemed to get larger.

In a young group, Minter stands out as a fourth-year player who went through a redshirt season in 2009, played solid snaps as a backup in 2010, then became the starter in 2011.

3. Small, but fast, Jones: LSU isn't afraid to sacrifice size for speed on defense. At defensive end, Mingo is a slender 240 pounds. Although he's small, Mathieu is most effective when he plays in a safety-like nickel position where he can get involved more in blitzes and run-stopping.

Outsider linebacker Tahj Jones fits that mold. Listed at a safety-like 205 pounds, the junior possesses the athleticism to make big plays. In limited time last season, he tied for the team lead among linebackers with 3.5 tackles for loss. He also had a sack and an interception.

4. Time for Barrow, Muncie: The third linebacker position will be a battle between juniors Lamin Barrow and Luke Muncie, two players who have had modest production as backups.

It would seem that now would be the time for one of the two to emerge. This position, held last year by Baker, seems the most likely spot to receive a challenge from a freshman.

5. Who's next: With so many newcomers in the 2012 class, linebacker won't be as big a priority in 2013.

That doesn't mean LSU won't target more quality linebackers. Most notably, Kendell Beckwith, Louisiana's top player in the 2013 class and the No. 16 player in the country overall out of East Feliciana High in Clinton, would likely line up at linebacker if he chose LSU.

Beckwith is listed as an "athlete," but could project as a linebacker. He is entertaining an LSU offer, among others.

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation

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