“They make it easy,” Minter explained, “because blockers can’t get to me.”
Minter, more often then not, is the one who ends up bumping heads with running backs. He has turned into a tackling machine for the Tigers, with a team-high 75 stops so far this season through eight games -- a number that puts him on pace to be the most prolific single-season tackler during Les Miles' tenure at LSU.
“He’s becoming very instinctive,” Miles said. “He’s always been very physical.”
At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Minter is a punishing tackler who until recently was a work in progress. He took over the starting middle linebacker job from Karnell Hatcher midway through last season as a sophomore and showed potential, but also youth.
As he’s gained experience and become more confident in being at the right place at the right time, he’s become involved with more punishing collisions with ball carriers with 51 tackles in the Tigers’ last four games, a stretch where he seems to have come into his own.
Minter said that despite the increase in collisions, he feels just fine.
“I went hard in the weight room this year,” he explained, “and I feel like my body was ready to take this kind of ... I hate to say, punishment.”
Understandable that he’d hate to use that term, because he’s the one dishing out most of the blows to opponents. He is, after all, not just a tackler, but also a playmaker who is on pace to exceed even the great seasons of Kelvin Sheppard and Bradie James in terms of big-play production.
Minter, often left unaccounted for on blitzes because of offenses’ preoccupation with getting enough bodies to block the front four, already has 9.5 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback sacks, the exact same numbers produced by James in 13 games in the 2002 season. Sheppard had 4 sacks and 11 TFLs in 13 games in 2010.
Averaging 9.4 tackles a game, Minter’s on track to finish with more than 120 stops in 13 games. Sheppard’s 116-tackle 2010 season is the most of the Miles era and no LSU player has had 120 tackles in a season since James piled up 154 in the 2002 season.
Minter, a junior, has consistently improved, playing his best football in more recent games. His 21 tackles against Florida tied a school single-game record. In LSU’s 24-19 win over Texas A&M, he added 12 more tackles to go with a sack and an interception, earning him a slew of national player of the week awards.
Similarly, Minter has as many interceptions (1) as the other two had in their seasons and has already defended more passes (5) than either James or Sheppard did in their big years.
As he’s gained comfort, he has also become a more vocal leader. With first-year starter Lamin Barrow on one side of him at the weak linebacker spot and with an injury-riddled strong side LB spot having had four different starters since August camp, Minter has gone from up-and-comer to elder statesman almost overnight.
“He’s playing that veteran style of linebacker,” Miles said. “When he calls that huddle up, we enjoy his leadership.”
Freed up by a talented defensive line and armed with punishing skills and veteran savvy, Minter is in position to have many more collisions before season’s end. He insists, he’s not getting the least bit tired of it.
“I actually feel real good right now,” he said.