BATON ROUGE, La. -- When Kevin Minter decided Thursday to pass on his senior season to leave LSU for the NFL -- a decision that came as no surprise given the fact the the team's MVP had a superb season and earned his degree at the end of the fall semester -- he didn't leave LSU without a 100-tackle linebacker.
The all-SEC middle linebacker and Butkus Award finalist left the Tigers after putting together the most prolific tackling season of the Les Miles era (130). The middle linebacker spot will be up for competition, but the linebackers will remain a veteran group with the possibility of starting three upperclassmen in 2013.
Lamin Barrow, the weakside linebacker, will anchor the defense next season coming off a strong junior season where he had 104 tackles, a performance somewhat overshadowed by the often-dominant Minter.
It's not clear who will replace Minter at middle linebacker. It won't necessarily be Barrow, who might be a better fit to stay on the weak side. And it's not automatic that LSU will look to its talented and deep 2012 signing class, many who saw starting time or significant action as true freshmen, to replace Minter.
Two academically ineligible players, junior strongside linebacker Tahj Jones and sophomore middle linebacker D.J. Welter, returned to the team for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and both played significant snaps. They'll enter the 2013 season with a chance to give LSU a veteran starting linebacker corps along with Barrow. Also set to be back is rising senior Luke Muncie, who started four games before an illness set him back as the season progressed.
But the four older players won't form the core of the linebackers without withstanding a challenge from the 2012 signing class that already finds itself game proven.
Led by Lamar Louis and Kwon Alexander who combined for seven starts on the strong side after Jones was declared ineligible in August and Muncie went down with his injury -- the freshmen made a huge impact in 2012. A third true freshman, Deion Jones, led the rookies in tackles (23) despite not starting a game, while a fourth true freshman, Ronnie Feist, was usually Minter's primary backup.
That should mean plenty of good competition come spring practice between seniors and sophomores at both middle linebacker and on the strong side, where Tahj Jones, who was the starter in August, will try to regain his spot over three players who started in his place. Barrow will be back to give it all stability.
Whether Barrow, or any of them, will provide the steady play and solid leadership of Minter remains to be seen.