LSU Tigers: Duke Riley

LSU position breakdown: Linebacker

February, 2, 2015
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Editor’s note: We broke down LSU’s need to improve at quarterback as part of our SEC blog’s positional series three weeks ago. Now we continue our position-by-position look at the 2015 Tigers.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- He might add some new job responsibilities, but Kendell Beckwith should be the centerpiece of LSU’s defense in 2015.

Leading tackler Kwon Alexander’s departure after a standout junior season only reinforces that possibility -- one that Beckwith himself embraces.

[+] EnlargeKendell Beckwith
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanKendell Beckwith said he's looking forward to additional leadership responsibilities next season.
“This will probably be my defense next year,” Beckwith said during bowl practice. “Yeah, I plan on it being that way.”

The rising junior took over as the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker early last fall and wound up ranking second on the team with 77 tackles, trailing only Alexander’s 90.

It remains to be seen how defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s new scheme might affect Beckwith’s role -- might the Tigers shift him outside at points to use him as a rusher off the edge? -- but his first season playing linebacker full-time has set up Beckwith to lead the defense this fall.

“I feel like I’ve got a little bit of experience now and I kind of know what it’s going to take,” Beckwith said. “I feel like I can take over the defense.”

But who will join him in the starting lineup now that Alexander and departed former starter D.J. Welter are out of the picture?

Starting strongside linebacker Lamar Louis seems like a safe bet to occupy one of the starting spots. Before he decided to return for his senior season, Louis and Steele put their heads together, with Steele telling the undersized linebacker that he envisions him playing a role similar to that of former New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers linebacker Sam Mills.

The 5-foot-9 Mills was an All-Pro linebacker while playing under Steele with the Panthers in 1996.

“Me and Coach Steele were just talking about work ethic and just doing the right things at the right times. That’s one of the biggest things that we talked about,” Louis said. “Definitely we’re going to have some discipline in the linebacker room and he’s going to expect us to be good people, foremost, much more than good players. So that’s something that he was stressing was that Sam Mills was a great player, but he was also a disciplined, good person.”

Among the other candidates for increased playing time are Deion Jones and Duke Riley, who both started against Louisiana-Monroe last season while Alexander and Louis were sidelined. Ronnie Feist might be another possibility after ranking among the top performers in last year’s spring game, as could rising sophomore Donnie Alexander, who played in 12 games (mostly on special teams) as a true freshman.

But the candidate who will likely receive the most attention this spring will be sophomore Clifton Garrett, ESPN’s No. 2 inside linebacker prospect of 2014, who appeared in just three games last fall.

Illinois native Garrett reportedly had difficulty acclimating to the South Louisiana heat when he first arrived last summer, but still impressed teammates with his potential.

“His future’s going to be bright. He’s just got to come along a little bit faster,” Alexander said during bowl practice. “He works hard and he’s going to be a great player. When he learns to get the plays down and everything, be smart -- he’s the Mike backer, so he’s got to know all the keys and all that -- when he gets all that down, he’s going to be all right.”

During that same conversation, Alexander predicted that his position group in 2015 would be “the best linebackers in the country.” He later opted to pursue a future in the NFL, but even without Alexander, the group should still have the depth and talent to remain productive.

“We work hard enough to be the best linebackers in the country,” Alexander said. “Kendell coming up, he’s going to be one of the great ’backers, I’m trying to tell you. He works hard, he works real hard. We’ve got Lamar, D-Bo Jones, Duke Riley, all them. They work hard, everybody’s coming along well.”

Expect to see Steele move several of them around during the spring as the Tigers nail down some of their new defensive looks. But as Alexander indicated, LSU should have more than enough at linebacker in order to handle the demands of any additions Steele will make to the scheme.

BREAKDOWN

Returning players: Kendell Beckwith (77 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 INT), Lamar Louis (29 tackles, 2.5 TFL), Deion Jones (27 tackles, 3.5 TFL), Duke Riley (20 tackles), Ronnie Feist (4 tackles), Donnie Alexander (1 tackle), Clifton Garrett (0 tackles).

Departed players: Kwon Alexander (90 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), D.J. Welter (35 tackles, 2 TFL),

Committed prospects: None.

Outlook: It hurts to lose Alexander, the team’s leading tackler, but this is still a capable group with pretty good depth. LSU could potentially lose a lot from this position after this season, so closing strong on the recruiting trail would be big. But as for 2015, returning starters Beckwith and Louis are among the leaders of what should be a highly productive position for the Tigers. They will transition a bit with some new wrinkles that will likely come under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, but the Tigers have enough different skillsets within the group that we shouldn’t notice any drop-off.

LSU freshman tracker: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
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LSU wrapped up an 8-4 regular season by edging Texas A&M on Thursday -- with freshman running back Leonard Fournette leading the way.

Here is how Fournette and LSU’s other true freshmen fared in the 23-17 victory over the Aggies:

S Jamal Adams

What he did: Adams started for the second time in the past three games and tied for the team lead with eight tackles, plus he made a tackle for loss.

What it means: The freshman safety was all over the place against the Aggies, including on an impressive third-down stop to force a punt in the second quarter. Adams is one of the most exciting young defensive players on LSU’s roster. He’ll be an All-SEC candidate next season once he enters the starting lineup full-time.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did: Dupre made one catch for a 41-yard gain deep into Texas A&M territory in the fourth quarter on Thursday.

What it means: Dupre hasn’t made many catches lately (three receptions for 28 yards in the previous five games), but he’s made a couple of them count. He made highlight reels with a one-handed touchdown catch against Alabama, and his catch against A&M extended a late drive while the Tigers were trying to hold onto the lead.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Starting for the fifth time in the past six games, Fournette posted a new career high with 146 rushing yards on 19 carries. He also returned two kickoffs for a total of 34 yards.

What it means: This was Fournette’s fourth game with at least 100 rushing yards, and he produced one of the SEC’s most memorable runs of the season by plowing over A&M safety Howard Matthews on a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Fournette hasn’t lived up to preseason Heisman hype, but he has been LSU’s best running back with 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

DT Davon Godchaux

What he did: Godchaux started for the eighth consecutive game at defensive tackle and finished with one tackle.

What it means: Clearly Godchaux is one of LSU’s top options in the middle, as he has become a fixture in the starting lineup. Perhaps some of the Tigers’ redshirt freshmen will create more of a rotation at tackle next season, but Godchaux and Christian LaCouture appear to have the top spots locked down. Thanks to their improved play, the position is no longer the liability that it was early in the season.

S Devin Voorhies

What he did: Working on LSU’s kickoff coverage unit, Voorhies stripped A&M return man Speedy Noil on a kickoff just before halftime, with LSU’s Duke Riley recovering at the Aggies’ 19-yard line. It was the little-used Voorhies’ first career forced fumble.

What it means: It would not be a surprise to see Voorhies play more on scrimmage downs next season after contributing almost exclusively on special teams this fall. He appeared in seven games and made two tackles this season. To date, Thursday’s forced fumble, which led to a field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead, was easily his biggest play as a Tiger.

Cam Cameron: More than one quality QB

August, 11, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Maybe he doesn't want to give away anything to Wisconsin, maybe it truly is a tight battle -- and maybe it's both -- but LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said the quarterback race between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris is too close to call.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Brandon Harris made a heck of a first impression during LSU's spring game.
"The competition is so stiff every day in practice," Cameron said. "You can improve in two, two and a half hours like you wouldn't believe because the pressure you're under here every day. I've seen as much improvement in our quarterbacks this week as I've ever seen in a group of quarterbacks in that small a timeframe.

"And that has nothing to do with me as it does with the attitude of the guys, No. 1, but the amount of pressure John [Chavis, LSU's defensive coordinator] and his defense put on them. Any flaw a guy has is going to get exposed and get exposed in the first 30 minutes of practice."

LSU's assistant coaches, quarterbacks and freshmen spoke with reporters on Sunday for the first and possibly only time this preseason, so Jennings, Harris and Cameron were among the day's busiest participants.

Head coach Les Miles said he is not rushing yet to name a starter between sophomore Jennings and freshman Harris as he wants to allow a competitive environment to thrive.

"I think the naming of a starter will be when one separates himself from the other. And when it's a real advantage to name him as a starter because he needs to recognize as does the team that this is where we're going," Miles said. "We're not there."

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsCan sophomore Anthony Jennings secure the starting quarterback job out of preseason training?
Also the Tigers' quarterbacks coach, Cameron agreed with that philosophy. The longer true competition exists, the better off Jennings and Harris will be, he said.

"My job is to make this decision as tough on Les as possible," Cameron said. "What do you mean by that? Well, we've got two guys that we feel confident we can win with -- if not three, if not four. We're not coaching one guy more than the other hoping he's the guy."

Cameron might even find roles for both quarterbacks to fill.

He's best remembered for leading the game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas after replacing injured Zach Mettenberger last season, but Jennings played in nine games -- including contests against TCU, Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and his first start in the bowl win against Iowa -- in 2013.

Using him in spot duty made more sense because the dual-threat Jennings possesses a different skill set from Mettenberger, a prototypical dropback passer. However, Jennings and Harris are much more similar players.

Regardless, Cameron expressed confidence that whoever wins the competition will be ready to be successful once the opener against Wisconsin arrives on Aug. 30.

"I would say this confidently: we're going to have more than one quality starter here at LSU," Cameron said. "That's what we're charged with and we'll get that done."

Linebacker rotation?: Defensive coordinator John Chavis has rarely enjoyed the luxury that a deep group of linebackers might provide this season. Beyond starters Kwon Alexander, D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis, Chavis' position group runs two and three deep with quality players across the board -- and that might help not only on defense, but on special teams.

"If they're ready to play, we're going to play them. There's no question about that," Chavis said. "They're not any different than anybody else on our field. In an ideal situation, you'd like to have six starting linebackers and then they all could go play special teams and we could rest them on defense. Unfortunately we haven't been that way with depth.

"Is this a year that we can reach that? We're closer than we've been in the past."

In addition to players such as Deion Jones, Duke Riley and Ronnie Feist, Chavis has talented sophomore Kendell Beckwith trying to surpass Welter as the starting middle linebacker and one of the Tigers' top 2014 signees, Clifton Garrett, behind them.

It might be difficult to juggle, as there are only so many snaps to go around between the three linebacker spots. But Chavis seems confident that everyone who deserves to play will be on the field in some capacity.

"If you can go two deep and you don't have a drop-off, then that just makes your special teams even better," Chavis said.

No decisions on return men: Speaking of special teams, coach Bradley Dale Peveto said he is considering six candidates for the punt return and kickoff return jobs, but wasn't ready to identify them yet.

Tre'Davious White and Travin Dural are among the players known to be working at punt returner and Terrence Magee is among the kickoff return men.

"We had four great days in evaluating a lot of our team, got it down to six guys at each spot," Peveto said. "I don't really want to talk about that yet because we've got a great competition going on, but I'm going to tell you we've got enough. We've got some really good guys, some really talented young men who might compete for those positions."

Miles said earlier that Trent Domingue has taken over as the Tigers' kickoff specialist.

Right guard competition: Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes chuckled when asked how the right guard competition is shaking out.

"It's still shaking," Grimes said. "We'll let it go until somebody lays claim to it."

Seniors Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington have battled for the starting job at right guard, the lone spot where the Tigers lost a starting offensive lineman from 2013.

LSU position breakdown: LB

July, 29, 2014
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Editor’s note: This week, we’ll take a quick look at each of LSU’s position groups as the Tigers prepare to open preseason practice next week. Up next are the linebackers.

LINEBACKER

Returning starters: D.J. Welter (80 tackles, 4 tackles for loss in 2013), Kwon Alexander (65 tackles, 6.5 TFL). Defensive coordinator John Chavis complimented Welter’s performance from spring practice -- during which he won the team’s MVP award -- following a mediocre junior season. Meanwhile, Alexander shifted from strongside linebacker to weakside during the spring, which should allow him to become a key playmaker this fall.

Starters lost: Lamin Barrow (91 tackles, 5.5 TFL). Weakside linebacker Barrow led the team in tackles and was one of the more consistent performers on a rebuilding LSU defense in 2013.

Key newcomers: Clifton Garrett (No. 31 overall on the ESPN 300 and No. 2 inside linebacker) was the Tigers’ highest-rated linebacker signee, while outside linebacker Donnie Alexander (No. 261, No. 19 OLB) was also an ESPN 300 pick. Garrett is an immensely talented prospect, but he’s listed on the preseason depth chart as the third-team middle linebacker behind Welter and sophomore Kendell Beckwith (11 tackles). He’s got his work cut out to become a key contributor in 2014.

Player to watch: Kwon Alexander. Alexander and strongside linebacker Lamar Louis (25 tackles) both moved into new starting positions during the spring, and both jobs seem to suit the veterans’ respective skill sets. Alexander, seems to be the player who is poised for a breakout season, though. Taking over Barrow’s old role, he could become one of LSU’s top defensive performers this fall -- as evidenced by his interception return for a touchdown in the Tigers’ spring game.

Overall: This is one of LSU’s most exciting position groups, blessed with substantial athleticism, speed and depth. It’s only a matter of time until Beckwith is a star in the SEC, and he and fellow reserves Deion Jones (15 tackles in 2013, plus an interception return for a 67-yard touchdown in the spring game), Duke Riley (7 tackles) and Ronnie Feist (did not play) are all capable players. Chavis acknowledged after spring practice that he is considerably excited about what the group will add to the defense this fall -- and he should be. Chavis has plenty of weapons at his disposal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see several of them emerge as reliable performers in 2014.

LSU position groups to improve: No. 2

February, 13, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With more than three weeks to go until LSU opens spring practice on March 7, we'll use some of the down time to preview the upcoming series of team workouts.

After discussing the tight ends, defensive tackles and safeties in the first three installments of this week's series on position groups that can improve this fall, today we move to the linebackers, who disappointed a bit last season and now must replace starter Lamin Barrow.

[+] EnlargeSteven Clark
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertDuke Riley (No. 40) could be poised to make a big impact for the Tigers in 2014.
2. Linebacker

Battling for No. 1: Barrow, one of the leaders of the 2013 LSU defense, is a likely NFL draft pick and tied for ninth in the SEC with 91 tackles. He, rising senior D.J. Welter (80 tackles, four tackles for a loss) and rising junior Kwon Alexander (65 tackles, 6.5 TFLs) hardly set the world on fire, however, as the Tigers' typical starters. When spring practice opens, Welter probably starts as the middle linebacker and Alexander could remain at the strongside linebacker spot. There could be a competition between rising junior Deion Jones (15 tackles, 1 TFL) and sophomore Duke Riley (seven tackles, 0.5 TFLs) for the starting spot on the weak side.

Strength in numbers: Kendell Beckwith -- the highest-rated prospect in LSU's 2013 signing class -- made a small impact as a freshman. He totaled 11 tackles and one TFL but has the ability to play a larger role at strongside linebacker, in the middle, or at defensive end. Rising junior Lamar Louis (25 tackles) might also be a candidate for a bigger role in the middle. Sophomore Ronnie Feist is also coming off a redshirt season and might figure into the rotation somewhere.

New on the scene: Clifton Garrett is clearly one of the stars of LSU's newest signing class, ranking as ESPN's No. 31 overall prospect, No. 2 inside linebacker and top prospect in the state of Illinois. He looks like exactly the type of downhill run stopper who will fit in well in Baton Rouge, but it's rarely a great idea to project immediate greatness for freshmen who arrive in the summer. Perhaps he, or ESPN 300 outside linebacker Donnie Alexander, will be able to crack the rotation sometime during the fall, but it's probably best to temper expectations early on in preseason practice.

Class of 2013: Where they fit 

May, 16, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With the 2012-2013 school year winding down, the members of the LSU signing class of 2013 should be arriving on campus soon for summer workouts. The Tigers brought in eight early enrollees in the spring and 19 more will come this summer.

Here's how we see them fitting in.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- One thing you can say about the track performances of Louisiana's top prospects in football this season is: Well, they had good football seasons.

The Louisiana state high school track and field meet at LSU's Bernie Moore Stadium wasn't kind to many of the state's top football players, who struggled with either injuries or "off" weekends.

The big exception was Malachi Dupre, who swept the Class 2A jump events -- the long jump, triple jump and high jump -- and was named outstanding field performer. He was joined by several players off the Patriots football team who dominated the 2A meet.

For others, it was a painful weekend. The nation's top Class of 2014 football prospect, Leonard Fournette, had to withdraw from several events after pulling up injured in the Class 4A 4x200 relay. Jeryl Brazil won the 3A 100, but pulled up injured in the 200.

Here are the Louisiana football prospects who placed in the Louisiana state meet:

Long jump: Donald Gage (Houston signee), Zachary, 24-1 3/4 (5A champion); Speedy Noil, Karr, 23-6 (third in 4A); Malachi Dupre, River Ridge John Curtis, 23-5 3/4 (2A champion); D'Vante Dotson, Baton Rouge University, 22-6 1/4 (Second in 2A); Jazz Ferguson, Bains West Feliciana, 21-81/2 (fifth in 3A)

Triple jump: Dupre, 44-2 1/4 (2A champion)

High jump: Dupre, 6-6 (2A champion)

Shot put: Anthony Taylor (Tulane signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 60-4 (2A champion); David Elias (UL-Monroe signee), Geismar Dutchtown, 56-10 1/4 (5A champion); Eric Thomas (Tulane signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 56-0 (third in 2A); Hakim Gray, 54-6 (Louisiana Tech signee), North DeSoto, 54-6 (3A champion); Darian Claiborne (Texas A&M signee), Port Allen, 52-11 1/4 (third in 3A); RaeJuan Marbley, Destrehan, 50-8 1/4 (fifth in 5A)

Discus: Anthony Taylor (Tulane signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 16-1 (2A champion); Duke Riley (LSU signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 150-8 (Second in 2A)

Javelin: Darian Claiborne (Texas A&M signee), Port Allen, 180-0 (second in 3A)

100: Sherman Badie (Tulane signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 10.59 (second in 2A); Richard Allen (Tulane signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 10.63 (third in 2A); Jeryl Brazil (LSU signee), Loranger, 10.64 (3A champion); Rashid Bonnette, Loreauville, 10.92 (fourth in 2A)

200: Richard Allen (Tulane signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 21.76 (second in 2A); Terrence Alexander, River Ridge John Curtis, 21.92 (third in 2A); D'Vante Dotson, Baton Rouge University, 22.56 (fifth in 2A); Eugene Brazley (Ole Miss signee), New Orleans Carver, 22.64 (sixth in 2A)

110 high hurdles: Duke Riley (LSU signee), River Ridge John Curtis, 14.70 (second in 2A)

2014 Recruiting preview: Linebackers 

March, 5, 2013
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This is the fourth in a series looking at players LSU might target in the 2014 recruiting class. Previously, we looked at wide receivers and tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks, offensive linemen and defensive linemen.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU loaded up with linebackers in 2012, so 2013 was supposed to be a light year for linebacker recruiting.

But Melvin Jones, a hulking natural middle linebacker, was too good to pass up, Kendell Beckwith was one of the best players in the state and, at the end, the staff fell in love with Duke Riley's versatility. So in what was supposed to be a light year for linebacker recruiting, the Tigers wound up with three.

And there will be room for more for the Tigers, who will lose seniors Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow after this season. Here are some candidates:


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Louisiana represented well on signing day 

February, 25, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- How deep is the football talent in Louisiana?

Consider this: Every football bowl subdivision (FBS) conference in the nation has had a least two Louisiana players sign letters of intent with its member schools for the 2013 recruiting cycle, according to the ESPN database of recruits.


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LSU can fill (almost) every '14 need locally 

February, 12, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- There's a perception in Louisiana that as long as LSU puts a recruiting fence around the state, so to speak, the Tigers will have a top 10-15 team annually.

There is truth to this notion, but also some exaggeration.

In most years, there are positions where LSU might feel compelled to leave the state to fill the need.

So that makes the 2014 class that much more remarkable.

Save quarterback, one can find major prospects in Louisiana at every position. This is a year when LSU can sign a great class without leaving the state. Here's how:


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GeauxTigerNation signing day predictions 

February, 4, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- It looked so simple for LSU heading into the last weekend before signing day.

With 26 committed players in the class and nobody left that wasn't already a longshot, the Tigers looked like they just might just tiptoe quietly to a relatively drama-free signing day, a No. 6 national ranking for the class looking pretty solid.

Forget that.

On the weekend before signing day, the top player in the country has visited. A handful of committed players took trips elsewhere. Never mind Duke Riley being LSU's last commitment. There's a lot more that might happen.


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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With one weekend to go in the 2013 recruiting cycle before Wednesday's national signing day, the question for LSU is, could the Tigers be finished?

With 27 players verbally committed to its signing class -- topped by Wednesday's pledge from linebacker Duke Riley (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) -- there's a chance LSU's signing-day list might look exactly like its commitment list.

Not if they can help it.


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Carter getting home-state press 

January, 31, 2013
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Nebraska tight end commit Cethan Carter plays basketball for Metairie (La.) Archbishop Rummel, so he might be comfortable with the full-court pressure he's receiving from a local school.

"LSU has been recruiting him hard," Rummel coach Jay Roth said. "They've been by to see him a lot."

The three-star tight end committed to Nebraska Jan. 17 after a visit to Lincoln the previous weekend. At the time he had offer from LSU, but it was just a grayshirt offer.

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New commit brings LSU versatility 

January, 30, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- That Duke Riley plays linebacker and is able to run a 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds had many thinking he might be destined to fill LSU's need for a safety in the 2013 class.

The way J.T. Curtis, Riley's legendary coach at River Ridge (La.) John Curtis sees it, Riley might fill pass coverage needs while not having to move from his linebacker comfort zone.

"I see him at that weakside linebacker spot where he might be asked to cover that No. 2 receiver," said Curtis, the winningest high school coach in Louisiana prep history. "The game has changed so much. It's about quickness and being able to play in space and that's what Duke brings."

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Four-star LB Riley makes his choice 

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The worst-kept secret in town about four-star linebacker Duke Riley became official with one, very excited tweet from Riley's"1Goal1Dream" Twitter account Wednesday night.


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