LSU Tigers: Tahj Jones

SEC lunchtime links

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In order to make a stand in the SEC, you have to have a strong front seven. It starts with a stout defensive line, but don't forget about those cats behind that front line.

Linebackers need love, too:

1. Alabama: For starters, "Linebacker U" will enter the 2013 season with three linebackers -- C.J. Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and Trey DePriest -- who started 10 or more games last season. Then there's Xzavier Dickson, who started seven games at the rush-end "Jack" position. All four played in every game last year, making play after play. Mosley was considered one of the nation's best linebackers and could have opted for the NFL early. He'll get even more time with Nico Johnson gone. Hubbard is the team's top pass-rusher, DePriest has transformed into a top linebacker prospect in next year's NFL draft and Dickson is versatile enough to play linebacker and on the line. There is also a ton of young talent to watch, starting with sophomore Denzel Devall, who could really break out.

[+] EnlargeLamin Barrow
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLamin Barrow should replace some of the production the Tigers lost when Kevin Minter moved on to the NFL.
2. LSU: Kevin Minter might be gone, but the Tigers still have some quality players roaming around the position. Lamin Barrow will anchor the group and is coming off a season in which he registered 104 tackles, including 52 solo stops. He's getting a ton of NFL love and will get help from very talented sophomore Kwon Alexander, who only played seven games, but would have seen plenty more action if hadn't suffered a broken ankle midseason. Alexander could be primed for a huge season and might be the team's best linebacker. Senior Tahj Jones only played in one game last year because of academic issues, but he'll have every chance to start outside. Sophomores Deion Jones, Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist all saw good time last year and will be in the rotation along with incoming freshman Kendell Beckwith, who could immediately push for a starting spot.

3. Ole Miss: The Rebels work in that 4-2-5 defense, but have a lot of talent at linebacker, starting with big-hitting senior captain Mike Marry, who has 22 career starts and finished last season with 78 tackles with 10.5 for loss. The pleasant surprise from this group last year was Denzel Nkemdiche, who was a second-team All-SEC member as a freshman after leading Ole Miss in tackles (82), tackles for loss (13) and forced fumbles (four). The thing that makes Nkemdiche so valuable is that he knows all of the linebacker positions and covers a ton of ground with his speed. Long-time Rebel D.T. Shackelford is back after two knee surgeries, but had a very good spring and should provide quality depth and excellent leadership. Then you have talented reserve Serderius Bryant, who could start at a lot of schools. Don't forget about the hybrid "Husky" position that will feature top recruit Antonio Conner.

4. Tennessee: The Vols bring back the league's top tackler in A.J. Johnson and excellent pass-rusher Curt Maggitt, who had his 2012 season shortened because of injury. He should be back to full health this fall, but could move to defensive end. Johnson has a chance to play his way into the first round of next year's NFL draft. Senior Dontavis Sapp doesn't have a ton of experience, but was a star this spring and has the ability to play any of the linebacker spots. Four senior backups return and have combined to play in nearly 140 games. The only problem is that they've also combined for just one start. Senior Brent Brewer also moved from safety to linebacker to give the Vols a lot of speed on the outside.

5. Florida: The Gators lost two valuable players in Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, but they still have a ton of young talent to work with, starting with Antonio Morrison. He ran into legal trouble this summer, but he has a chance to be an All-SEC player after moving from outside to middle linebacker. Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell will rotate at the hybrid defensive end/linebacker "Buck" position, but Powell could see more time at strongside linebacker. If he's healthy after his two ACL injuries, he could be an elite pass-rusher. Hard-hitting and dependable Michael Taylor left spring as the starting weakside linebacker, while freshman Daniel McMillian had an outstanding spring at the Will position. Fellow freshman Alex Anzalone was a top recruit in the 2013 class and should vie for plenty of time, while vets Darrin Kitchens and Neiron Ball will push for starting spots.

6. Vanderbilt: This was supposed to be a concern for the Commodores last year, but it ended up being a strength. Do-everything leader Chase Garnham is back, along with his 43 solo tackles, seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He's the heart of the defense. Hybrid linebacker/safety (Star) Karl Butler returns and should continue to put a lot of heat on opposing backfields. He registered 11.5 tackles for loss last season. Sophomore Darreon Herring has to replace the very reliable Archibald Barnes, but saw plenty of time last year as the Commodores' top reserve at linebacker. Sophomores Larry Franklin and Jake Sealand provide good depth after seeing significant time last year.

[+] EnlargeBenardrick McKinney
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreBenardrick McKinney was named to the Freshman All-SEC Team following last season.
7. Mississippi State: Starters Benardrick McKinney (102 tackles) and Deontae Skinner (62 tackles) return, giving Mississippi State a very sound foundation to work with. McKinney was quietly one of the league's top linebackers last year and could be even better this fall. Veteran Ferlando Bohanna, who has tremendous speed, will provide good depth, and the staff is excited about the versatility junior Matt Wells has. Losing Chris Hughes this summer hurts, but the Bulldogs will be able to cover a lot of ground with this group of rangy, athletic linebackers.

8. Georgia: Like every defensive position, the Bulldogs lost a lot at linebacker, but there is some promising young talent that should get better as the season goes on. Everything revolves around sophomore Jordan Jenkins, who could end up being an elite pass-rusher after learning under Jarvis Jones last season. Jenkins was second on the team in sacks last season with five and should be even more disruptive in Jones' old spot. Junior Amarlo Herrera started nine games and will be the captain of the unit inside. Junior Ramik Wilson had a very good spring and has found his spot inside, while sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons will play some linebacker when he isn't at safety and has a chance to be a star. Sophomore James DeLoach also had a very good spring outside. Freshmen Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin will also have ample opportunities for good playing time this fall.

9. Kentucky: Having Alvin "Bud" Dupree moving to defensive end hurts, but the Wildcats still have two solid options returning in Avery Williamson and youngster Khalid Henderson, who has playmaker written all over him. Williamson enters his senior season with 194 career tackles. Finding someone to take the other linebacker spot is the goal of fall camp. Miles Simpson started 11 games and had 70 tackles last year, but has to be more consistent. Junior Kory Brown and sophomore Josh Forrest will compete for that spot too and might be more athletic, but they lack experience. Malcolm McDuffen still hasn't reached his potential and Demarius Rancifer has decided to transfer.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost starters Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter and are now surrounded by youth. Veteran Steven Jenkins is back, but he missed spring practice due to offseason shoulder surgery. He had time to work with junior college transfer Tommy Sanders, which will help a lot this fall, as he vies for a starting spot outside. The Aggies will have to rely on youngsters at linebacker, but junior Donnie Baggs looks like he'll start at middle linebacker. But after that it's all about newcomers, including new linebackers coach Mark Hagen. Freshmen Reggie Chevis and Brett Wade both went through spring practice, which helps, but expect growing pains from this unit.

11. Missouri: The Tigers are fortunate to have senior Andrew Wilson and his 23 career starts back, but there isn't a lot of experience beyond that. Wilson has also led the Tigers in tackles in back-to-back seasons (79 last year). Donovan Bonner, a senior, and Kentrell Brothers showed flashes this spring, but both have to be more consistent. The same goes for Darvin Ruise, who entered the spring as a starter and played primarily on special teams last year. Keep an eye on freshman Michael Scherer, who has the talent to be a stud. There is athleticism here, but tackling was a major issue with this unit last year.

12. Arkansas: The Razorbacks return veterans A.J. Turner and Otha Peters, but the best overall player at this position might be junior college transfer Martrell Spaight. That could be both good and bad, but the fact of the matter is that Turner and Peters have to improve and get over their injuries from the spring if they want starting jobs this fall. Senior Jarrett Lake had a good spring and could be the leader here. Freshman Brooks Ellis could make an immediate impact too. Experience is a bigger issue than talent with this unit. Also, the staff could spend the preseason moving everyone around.

13. Auburn: This unit really struggled last year with getting lined up right and making tackles. There should be improvement with Ellis Johnson taking over the defense, but players need to get better. Star hybrid Justin Garrett had a great spring and could be primed for a breakout year. He can play in the box and cover, so he'll really help this unit. The good news is that Johnson needs just two linebackers for his 4-2-5 scheme. But those players have to perform. Sophomore Kris Frost made strides this spring and Jake Holland is experienced, while Cassanova McKinzy and JaViere Mitchell should vie for the other linebacker spot.

14. South Carolina: The Gamecocks lost their entire two-deep at linebacker and had to move tight end Kelvin Rainey to linebacker to help with depth. There are a lot of bodies, but the experience is really lacking. Sophomore Kaiwan Lewis made strides this spring at middle linebacker, while junior Sharrod Golightly left spring with the edge at the hybrid Spur position. Freshmen T.J. Holloman and Jordan Diggs will compete for time this spring, but, again, they have no experience. Sophomore Cedrick Cooper missed spring while recovering from knee surgery, but should start at weakside linebacker.

LSU recruiting: Positions of need 

July, 2, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is targeting many of the top athletes in the ESPN 300, some because the Tigers' strong brand name makes it an attractive option and others because the fertile Louisiana recruiting base is strong this year, even by the state's lofty standards.

Leonard Fournette
Alex Scarborough/ESPNLSU has its eyes on top recruit Leonard Fournette.
But what needs is LSU trying to meet?

That's a little trickier to figure out at LSU than many other schools because the frequency of underclassmen departures. But we can take a guess based on likely attrition.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It might seem strange to say, but LSU has a rare luxury of knowing it will lose at least two linebackers after the 2013 season with both Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones entering their senior seasons.

What's so weird about that? It's becoming more rare for contributors such as Barrow to make it to a senior season as the Tigers have adapted to players leaving after their junior or redshirt sophomore seasons.

With Barrow and Jones departing after this season, we can look at candidates to replace them in the 2014 recruiting class.


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Lamin BarrowStacy Revere/Getty Images

BATON ROUGE, La. -- If you see LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow's first name and wonder how to properly pronounce it, just remember, it rhymes with "machine."

As in, "Lamin, the Tackling Machine."

That might be appropriate for the rising senior linebacker coming off a junior year in which he eclipsed the 100-tackle mark (104), finishing second on the team behind potential NFL first-round draft pick Kevin Minter. Many expected Barrow, who accumulated his numbers playing on the weak side, to move into Minter's spot at middle linebacker, a position that, in recent seasons, been manned by future NFL players like Minter, Kelvin Sheppard and Jacob Cutrera.

That, however, hasn't happened, at least not yet as LSU experiments with junior D.J. Welter, who has never started a game for the Tigers, in the middle. It doesn't mean that Barrow won't be the linebackers' leader in a way that Sheppard and Minter clearly were.

(Read full post)

Welter gets studious, earns reps at MLB 

April, 2, 2013
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D.J. WelterDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSidelined by grades most of last season, D.J. Welter has become a better student on and off the field.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- D.J. Welter struggled as a student so much that he missed all of the 2012 season because he was academically ineligible.

That has not stopped him from progressing so much as a student of the game of football that he might end up being LSU's starting middle linebacker.


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Opening spring camp: LSU

March, 14, 2013
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Schedule: The Tigers open spring practice Thursday and will conclude the spring April 20 with their annual National L Club spring game at 3 p.m. ET in Tiger Stadium.

What’s new: Cam Cameron steps in as LSU’s offensive coordinator after spending part of last season in that role with the Baltimore Ravens. Cameron replaces Greg Studrawa as LSU’s play-caller on offense and will also coach the quarterbacks. Studrawa remains on staff and will coach the offensive line. Steve Kragthorpe will move into an administrative role after coaching the LSU quarterbacks the previous two seasons.

On the mend: Reserve quarterback Rob Bolden (knee) and defensive end Justin Maclin will both miss the spring while recovering from injuries.

On the move: Junior La’el Collins will get first shot at left tackle this spring after starting all last season at left guard. Senior Josh Williford will shift from right guard to left guard. Junior Terrence Magee is moving back to running back after playing receiver last season and catching just one pass.

Question marks: The Tigers are replacing five of their top seven defensive linemen. Junior tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson and junior end Jermauria Rasco need to take that next step and become every-down forces up front. Head coach Les Miles said sophomore tackle Mickey Johnson has lost weight and had a promising offseason. Playing with more consistency at receiver will also be important. The Tigers had too many dropped passes last season and didn't make a lot happen down the field. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry will be counted on to make big moves as juniors. LSU also has to find a new place-kicker and punter. Sophomore Jamie Keehn heads into the spring as the punter, while junior James Hairston will have to hold off redshirt freshman walk-on Colby Delahoussaye for the starting place-kicking job.

New faces: Junior-college newcomer Logan Stokes will battle for a starting job at tight end, while junior-college newcomer Fehoko Fanaika could factor in at offensive guard. At receiver, redshirt freshman Travin Dural will be one to watch after injuring his knee last season along with a pair of early enrollees -- Avery Peterson (Patrick Peterson’s younger brother) and John Diarse. Two more true freshmen, Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig, will be among a handful of players vying for the backup quarterback job. The Tigers have a total of six true freshmen on campus who will be going through spring practice as early enrollees. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Thomas is a prime candidate to be the Tigers’ third cornerback on passing downs.

Breaking out: In reality, senior linebacker Lamin Barrow has already broken out. He had 104 total tackles last season, but was overshadowed by Kevin Minter. With Minter leaving early for the NFL draft, Barrow will move this spring from weakside linebacker to Minter’s middle-linebacker spot. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Barrow has everything it takes to become an All-SEC performer. If he sticks in the middle, it just makes the Tigers that much deeper at linebacker. Talented sophomores Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Lamar Louis can all play on the outside along with senior Tahj Jones, who returns after missing all but one game last season for academic reasons.

Don’t forget about: Senior running back Alfred Blue returns to give the Tigers one of the deepest backfields in the league. He injured his knee in the third game last season and was No. 2 in the SEC in rushing at the time. The 6-2, 220-pound Blue has excellent speed and also catches the ball well out of the backfield. He’ll team with sophomore Jeremy Hill to give LSU a dynamite one-two punch. The 6-2, 235-pound Hill had four 100-yard games as a true freshman and led the Tigers in rushing. Following a splendid freshman season, Kenny Hilliard was the forgotten man last season. He’ll be looking to regain his form this spring, while Magee will add some speed to the Tigers’ backfield.

All eyes on: Now that senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has a season as a starter in the SEC under his belt, can he capitalize on the improvement he showed toward the end of last season? In particular, Miles wants to see Mettenberger get better at throwing the deep ball and understand all of the throws better. Mettenberger struggled early last season, but he didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers. The best news for Mettenberger was the hiring of a veteran offensive coordinator like Cameron, who’s tutored a ton of quality quarterbacks. There’s no question that LSU has to be more consistent on offense if it’s going to return to the SEC championship picture. How much Mettenberger improves from his junior to senior season will go a long way toward determining whether the Tigers will be a part of that equation.

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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History says LSU will have pros, busts 

January, 29, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- As LSU puts the finishing touches on its 2013 recruiting class, one might ask what to expect from the incoming class.

One way to judge is through history.

Looking at the last three classes to complete their eligibility -- and the first three that existed in the RecruitingNation era (starting in 2006) -- one can see some noticeable patterns.


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LSU Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Lamin Barrow, Josh Williford, Tahj Jones and Craig Loston will be looked at as old, old men next year when they enter their fifth-year senior seasons at LSU.

In a program that has made an art of the three-year recruiting cycle, they are only players left from LSU's 2009 signing class that was ranked No. 1 in the country by RecruitingNation.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Rob Tringali/Getty ImagesMorris Claiborne was picked No. 6 overall in the 2012 NFL draft, one of several former LSU standouts from the 2009 recruiting class that was ranked No. 1.
That they are gone doesn't reflect poorly on a class that already has three players in the NFL and at least five who are likely to be high picks in the upcoming NFL draft. For those who stayed four years, they enjoyed three consecutive seasons of 10 victories or more, an SEC championship and a trip to the BCS championship game.

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LSU should be able to handle transfers 

January, 17, 2013
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LSU has numbers at all the positions where it is losing transfers, according to the roster the team updated Wednesday.

Linebacker

Luke Muncie was one of four linebackers to start games at the strong side linebacker spot -- and the other three return.Tahj Jones, who was academically ineligible for the season after he emerged from last spring as the starter, is back in the fold and will battle rising sophomores Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis for the starting job.

Commits: ATH Kendell Beckwith, ATH Melvin Jones.

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LSU roster adds eight, loses four

January, 16, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has eight new scholarship football players on its spring roster, with two players who are expected to be on the Tigers' spring roster facing a delay.

Quarterback Hayden Rettig and wide receiver Avery Johnson both got a late green light from the NCAA clearinghouse Wednesday, allowing them to join six other new players who enrolled for the spring semester.

"It's just a formality they had to go through," LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette said.

There were some nervous moments for LSU fans who recalled last January when highly-regarded quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel backed out of an LSU commitment in January and wound up signing with Notre Dame. Also, Johnson signed with LSU in 2012, but wound up not meeting academic requirements and he subsequently enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy for the fall semester. There were fears of more academic trouble for him.

Those fears now put to rest, LSU can look at an early enrollee class of eight.

They joined six other Tigers already on the roster: Tight end Logan Stokes and offensive guard Fehoko Fanaika (both junior college transfers) and high school recruits Anthony Jennings (quarterback), Ethan Pocic (offensive tackle), John Diarse (wide receiver) and Christian LaCouture (defensive tackle). All four graduated from their high schools early and were able to start a semester early.

Fanaika, like Johnson, initially signed with LSU last year, but had to return to junior college to complete his eligibility requirements.

While LSU brought in eight players, there were a handful of departures, most notably linebacker Luke Muncie, who started four games in 2012 before an illness forced him out of the lineup. He had 11 tackles and an interception.

Also no longer on the Tigers' roster are quarterback Jerrard Randall, wide receiver Paul Turner and offensive lineman Chris Davenport. Randall and Muncie will apparently transfer. Turner has reportedly transferred to Louisiana Tech and Davenport to Tulane.

Their departures leave LSU with unofficially 65 scholarship players on their roster, plenty enough to accommodate the 17 remaining committed players in the signing class plus three more. The NCAA limits teams to 85 scholarship players. If LSU were to add more than three players to its signing class, it would simply have whittle the scholarship counters to 85 by August.

Minter passes leadership baton to Barrow 

January, 3, 2013
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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.

[+] EnlargeLamin Barrow
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLamin Barrow, who had more than 100 tackles as a junior, will be looked upon to pick up the slack at linebacker after Kevin Minter entered the NFL draft.
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.

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Where LSU will need help: Defense 

January, 3, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The commitment of Maquedius Bain to LSU on Wednesday made perfect sense.

Bain, the No. 6 defensive tackle in the ESPN 150 and the highest-rated of the Tigers' 24 commitments, figures to play at LSU early. And he'll play a position where the Tigers have a tremendous recent track record for getting players to the NFL. Part of the reason there is a need for defensive tackles in this LSU class (Bain is one of four DT commitments in the class) is the presumed early departure of junior Bennie Logan to the NFL.

If Bain does play immediately, it will continue an LSU trend: Tiger freshmen should come ready to play because many of them will play. LSU used 15 true freshmen in the 2012 season, including four who started and a fifth who was a special-teams starter.

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True freshmen make impact at LSU 

December, 27, 2012
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BATON ROUGE -- With a number of top prospects still considering the possibility of signing with LSU Feb. 6, they should remember one thing before they sign with the Tigers:

If you sign, you better come ready to play.

LSU brought in 21 true freshmen in the 2012 signing class, and 15 have played -- which is second in the country.

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