LSU's linebackers have a chance to be spectacular next season.
The linebacker unit had its ups and downs in 2013 but ended on a high note with standout performances against Texas A&M and Iowa. LSU hopes to continue the success next season.
The Tigers must move on after losing their best linebacker Lamin Barrow, who led the team in tackles with 91. Barrow was the unquestioned leader of the defense.
While LSU has lost its leading tackler at linebacker each offseason since 2009, the Tigers have always found guys to fill in and be productive.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis also serves as the linebacker coach. Chavis has plenty talent to choose from next season.
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LSU returns its other two starting linebackers in senior D.J. Welter and junior Kwon Alexander. This spring practice, Welter remained with the first unit at his normal middle linebacker spot while Alexander moved from the strong side to the weak side to replace Barrow.
Junior Lamar Louis has filled the other linebacker slot. Louis had 25 tackles in limited snaps in 2013.
But will those three remain the starters?
Junior Debo Jones could be the fastest linebacker Chavis has to offer. Jones' sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability is undeniable. He could play either of the outside linebacker positions.
Kendell Beckwith has made the move from outside linebacker to the middle. Welter was shaky at times last season, so his job could be in jeopardy if Beckwith emerges. But do not count the sophomore out as a pass-rush specialist on the outside either.
Junior Ronnie Feist is the wild card. He did not play a snap last season, but Feist registered 14 tackles in the spring game and is not afraid to stick his helmet into violent contact.
Even if Jones, Beckwith and Feist don't win a starter's role, expect all three to play.
Remember the names Duke Riley and Clifton Garrett.
Riley play exclusively on special teams as a true freshman last season and will likely again this year. Garrett is a 5-star signee from Illinois, but expect him to sit the bench and learn the ropes next season.
Both will eventually get their chance to see the field outside of special teams duties, but maybe not this season.
Alexander has the highest ceiling of all the linebackers. He showed flashes of excellence last season, but now it is time for him to be an All-SEC performer.
The junior is the most versatile of the linebackers. He is equally good defending the run and the pass.
Alexander's move to the weak side will allow him to be more aggressive and have more freedom to make plays. His interception returned for a touchdown in the spring game could be a sign of things to come.
LSU's defense wants to be elite again.
Statistically, The Tigers were good last season. But against most of the SEC's best, especially on the road, they were were porous.
LSU finished a respectable third in the SEC is rushing defense. But the Tigers allowed 170 yards per game in conference play, which was only good enough for eighth. Chavis' defense held SEC opponents to less than 112 yards rushing in the two seasons prior.
All three levels of the defense will be improved next season. The linebackers could be the group that takes the biggest step forward. Les Miles said they could be one of the team's strongest groups next season according to Ben Love of TigerSportsDigest.com.
The linebackers were the most impressive unit on either side of the ball in the spring game. Chavis will strive to have his group be the best next season.
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