This year’s LSU recruiting class could be known as “the linebacker class” because six of the 21 true freshmen on scholarship play linebacker.
The six linebackers seem determined to ultimately have it remembered as “THE linebacker class,” and head coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis both seem to think this group can eventually leave a significant mark on the Tigers. In fact, they think these guys can start making a mark right away.
Chavis estimated that four of the freshmen linebackers “will be able to take the field and be productive for us.
“We are going to be able to provide some outstanding depth,” he said recently.
The expectation is at least some of them will be ready to contribute when the Tigers open the season Sept. 1 against North Texas in Tiger Stadium.
“I think our linebacking corps is better and will be much better as we go forward,” Miles said. “The linebackers have improved with the freshman class.”
The six linebackers in alphabetical order are Kwon Alexander (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) from Oxford, Ala.; Ronnie Feist (6-2, 230) from West St. John High School; Trey Granier (6-1, 227) from Thibodaux; Deion Jones (6-2, 202) from Jesuit; Lamar Louis (6-0, 220) from Breaux Bridge; and Lorenzo Phillips (6-2, 215) from Patterson.
Chavis went so far as to compare this group of linebackers with the group of defensive backs that arrived on campus as freshmen for the 2010 season. That group featured safety Eric Reid and cornerbacks Tharold Simon and Tyrann Mathieu, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist and winner of the Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in the country last season, though he has since been dismissed from the team.
Reid and Mathieu played in all 13 games as freshmen, Reid starting three games and Mathieu one. Simon played in eight games as a reserve and all three players made an interception in a victory against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl to end the season.
The linebackers said they have bonded as a group since arriving with the knowledge that LSU needed immediate help at linebacker after it lost two starters — Ryan Baker and Stefan Francois — and one key reserve — Karnell Hatcher — from last year’s group. They realize the significance of Chavis comparing them to the defensive backs of 2010.
“Those guys are great players,” Feist said. “They’re all superstars, and to compare us to them that means he thinks we’re going to do great things as freshmen and have great careers here.”
Feist has pretty lofty aspirations for the group.
“I tweeted my guys the other day and said we want to be one of the best classes of linebackers every to come through LSU,” Feist said. “We’re six guys and hopefully we can all be six first-rounders (in the NFL draft) and help this team win a national championship.”
The Tigers nearly won a national championship last season but came up short against Alabama in the BCS title game. Alexander left the heart of Crimson Tide country to come to LSU.
Alexander said he was attracted by the presence of Chavis and the program’s record of sending lots of players, including former linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, to the NFL.
“I just wanted to be a part of that,” Alexander said. “I wanted to play under a great coach and a great defensive coordinator. We have an opportunity to win the (Southeastern Conference) championship and go to the BCS championship.”
Phillips got Miles’ attention by putting on 20 pounds since playing his last high school game.
“I think that’s perfect for an outside linebacker,” he said. “It’s just something I felt I needed to do. I always played at a fast pace and with me coming in here I felt like me playing in the SEC I was going to need to get a little bigger.”
Louis, who said “I’ve always been proactive when it comes to playing early,” got excited as a junior in high school when he learned that it was possible to enroll at LSU early and go through spring practice before his freshman year, if he got his academics in order.
“As soon as I heard it, I told my parents that that was what I wanted to do,” he said. “It wasn’t easy getting my grades together, I can tell you that.”
But he got them together, enrolled in January and went through spring practice.
“In college, you have a lot of plays, you have a lot of different schemes, a lot of checks compared to high school,” Louis said. “Just me coming in and learning the schemes, learning the plays, learning the coaches and learning the culture around LSU, it was real big for me.”
Louis was one of the stars of the spring game, intercepting a Zach Mettenberger pass that bounced off the hands of tight end Tyler Edwards and running 74 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Feist, who also enrolled early, had seven tackles, two more than Louis.
Jones said: “I’ve dreamed of wearing purple and gold since I was a little kid.” He doesn’t turn 18 until November and is conservative about his immediate impact.
“I’m fast and I’m physical, but that’s true of a lot of guys in this group,” Jones said recently. “I still have to get used to the defense, the tempo, the intensity level that everyone plays on.
“I’m still picking things up from (the older linebackers). I’m trying to learn the little things from them.”
Granier played in just four games as a high school senior before being sidelined by a knee injury, but like his classmates is comepeting for playing time.
The projected starters at linebacker — Kevin Minter (middle), Tahj Jones (strong side) and Lamin Barrow (weak side) — all came in together and redshirted in 2009. The only experienced backups — Luke Muncie and D.J. Welter — came in a year later, Muncie playing sparingly in six games and Welter redshirting.
“I can see this group being better than us,” Minter said. “They have so much talent and they’re so fast. They’re learning a lot quicker than we did. They played in different coverages in high school and have a better feel for it than we did coming in.”