As the 2020 spring camp loomed closer, the strengths and weaknesses in terms of position on the roster were relatively known. Wide receiver, defensive line and the secondary were viewed as the groups that the Tigers would be able to lean on heavily.
The offensive line and linebacker positions were the two areas of concern and coach Ed Orgeron said as much in the spring practice press conference.
"We have three spots left," Orgeron said back in February. "I am going to be looking at two graduate transfers, some transfers at some (need) positions. "Maybe a linebacker, it all depends on what (Bo Pelini) thinks about the guys we have. We may need one, we may not."
LSU did plenty of pre spring maneuvering at inside linebacker including shifting Marcel Brooks and adding North Dakota State three-time All-American Jabril Cox to the mix as well. Orgeron was extremely complimentary of Brooks' ability to pick up the schemes quickly.
“I think he’s doing fine. He’s got to learn the defense, he was playing outside linebacker in the 3-4, a little undersized," Orgeron said in February. "He’s about 205 pounds right now, we want him to get to 215. We didn’t have any linebackers. We had no choice but to put him at linebacker and he’s done phenomenal. As you all know, he’s very fast, and once he catches on to the scheme I think he’s going to be a next level linebacker.”
As a review, the Tigers are returning juniors Damone Clark and Micah Baskerville and adding freshmen Antoine Sampah and Josh White.
All of the sudden a position of uncertainty could very well turn into one of strength in 2020. For starters, the Cox signing was a stroke of brilliance as he not only brings the requisite talent but experience to be a linchpin for the defense.
LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini is high on Clark, who figures to step in and be the favorite to start next to Cox. Clark picked up some great experience the last two years learning from Devin White, Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips.
He appeared in all 15 games for the Tigers in 2019 and collected 50 tackles, four tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
"I'm really excited about him," Pelini said. "I like our group [at linebacker] but they all have a lot to learn. I think we can play a number of guys and I think that the competition will make them better."
If Brooks can continue to develop on the inside, he's the kind of athlete that Pelini will want to find ways to get on the field. With Cox, Clark and Baskerville all proven to varying degrees, all of a sudden the Tigers are in real business.
And that's not even to mention the freshmen Sampah and White, who come in as two highly rated four-star prospects according to 247Sports. Both will have to pick up the college system fairly quickly to earn playing time early and while it's possible that one could push their way up the depth charts, with potentially only six weeks of camp before the season, that doesn't leave much time to adapt to the schemes.
Don't be surprised if the inside linebackers become a strength for the Tigers from the start. For a position group with a lot of question marks just two months ago it would be quite an impressive turnaround.