BATON ROUGE, La. -- To hear Lewis Neal tell it, LSU’s defense has nearly digested a new language -- in this case, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s new scheme. After only two practices under Aranda this spring, Neal said the Tigers are almost ready to move on to advanced-level classes.
“Basically, you’ve just got to adapt and learn it to where you’re not thinking, to where you’re just playing,” Neal said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think we’ve already got it down to where we’re just playing. It’s not really as hard as you think. We really picked it up fast, and I like that.
“We’re taking every play one step at a time. Probably Thursday [at the Tigers’ next practice] we’re going to learn something else, we’ll add something new. As we continue to add things on, we’re going to get to Spanish II.”
Neal started every game at defensive end last season and led LSU in sacks. Entering his senior year, he is among the players whose roles will change under Aranda. There are times where he will still put his hand down and line up at end, but he is also training to stand up and play outside linebacker.
“It’s fun, just flying around and doing both,” Neal said. “I have my hand down and then I stand up, like the Broncos. We really look like the Broncos, in my opinion, and we’ve been getting after it. I feel like we’re going to be superior.”
While Neal’s enthusiasm would encourage any LSU fan, don’t get too carried away just yet. It’s obviously still extremely early, and Aranda is still getting a feel for his players’ capabilities and how they fit into his scheme.
For instance, many of his linebackers expect to work both inside and outside at times in Aranda’s base 3-4 scheme. In the portion of practice that is open to the media, senior Duke Riley and early enrollee Michael Divinity have practiced at outside linebacker with assistant coach Bradley Dale Peveto, while Aranda has worked with inside linebackers Kendell Beckwith, Donnie Alexander, Devin Voorhies, M.J. Patterson and early enrollee Devin White.
However, Riley said after practice that he plays both outside and inside, and Beckwith added that he expects to eventually do the same.
“We’ve been working a lot of guys at a lot of positions,” Riley said. “That’s what we’re doing now. Everybody’s everywhere.”
As Beckwith added, “They’re just putting in the base stuff right now, trying to learn that and get that in, and then I guess we’ll see where else we go with it.”
Regardless of which veteran was speaking, they were unanimous in their excitement about the chance to work under their new defensive coordinator and their satisfaction with how quickly their fellow defenders have digested Aranda’s teaching thus far.
“It’s going really well. I’ve been excited in the past, but I’m real, real excited about Coach Aranda and working with him and just learning from him,” Beckwith said. “He’s an intelligent man, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Aranda’s methods are slightly different than his predecessors as LSU’s linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, John Chavis and Kevin Steele, both of whom coach at a greater decibel level than Aranda.
“I’ve honestly never heard [Aranda] holler one time yet. Maybe like, ‘Let’s go guys! Let’s go, let’s go!’ Usually we’re seeing like Peveto just going crazy. He’s like the total opposite of Peveto,” Riley laughed.
It’s no secret that linebacker is one of the Tigers’ least-experienced positions now that 2015 seniors Deion Jones and Lamar Louis have left the program. Aside from Beckwith, who has started LSU’s past 19 games, Riley and Alexander are the only traditional linebackers who have started a game, each having started once.
The group is inexperienced and not very deep, and so it's helpful that Divinity and White are already on campus and going through spring practice.
“We definitely could use the numbers,” Beckwith said. “I’m excited about [Divinity] and Devin White. [White] is pretty big, solid. I’m excited about them boys. They work hard. You can just see it in them. They’ve got a great work ethic.”
For now, the freshmen are learning something entirely new, just like their veteran teammates. The process is apparently going smoothly thus far -- Aranda’s stated goal is to keep things as simple as possible, after all -- but the Tigers recognize that they still have a long way to go.
“You’ve still got to learn,” Neal said. “It’s not hard if you put your mind to it, just like a class. You’ve got a test, you’ve got to study for it, right? So that’s all it is. You’ve got to study the playbook and get in it and learn it.”