Linebacker Duke Riley’s first order of business upon arriving at LSU as a freshman in 2013 was to meet with Thomas McGaughey, then the Tigers special teams coordinator.
“I don’t care if I play on defense,” Riley said he told the coach. “I want to be on all of the special teams.”
Riley got his wish. He’s been on nearly every special teams unit during the last two years.
At the start of preseason camp this year, Riley again visited the Tigers’ special teams coordinator, Bradley Dale Peveto.
“I know I’m going to play a lot on defense this year, but don’t take me off of any special teams,” Riley said he told Peveto.
What’s confirmed: Duke Riley really likes special teams.
The former John Curtis star and three-star recruit has turned two seasons as LSU’s special teams headhunter into what looks to be, at least, a partial starting role. Deion Jones has done the same, and sophomore Donnie Alexander is on a similar path.
“Got to start somewhere,” Alexander said, “and work your way up.”
Riley, Jones and Alexander are expected this season to contribute more than they have in their combined six years at LSU. The trio joins middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith and strong-side linebacker Lamar Louis in what’ll be a four-to-five man rotation at the positions.
Heck, you could even see all four – Louis, Beckwith, Jones and Riley – on the field at the same time in the Tigers’ 3-4 set, according to a few players. That’s a speedy, experienced group. Louis and Jones are seniors, and Beckwith and Riley are juniors.
“It’s hard to kind of choose a starter,” Riley said. “As good as we are, we all can play. It’s not like, ‘I’m not better than this guy.’”
They’re all learning one another’s position, too. That could be out of necessity. Like defensive line, the Tigers are low on scholarship linebackers.
“We have about five guys who all play,” Louis said. “We can plug different guys in different places.”
LSU has seven scholarship linebackers, lower than the staff would want, recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson admitted in the spring. Coaches moved Devin Voorhies from safety to linebacker and moved M.J. Patterson from defensive end to linebacker. Patterson has since been moved back to the D-line.
Miles praised his depth at linebacker on Monday, the Tigers’ fifth day of preseason camp and first in full pads.
“Seems to be pretty strong to me,” he said. “That linebacker corps seems to be fast and deep.”
It’s certainly fast.
Riley and Jones are each muscular guys who proved their speed as special teams gurus over the past few years. Riley was on every special teams unit except field goal the previous two seasons, he said.
“I was special teams player of the year last season,” Riley said. “I won that award. My goal is to win it this year and do great things on defense.”
Jones has been a reserve linebacker in his first three seasons in Baton Rouge. He’s spent his career being known as the guy who crushes opponents on the kickoff team.
And now? Well, he’s moved up.
“Look at Debo,” Alexander said referring to Jones by his nickname. “He’s about to be in the limelight, soaking it all up.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.