Tashawn Bower gained 10 pounds during the offseason.
“I wasn’t sure what I’d be,” he said with a smile.
A defensive end? A defensive tackle? A stand-up end?
Bower, a senior from New Jersey, didn’t know what position he’d play in coordinator Dave Aranda’s new, variable 3-4 scheme, but he assumed he’d be lining up on or near the line of scrimmage — like he has his entire football career. Bower needed more size, he thought, more girth. He packed on muscle by working out and lifting weight.
Turns out, he didn’t need any of that.
Nearly a month into LSU’s spring practice, Bower’s position is known: outside linebacker.
“I gained weight to play with my hand in the dirt, but this is fine,” he said after Thursday’s practice, the eighth of a 14-practice spring that ends with the April 16 spring game. “I can play with this weight.”
Bower, at about 250 pounds and standing 6-foot-5, is one of the largest outside linebackers you’ll see. The ex-defensive end is an example of what Aranda is bringing to the program — a think-outside-the-box approach that has LSU players shifting positions this spring.
Greg Gilmore and Christian LaCouture have moved to nose tackle, and Davon Godchaux and Frank Herron have moved to ends, though they’re playing inside, too.
Arden Key, Isaiah Washington and Sione Teuhema are playing what Godchaux calls the “Buck” role as stand-up ends who have the ability to drop into coverage.
As Bower tells it, Aranda’s defense is a puzzle, and the new coordinator is in the midst of shifting the pieces around to form an image that many fans might not necessarily recognize.
“It will help the team putting people in positions they can perform in and excel at and really getting all of the best guys on the field,” Bower said. “We’re trying to fit pieces in certain places to see what we can do and maximize our defense.”
It’s more than that, though. LSU is clearly stacking a position where depth is a concern. The Tigers entered spring practice with just five scholarship linebackers. They now have eight with Bower’s addition.
Corey Thompson moved from safety to outside linebacker, and Devin White, a midyear enrollee, slid from running back to linebacker when spring began. This does not include Devin Voorhies, a guy who moved from safety to linebacker more than a year ago.
For Bower, the transition might be the most difficult of any of the aforementioned guys.
He’s never played anywhere other than on the line, in a three-point stance with his hand firmly on the ground.
“It’s different,” he said. “It’s nice to kind of see something different.”
Instead of containing quarterbacks, Bower is covering receivers — the toughest of the adjustments. He did that during LSU’s practice Thursday.
On the far side of the field were his former lineman brethren. They were grunting and slamming against yellow dummies while Ed Orgeron barked in his Cajun twang.
Basically, they did lineman things. Bower, meanwhile, practiced his man-to-man and zone coverage.
“With your hand in your dirt, you’re not really worried about a receiver running a certain route or anything like that,” he said. “You’re just kind of getting after it.”
His role as a blitzing player isn’t ending. There are packages, Bower says, where he’ll rush into the backfield.
He hopes to flash his versatility as a senior in readying for the NFL draft. At least one player has high expectations.
“(That’s) a guy who’s going to make a lot of money one day,” Godchaux said. “Seriously. He can play (normal defensive end), Buck, F-linebacker.”
Bower mostly played end during what he describes as a disappointing junior season. It was so disappointing that he posted at least one message on Twitter after LSU’s bowl game suggesting he planned to leave the program.
He said Thursday that he never gave that serious thought. Bower battled an ankle injury for most of the year. He suffered the injury in the first quarter of what was supposed to be his big game at Syracuse.
Bower’s native of Somerville, New Jersey, is just a four-hour drive from Syracuse. He re-entered the game briefly but was never the same. To make matters worse, Key, a hotshot rookie, swiped his starting job after that.
“That definitely hurt a lot. I’m not trying to make it about me, but being home, Syracuse game, had everyone home at that game. It was definitely unfortunate,” he said. “Last year didn’t really go the way I wanted it to.”
This year, he’ll be trying out a new position — and attempting to win a ring, too.
“I felt like there was unfinished business here,” he said. “I really want a championship ring. This school means a lot to me.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.