Lamar Louis winged it last season.
During a recent interview, the LSU linebacker explains, visually, how a fractured right wrist changed the way he played football.
Louis brings his right arm across his body so his hand and forearm are against his chest. Keeping his hand there, Louis thrusts out his elbow and forearm.
Louis isn’t performing the Chicken Dance with one wing. He’s illustrating just how he attempted to shed blocks last season.
“Can’t tell you how I did it,” he said, “but I was playing with a wing.”
The 2013 version of Lewis was a one-handed, one-winged reserve who felt a surge of pain each time his broken wrist took any kind of hit.
The 2014 version of Lewis is a two-handed, don’t-need-a-wing starter whose surgically repaired, pain-free wrist now includes a bone from his knee.
Louis enters his junior season atop the depth chart at one of LSU’s three linebacker positions, a first in his career. The 5-foot-11, 230-pounder returns to a spot he played as a freshman, strongside linebacker.
He served as a backup middle linebacker last season.
Louis, his wrist and new position, get an early challenge when No. 13 LSU meets No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday night in Houston. The Badgers are known for their ground-and-pound offense, led by Melvin Gordon, one of the preseason candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Wisconsin plays plenty of tight end sets. It’s the job of the strongside linebacker to notice where that tight end is, make the call and adjust the defense.
Louis will spend a lot of his time, too, creeping close to the line of scrimmage in a run-stuffing role.
Enter that Gordon guy.
A 6-foot-1, 213-pound fourth-year junior, Gordon is on a host of preseason All-American teams, and most project him as a first-round pick in the 2015 draft. He averaged nearly 8 yards a carry last season, ran for 12 touchdowns and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark by mid-October.
Gordon gets a big stage, running on national television against a Southeastern Conference team.
“I’m not sure what he’s thinking, but if I was in his situation, have all of these accolades and preseason nominations and LSU is the first game, I’m trying to come out and make a statement,” Louis said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s going to try to do. Same thing for us.”
It’s up to guys like Louis, middle linebacker D.J. Welter and weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander to avoid the run blocks of linemen, tight ends and fullbacks and make the tackle before the speedy Gordon gets to the third level of LSU’s defense.
By that time, it might be too late anyway.
“He’s got breakaway speed,” Welter said. “He can hit you with that one cut and he’s up the field. Containing him early will be a big deal for us as a defense.”
Specifically for Louis, a guy who gets to prove just why recruiting sites three years ago rated him as high as the 10th-ranked athlete in the nation coming out of Breaux Bridge High School.
For the first time in nearly a year, Louis will play without a cast covering much of his hand. He fractured a bone in his wrist — near the thumb — late during fall camp last year while attempting to catch himself falling.
He played with the injury for a month before getting the cast. He didn’t realize it was broken.
“It was pretty painful,” he said. “Basically, I couldn’t use my hand. If I’m not using it, I was OK, but being a linebacker, having to shed blocks, I had to use it. Whenever I would punch, it was horrible. I had to use my elbows.”
He winged it.
Louis’ cast covered his palm and left his fingers exposed and flexible — except the primary finger, the thumb.
He didn’t miss a game.
“He didn’t miss a beat,” defensive end Jermauria Rasco said.
“Lamar Louis is a tough kid, a quality person really committed to his team,” coach Les Miles said. “When asked to play with pain, really by his teammates, he just kind of stepped in and did that. Honestly, it’s a real sacrifice for his teammates.”
Louis had surgery in January following LSU’s win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Doctors replaced the fractured bone with one from his knee, he said.
Louis has an inch-long scar on the under side of his wrist, just where it meets the hand.
He won an award in the spring for overcoming adversity. He wasn’t supposed to be limited during the three-week spring practice.
That didn’t happen.
“I pretty much sucked it up because I wanted to help my teammates out and I know we lost a lot of people to the draft,” he said. “I came in right after surgery, did my rehab and I just went out there and probably did things I wasn’t supposed to do.”
Tackling in the spring game? That was one the list of no-nos given to him by defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis.
He did it anyway — without a wing.
“Being a hard head,” a smiling Louis said. “Chief pulled me out second half.”