LSUFootball bf 0323.jpg

LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, center, gives instructions to LSU linebacker Devin White (24) and LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith (52) during LSU football practice on Friday August 5, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG

Kendell Beckwith needs your prayers.

It’s not for what you think.

Sure, he wants to prevent injury, but he’s not asking for your help with that. And his home in Clinton wasn’t affected by the weekend's historic flooding, his mother said. So it's not that either.

He needs prayers for blitzing.

Will new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme include more middle linebacker blitzing?

“I hope so,” Beckwith answered to that question last week. “Pray for me.”

Aranda’s system prides itself on playing physical man-to-man coverage in the secondary, orchestrating a confusing brand of front-seven football and, of course, blitzing. During his first interview upon being hired, the coach admitted that he blitzes linebackers as much as 30 times a game.

But Beckwith’s primary job in Aranda’s system won’t be gunning for the quarterback on third-and-12. He’s the field general — an experienced one at that.

The senior has started more games (19) than all of the other four inside linebackers combined (two). He’s got more career tackles than all of them, too, and it’s not close: 172 to 75.

He might just be LSU's most irreplaceable starter, a player who’s up there with running back Leonard Fournette and center Ethan Pocic in that category.

It’s why a knee injury during spring practice sent LSU’s fan base worrying. Beckwith only strained a ligament in the knee, though. He missed two weeks of practice before returning. He’s fully healthy now, ready to man his most-important spot.

Beckwith’s job isn’t changing much, he said. The middle linebacker in the 3-4 — Aranda refers to it as the “Mack” — is similar to the one in the 4-3.

What is that role exactly?

“Control everything,” Beckwith answers.

It’s more detailed than that, of course, and there are slight differences in a 3-4 and 4-3 middle linebacker.

In the 3-4, there are two inside linebackers — not just one, as there is in a 4-3. Since there are two, they normally split half of the field, charging in for the run and dropping in coverage for the pass. The downside to this is that they have to be better suited to fighting off blocks — from offensive linemen, especially, according to an analysis from ProFootallFocus.com.

It’s no coincidence that Beckwith spent much of his summer working on that.

“I really focused on my footwork, main thing. Just working on taking on blocks. I did a lot of bag work,” he said. “Those were the two main things, footwork and taking on blocks.”

How many blocks he’ll need to “take on” will often times be dependent on the Tigers nose tackle. Greg Gilmore, Travonte Valentine and other nose tackles must be good enough to draw double-teams, former LSU lineman Kevin Mawae said.

“You have to hold that double-team for a split second,” Mawae said, “for that linebacker to come over the top and make the play.”

You don’t want the guard or center to move past the nose tackle and target Beckwith or Duke Riley, projected to start at LSU’s other inside linebacker spot. At least one of them must be free to make the play, whether it’s a run up the middle, sweep to the outside or swing pass to the running back.

And then there’s the blitzing. He might need prayers.

Aranda’s Mack linebacker last season at Wisconsin, T.J. Edwards, led the team in tackles, yes, but did not have a sack. The Badgers’ middle linebackers in 2014 and 2013, Marcus Trotter and Chris Borland, combined for 7.5 sacks.

Aranda, though, has made it clear that he slowly evolved Wisconsin from a 4-3 to a 3-4, finally playing the full-fledged version of the 3-4 last year. During LSU’s spring game, Aranda rarely if ever blitzed his inside linebackers, choosing to send defensive backs and outside linebackers.

That’s changing during camp, running back Derrius Guice indicated earlier this month.

“He’s going to start doing blitzing now. He’s going to send them now,” Guice said.

Who he’s sending is the real question. Players shy away from answering.

And don’t call Beckwith irreplaceable, either, he said. All five of LSU’s inside linebackers — Beckwith, Riley, Donnie Alexander, Devin White, Devin Voorhies — can play each of the two positions: Mack and Rover.

Aranda cross-trains them, as he did at Wisconsin.

So, worried about injury to Beckwith? Don’t be, he said.

“I feel like I can’t go into things thinking not to get hurt. You can get hurt anywhere. I can walk out (outside) and get hurt,” he said. “I know guys behind me, Devin White, he can step in and do a good job. Duke can come over and play that position. Donnie can step in and play Mack. Those guys can roll.”

Player Year Starts Total
tackles 

Kendell
Beckwith       

 Sr. 19 172
Duke
Riley
 Sr. 1 51
Donnie
Alexander
 Jr. 1 13
Devin
White
 Fr. 0 0
Devin
Voorhies
 Jr. 0 11

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.