LSU junior Tahj Jones of Sulphur will be calling defensive plays for LSU from his weak-side linebacker position. While not the biggest player for his position, defensive coordinator John Chavis says Jones’ speed is more important than size in the Tigers’ scheme, which emphasizes getting to the ball quickly. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, August 24, 2012 1:05 AM
Anywhere else, Tahj Jones might be considered an undersized outside linebacker with just 208 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis sees it a little differently.
“Our defense is built around speed,” Chavis said. “He certainly fits exactly what we look for.”
So Jones, a former Sulphur High standout, enters his junior season with the Tigers penciled in as the starter as the Sam (outside) linebacker.
“I feel like I’m ready,” said Jones, “but I don’t really feel like I’m a starter. I feel like I’m still earning my spot.”
True enough. At a place like LSU, with annual influxes of top-five recruiting classes, sometimes earning a starting spot can be easier than keeping it.
This year’s newest Tigers include five linebackers, including the two stars of the recruiting class in Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis, both of whom are immediately behind Jones on the depth chart.
“We’ve got some freshmen that came in, they’re pretty good,” Jones said.
“Three or four from that group will be able to take the field for us this year,” Chavis predicted.
But Jones has earned his spot, mostly with more and more playing time in a backup role as last season progressed.
He started the year mostly on special teams, but realized running down on the season’s opening kickoff in Arlington, Texas, against Oregon that he really did belong in college football.
As the season went along he got more and more playing time.
“If you look back at last season, towards the end of the season, Tahj was playing really good football,” Chavis said. “He was getting it done and now he’s taken that leadership role.
“He makes the calls for us. He’s very comfortable in handling that.”
It’s not the only reason — probably not the main reason — that Chavis is so comfortable with a 208-pound linebacker.
By season’s end, Jones had 3.5 tackles for losses — tied for the most among LSU’s linebackers — with a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception.
“He played a lot of football at the end of the season,” Chavis said. “The thing that we saw was that Tahj was a consistent playmaker.”
“He brings so much athleticism,” said middle linebacker Kevin Minter. “You can see how fast he is in the 40 (yard dash), but this guy is field fast. He’s getting to the ball like no other.”
That’s why his job is probably safe at any size as long as he has speed in Chavis’ scheme.
“If I had my druthers, “ Chavis said, “I’d like a 6-4, 240 guy who could run the way Tahj can. But there’s not many 6-4, 245-pounders that can run a 4.5.
“We’re going to take speed over size. We’re never going to sacrifice speed for size.
“With the open (offensive) sets that we see, we feel good about him being in some of those open-field situations.”
With Jones, Chavis said he isn’t sure it’s much of a size sacrifice.
“Tahj can hold up even against two-tight end (formations). He’s done that already,” Chavis said. “We’re excited about what he brings.”
With Minter as the lone returning starter, Chavis said he views the LSU linebackers much the way he saw a young secondary two years ago.
“Who would have thought Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid would the impact they did as freshman that year?”
Chavis’ scheme tends to turn linemen and defensive backs into stars while the linebackers do more grunt work.
“We were productive at linebacker last year,” he said. “We were not outstanding but very productive. There will be young people at linebacker this year.”
Maybe even some true freshmen, Chavis said.
But first they’ll have to get past Jones.
Or outrun him.