Barrow competes to start, stay on field

When one thinks of August camp competitions, the thinking is usually rather two-dimensional.

Wide receivers compete with wide receivers for starting jobs and playing time. It's linebackers vs. linebackers, linemen against linemen, etc.

In this era of college football, that may be a bit of an antiquated way of looking at it. With the majority of college teams employing multiple offenses and defenses, the competition is just as much about what positions get utilized more often. A third linebacker can play most snaps in a game, or hardly at all. Same with a third wide receiver.

Linebacker Lamin Barrow, the odds-on favorite to start as the third (weakside) linebacker, knows this competition well.

"We have a 4-2 [defense] where a linebacker comes out, but I feel that in our base package, 4-3, we can go all four downs in any game," Barrow said.. "With the different blitzes we have, I feel like we can be very strong."

In essence, Barrow said linebackers not only compete with each other, but also with defensive backs. If it's third-and-three and an opposing offense brings in a third wide receiver, Barrow would like to get defensive coordinator John Chavis to believe enough in the linebackers to leave all three in the game as opposed to going to a nickel package.

In the past two years, LSU has favored the 4-2-5 in many situations where the 4-3 defense might also work. The main reason? Tyrann Mathieu is so good playing the nickel, where he can ball hawk on a blitz or perhaps remain in coverage. Before Mathieu's emergence, Chavis may have been more inclined to stay with three linebackers when he had studs like Perry Riley and Harry Coleman on the outside.

Barrow said he'd love to be part of the same defensive packages that allow safeties to blitz.

"I came in from high school just blitzing every play," Barrow said. "When I see a package like the 'Mustang' package where the [safeties] are blitzing, I feel like I can do some things like that.

"There's competition all across that board. When we go to that Mustang package, I'm competing, trying to solidify a spot on that so I can blitz."

On the other side of the ball, a similar dynamic exists between receivers, fullback and tight ends. In a multiple offense, offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa can chose to go with third, fourth and even fifth wide outs on a given play at the expense of a tight end or a fullback. If you're a wide receiver like Jarvis Landry, you aren't just competing with other receivers, you are competing to find ways to have more receivers utilized in more situations where Studrawa might otherwise choose to use a tight end or fullback.

"I think Coach [Studrawa] and Coach [Steve] Kragthorpe recognize what we can do," Landry said. "We put teams in difficult situations when we come out in three wides and two backs. We put teams in difficult situations and create a different look that sets a team off balance."

Back with the vets: Junior linebacker Luke Muncie competed for a starting job in the spring. But at the start of August camp, he was asked to attend afternoon practices with the younger players while most of the veterans practiced in the morning. He gladly accepted the three-day assignment.

"It was a leadership thing," he said. "I needed to teach them the importance of communication, how important it was to us."

After three days of showing the young linebackers the ropes the team came together Sunday and Muncie was able to resume competing with the likes of Barrow and Tahj Jones for playing time. Other linebackers said Muncie has had a good camp.

"Luke's right there on everybody," Barrow said. "He's bouncing around. He's going to get a lot of playing time I would think."

Muncie competed with Barrow for the weakside spot in the spring, but moved to the strong side when an injury sidelined Jones. Barrow said he thinks the versatility will serve Muncie well.