In the middle or not, Barrow still leads

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If you see LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow's first name and wonder how to properly pronounce it, just remember, it rhymes with "machine."

As in, "Lamin, the Tackling Machine."

That might be appropriate for the rising senior linebacker coming off a junior year in which he eclipsed the 100-tackle mark (104), finishing second on the team behind potential NFL first-round draft pick Kevin Minter. Many expected Barrow, who accumulated his numbers playing on the weak side, to move into Minter's spot at middle linebacker, a position that, in recent seasons, been manned by future NFL players like Minter, Kelvin Sheppard and Jacob Cutrera.

That, however, hasn't happened, at least not yet as LSU experiments with junior D.J. Welter, who has never started a game for the Tigers, in the middle. It doesn't mean that Barrow won't be the linebackers' leader in a way that Sheppard and Minter clearly were.

"Middle, outside, doesn't matter to me," Barrow said. "But even if I'm on the weak side, I need to be in that film room like the middle linebacker. I need to show them how it's done."

That has been the role of the linebacker's leaders, whether or not they have been the middle linebacker.

Assignments generally get called out at MLB, meaning it requires an advanced understanding of the defense, something Barrow has embraced. If Barrow isn't the middle linebacker, he'll be next to him ready to help with the knowledge aspect of the middle linebacker position.

"Playing with Kelvin Sheppard and Kevin Minter, you could see they were directing everything," Barrow said. "They could tell you where the play's going. That kind of built on me, where I could be on the outside and do the same thing."

It might be the best thing for the group. LSU coaches clearly like what Welter brings to the table in the middle. He has a stocky build tailor-made for fitting into running lanes in traffic and he has embraced the scholarly side of the position, much like Barrow.

If Welter works out, the Tigers can get away with one new starter at the two positions. If it's not working out and Barrow has to slide to the middle and another linebacker -- say, sophomore Deion Jones -- has to start on the weak side, LSU would have to break in new starters at two positions instead of one.

"I'm comfortable on the weak side since I've been there the last few years and I felt like I had a pretty good year last year at that position," Barrow said. "Sometimes, you have to roll with what's been going pretty good."

Regardless of where Barrow plays, he's part of a position group that, despite the loss of Minter, will have perhaps more maturity than any position on LSU's team, thanks to an older group of players and a laundry list of young players who were able to play significant snaps last season.

Barrow and Minter played most of every game last season, but the strong-side linebacker spot became a revolving door after Tahj Jones was ruled academically ineligible for the season during August camp (he did return to start in the Chick-fil-A Bowl). Welter, a sophomore who was the likely candidate to back up Minter, also missed the regular season because of academics.

Several true freshmen stepped up. Kwon Alexander started on the strong side until he was lost for the season because of injury, and he was replaced by Lamar Louis. LSU signed six linebackers in the 2012 recruiting class.

Tahj Jones, who Barrow confidently suggested would also have had triple-digit tackles last season had he been eligible, is again the most likely candidate on the strong side. And with Welter surprising people in the middle, LSU has the potential of a starting trio that will enter the season with a combined 11 years in the program, backed up by five sophomores who played as true freshmen, two who started at least one game.

"You never know who's going to start come camp time, one of these young guys may push us out of the way, so the objective is just to get better and get the best three on the field," Barrow said.

If the young guys does emerge, it'll be through following the lead of the weak-side linebacker who has is working on continuing the long line of cerabral, tough linebackers produced by LSU.

"We learned that from the guys before us, Kelvin Sheppard, Jacob [Cutrera] and Harry Coleman, those guys stayed in the film room all the time," he said. "That's an adjustment because coming out of high school, you barely watch film. You see ball, get ball.

"That's what I want to show these young linebackers, too."