Worried? Not at all. LSU has several ways to replace Michael Divinity Jr.
LSU will miss outside linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. against Alabama on Saturday.
But the Tigers should be OK.
Divinity is one of LSU’s most experienced defensive players and perhaps its best pass rusher. He has a team-high 3 of the Tigers’ 20 sacks. But Divinity, who has left the team for “personal reasons,” has been in and out of the lineup all season and the Tigers have multiple options for picking up the slack.
He missed 3 games this season for a “coach’s decision.” He started 3 of the 5 games in which he has played, including the last game – a 23-20 victory over Auburn 2 weeks ago.
He played inside last season and led the Tigers with 5 sacks, but he has played mostly on the outside this season to take even better advantage of his pass-rushing ability. Divinity is 10th on the team with 23 total tackles and tied for 4th with 4 tackles for loss. He also forced a fumble.
The Tigers still have K’Lavon Chaisson as a strong pass-rushing linebacker on the other side. He is tied for 2nd on the team with 4.5 tackles for loss and has 2 sacks after missing 2 games due to injury.
Junior Andre Anthony is listed immediately behind Divinity on LSU’s most recent depth chart, but Anthony doesn’t figure to be the primary replacement for Divinity.
Ray Thornton could start in Divinity’s place and likely will get the most additional snaps on the outside. Damone Clark could get more reps behind Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips because Divinity won’t be available on the inside either.
But perhaps the most noticeable replacement will be freshman pass rusher Marcel Brooks, who already was coming on before Divinity’s departure.
Brooks played in just 2 of the first 5 games, but he has been a regular part of the Tigers’ speed pass rush package for the last three games, beginning against Florida.
Orgeron said that was the team’s best game rushing the passer as LSU had 13 quarterback hits, 4 hurries and 2 sacks. Brooks had one of the key sacks and it came at a pivotal point in the 3rd quarter.
The Gators had completed their 4th 75-yard touchdown drive on the first possession of the second half to take their first lead of the game. On their next possession, Brooks sacked Kyle Trask on 3rd down, forcing a punt. The Tigers retook the lead for good on the ensuing possession and they went on to win 42-28.
Orgeron talked about Brooks two days later during his weekly news conference prior to the game against Mississippi State.
“I do believe the addition of Marcel Brooks helped us put more speed on the field,” Orgeron said. “Marcel brings that fire. He has a lot of speed.”
Brooks arrived as a 5-star linebacker, but was given an opportunity at safety.
“He wanted to move to safety to try to win a starting spot,” Orgeron said. “Obviously we gave him that opportunity. As a staff we spent a lot of time on Marcel Brooks this summer. We felt as a staff his best position would be outside linebacker. But I want to give the players a chance to realize, ‘Hey, this is the position I want to play, but this is the position I really need to play.’
“I think Marcel Brooks has realized that. He’s at home at outside linebacker. Only weighs about 200 pounds, needs to get a little bit heavier to be able to play on 1st and 2nd down.”
But for now Thornton and Anthony can handle the outside spot on 1st and 2nd down.
Thornton has played in 7 games as a backup this season and has 4 starts among the 25 career games in which he has played.
Anthony has started 2 of the 5 games in which he has played this season and 5 starts among the 18 games in which he has played during his career.
LSU lost a key linebacker before last year’s game against Alabama when leading tackler Devin White was suspended for the first half because of a targeting penalty committed against Mississippi State.
The Tigers opened in nickel against the Crimson Tide. Using that formation more frequently is another option for adjusting to Divinity’s absence — and Alabama’s weapons on the outside.
“We should be fine,” Orgeron said.