Brian Kelly refuses to let LSU's best defensive player be just that

LSU star Harold Perkins

LSU Tigers linebacker Harold Perkins Jr.
LSU Tigers linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. / Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The LSU Tigers head into the 2024 college football season knowing they need to replace their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and fix an underperforming defense.

Head coach Brian Kelly handed former Missouri defensive coordinator Blake Baker the latter task after firing Matt House. Despite inheriting a defense that ranked 13th in the SEC, Baker has some talent to work with. Will Baker and Kelly figure out how to harness that talent into success?

Fans weren't exactly emboldened when Kelly revealed to the Baton Rouge Advocate that defensive star Harold Perkins will play inside linebacker again in 2024.

“He needs to be in the action," Kelly said. "He needs to be the [weakside] linebacker. He needs to be in the box. He needs to be active in there. That’s where he’s going to start, and we’ve got to get him ready at that position.”

Why won't LSU just let Perkins be a dominant pass rusher?

LSU is letting prototypical standards prevent Harold Perkins from being a dominant college football player

Perkins was an unstoppable force for LSU as a freshman in 2022. He led the Tigers with 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, hurrying opposing QBs 14 times and forcing four fumbles.

After a position change away from the edge to start the season, he was nowhere near as dominant in 2023. He looked downright uncomfortable with the role of an ILB. Perkins still led the team in sacks but he was down to 5.5 with far less pass-rushing efficiency and effectiveness.

Perkins would be better off with a simplified role that puts the emphasis on getting after the quarterback. But he's 6-foot-1, 220 pounds — small for a prototypical edge. So the Tigers are letting NFL projections dictate their approach with their most important player on defense. Offensive coordinators around the SEC just breathed a sigh of relief.

Having a true pass-rushing threat is often the difference between a strong defense and a mediocre one. The Tigers were certainly mediocre in that department last year, in part because they didn't let Perkins pin his ears back and do what he does best.

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