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March 26, 2012LSU defensive coordinator/linebackers coach John Chavis approached linebacker D.J. Welter after the national signing period in February to make sure the redshirt sophomore was paying attention to the opportunity in front of him instead of the Tigers' large haul of freshmen linebackers behind him.
"He told me they had some people coming in," Welter said. "But he said this was my year and that I had to go out there and keep improving, keep progressing."
With LSU losing three linebackers to graduation from last year's Southeastern Conference championship team - Ryan Baker, Stefoin Francois and Karnell Hatcher - the search for the Tigers next corps of linebackers has been underway during the past three weeks of spring training.
Junior Kevin Minter has solidified the middle linebacker spot after starting in 10 of LSU's 13 games in 2011 where he ranked fifth on the team with 56 tackles. Juniors Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones, both whom has extensive playing time a year ago and are in line to start when the Tigers opt for base 4-3 defense.
It's behind that top-line group where the true meaning of spring continues to play out each practice with the 6-foot, 232-pound Welter and Luke Muncie, a junior, holding down second team slots with early enrollees freshmen Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist, a pair of true freshman, also vying for playing time.
"He's said I've done well so far and I've got to keep on building, be physical and go at it every day," Welter said of Chavis. "I feel a lot more comfortable in the scheme than last year. I feel I've grown a lot through the offseason and in the playbook. Things are coming more naturally and I feel good about that."
Welter, a native of Crowley, redshirted in 2010 after enjoying an All-State senior season at Notre Dame where he was ranked among Rivals.com's Top 50 outside linebackers. He helped the Pioneers to the Class 3A state championship in 2009 and earned the state's Defensive MVP honor with 143 tackles and 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
With a senior-laden linebacker corps in front of him Welter's playing time was sparse last season with five tackles in seven games. Three of those tackles took place in LSU's 52-3 blowout victory over Ole Miss and the other two taking place in the Tigers' 49-3 triumph over Northwestern State.
"I played sparingly last year and not as much I wanted to but I've got to work harder," Welter said. "I've gained in knowing what to do leading up to the game; learning the game plan. I just want to make sure that everything comes naturally."
Despite his limited time on the field Welter said the playing time, which also included some special teams play, was beneficial.
"There's nothing like a game," Welter said. "There's the college speed. It's fast and to get that game experience is a key, playing at game speed and letting it fly. You can't really think out there, you've just got to rely on what you've learned throughout the week and go at it."
With the loss of the three senior linebackers following LSU's 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS national championship game there was a greater sense of urgency among Welter, Muncie and Co. during the offseason to seize the moment and move into more prominent playing roles for the upcoming season.
Welter's also cognizant that one of the fastest paths to the playing field is on special teams and he's hopeful of garnering playing time albeit on punt and kickoff coverage and punt return.
"All the young guys that have redshirted realize that this is our time," Welter said. "We've got to really work harder than we have in the past. It's our time to shine. They're counting on us and we want to be there when they need it. I'm one play away so I've got to be as good as the guy ahead of me. I've got to be on my game every day and be ready to play when they call my name."