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LSU’s Harold Perkins is set for a breakout year at inside linebacker in 2024

Brian Kelly made headlines earlier this week when he told The Advocate that Harold Perkins is gearing up to play inside linebacker in 2024.

Perkins’ usage was a point of contention last year. He excelled as a pass rusher in 2022, so fans and analysts questioned LSU’s decision to take him away from the edge. The staff tried a few different things, with Perkins eventually settling into a role at SAM linebacker.

The production wasn’t there. Perkins led the SEC in pass rush grade in 2022 and posted a pressure rate above 25%. In 2023, Perkins fell to 37th in pass rush grade with his pressure rate falling to 14%.

It’s fair to say LSU failed to make the most of Perkins in 2022. That was likely a key factor in Kelly firing defensive coordinator Matt House.

Kelly told On3’s JD Pickell that they didn’t maximize Perkins last year. Kelly added that Perkins needs to play better and the coaches need to do a better job at getting him involved.

“Everyone that watched last year would say that’s a guy that needs to play at a higher level, and that starts with coaching, and that starts with Harold really working at a higher level this offseason,” Kelly said.

So when news broke of the plans for Perkins in 2024, there were some groans on social media. But this time, it makes sense.

One factor contributing to the decision could just be that LSU has a coach it trusts to develop Perkins now.

New defensive coordinator Blake Baker has a proven track record of developing linebackers. At LSU in 2021, he turned Damone Clark and Micah Baskerville into some of the SEC’s best. He did at Missouri too, with his defenses featuring some of the best linebacker units in the conference the last two years.

From a scheme standpoint, it makes sense too. You can’t have Perkins in a position to be coming off the field on LSU’s most important downs.

Perkins can’t play the edge every play. He doesn’t have the size for it and hasn’t shown he can consistently defend the run on the outside. When it’s not an obvious passing situation, offenses have shown a willingness to run right at him.

Now when it’s second and long, or third and long, it’s fine to put Perkins out there and just tell him, “Go get the quarterback.”

I think we’ll still see plenty of that this fall, but it fails Perkins and the defense to have him do that on a full-time basis.

LSU needs the help at inside linebacker, too. The Tigers could be fine at edge with Dashawn Womack and Bradyn Swinson potentially gearing up for breakout years of their own, but inside linebacker remains a question mark, with less depth and less experience.

If Perkins can figure it out there, he remains the best athlete on the field at a spot where LSU needs it. This is the best way to optimize LSU’s personnel. You’re also putting him in a better position to help defend the pass over the middle of the field, something LSU’s secondary struggled to do last year, but looked better when getting help from Perkins.

Even with the staff overhaul, LSU’s defense is facing an uphill battle in 2024. There are major questions at cornerback and defensive tackle and some of those concerns will remain heading into the season. Having a defensive star like Perkins can help mitigate those issues, but it’s key that LSU gets the most from him this fall.

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Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire