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Corey Thompson aims for full, healthy year in sixth season at LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ed Orgeron succinctly summed up the issue facing Corey Thompson at the end of LSU’s first spring practice.

“He looked good. Strong,” said Orgeron, the Tigers’ head coach. “Outside linebacker’s a good position for him. He’s got to remain healthy.”

Whether playing his old position, safety, or his new one, outside linebacker, Thompson always has looked good, carrying a rocked-up physique on his 6-foot-2 frame. It’s that last part -- remaining healthy -- that has been the problem.

After being granted a sixth season of eligibility because of injuries that forced him to miss the entire 2014 and 2016 seasons, Thompson hopes to make it through a full season healthy for the first time since 2012, his freshman campaign.

“I never would have thought it,” Thompson said earlier this spring. “In high school, you are thinking three-and-out. Then it goes to four. Then, fifth year. Then I get hurt in camp, and now I get to have a sixth year.”

In some ways, the injuries made Thompson a forgotten player on the Tigers’ roster. So perhaps it’s fitting that his new spot on the field also gets overlooked at times.

Entering spring practice, the biggest concerns about LSU’s outside linebackers surrounded the temporary absence of star pass-rusher Arden Key while he dealt with personal issues. Without Key, LSU had next-to-no game experience at the “buck” linebacker position. Meanwhile, Thompson and the other “field” linebackers were much lower on the LSU coaches’ list of concerns, especially since players at that position frequently come off the field when the Tigers shift to a nickel package with five defensive backs.

Thompson’s positional versatility should be a weapon that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda can exploit. At 225 pounds -- Thompson is aiming for 230 by the start of the season -- he’s big enough to take on blocks, but he’s also quick enough to blitz off the edge and utilize his coverage skills from his days in the secondary.

“I was faster back then,” Thompson said. “I was a little bit more fluid, but I can still move around.”

Thompson admits he still has to learn some finer points of the position after moving there in practice last year. Of course, he’ll have to shake off some rust too, since he hasn’t played in a game since the Tigers’ bowl win over Texas Tech at the end of the 2015 season.

However, the biggest issue he faces is getting to the starting line.

A knee injury suffered against Texas A&M in 2013 -- his third straight start at safety -- ended Thompson’s sophomore year and knocked him out of the entire next season. A preseason ankle injury last year cost him what he initially thought would be half of his fifth season -- it didn’t turn out that way.

“I was shooting for the Florida game, but I was never really ready, even on the back half of the season,” Thompson said. “So I just sat back and just said let me get to my sixth year. I practiced, but I couldn’t dress out for a game. I was never 100 percent.”

As he closes in on his 24th birthday in December, the veteran that some teammates call “Uncle Corey” has one final chance to end his college career the way he envisions.

“It feels good,” Thompson said. “I don’t really have to worry about trying to play it safe. I can just go all out.”