HOOVER, Ala. -- How good is Kendell Beckwith?
“I think he can be as good as there is,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I really do. I think he’ll play in the NFL for a number of years.
“He’s a big, fast, violent linebacker. He is legitimately a talented man, and he’s very bright and very rounded. He’s not a guy that’s going to be eating too much or out at night. He’s going to be just what you want.”
Beckwith, a junior linebacker at LSU, emerged as one of the team’s top defenders last season with 77 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. But that was just the beginning. This year, he’s already being tabbed as not just one of the best linebackers at LSU but as one of the best in the entire conference.
At the league’s media days earlier this month, he was selected as a member of the second-team defense on the preseason all-SEC team.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized as one of the best,” Beckwith said. “That’s the goal. I would hate to come to college and someone gives me a scholarship to be average. I would want to be one of the top players. But I’m humbled by it.”
It almost didn’t happen. Or at least not the way Beckwith had planned.
As a freshman in 2013, Beckwith was playing defensive end for LSU. The coaches were trying to find ways to get him on the field and so they experimented with him up front. In a game against Florida, he sacked the quarterback on fourth down late to help preserve a 17-6 victory. It was his first real impact at the college level, and it made the coaches consider keeping him at end long term.
The only problem was Beckwith wanted to play linebacker. That’s where he played in high school, and that’s where he felt the most comfortable. After the season, he sat down with Miles and the other coaches and they mutually agreed to move him back to his natural position in 2014.
“I was ready to get back,” Beckwith said. “I give a lot of respect to the defensive linemen because I see what it’s like to go against linemen every play. That’s not an easy job at all. I give them the utmost respect.
“I just felt like it wasn’t the position for me, not at that particular time. I felt like I was more of a linebacker, and I always have wanted to play linebacker.”
The move back clearly paid off. By Week 7, Beckwith was LSU’s starting middle linebacker. He earned SEC defensive player of the week honors for his 11-tackle performance in a 10-7 win over Ole Miss, and he played a key role down the stretch for a unit that led the conference in total defense.
As the new season approaches, Beckwith is quickly becoming the face of this defense.
Sure, there are other notable playmakers on LSU’s defense -- Miles called fellow linebacker Deion Jones one of the fastest players on the team while the secondary is loaded with the likes of Jalen Mills, Jamal Adams and Tre'Davious White -- but Beckwith wants to be the guy. He embraces it.
"I accept that responsibility," he said. "It makes me work that much harder."
And based on what his coach told ESPN.com at media days, Beckwith will indeed play a major role for the Tigers this fall.
“He is going to be the big dog," Miles said. "He’s going to direct and get to a lot of plays.”