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LSU seniors Corey Thompson, Tashawn Bower adapting to new roles at OLB

After spending the early part of his college career as the last line of defense at safety, LSU's Corey Thompson (23) will move to linebacker in new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme. AP Photo/John Bazemore

BATON ROUGE, La. -- When it comes to the pass coverage assignments at his new position, LSU outside linebacker Corey Thompson, a converted safety, has that part down pat.

Other parts of Thompson’s transition remain a work in progress.

"He was saying today, 'Man, linebacker’s not a joke,'" senior inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith chuckled after Thursday’s practice. "I was like, 'I told you. There’s a lot more hitting than back there at safety.' He’s pretty good at covering because he’s a safety. He’s just got to continue to work on the contact part of it and he’ll be fine. He looks good."

Thompson grinned and looked in Beckwith’s direction when informed of his fellow senior’s comments, but agreed that all the hitting at linebacker is a big change from playing in the secondary.

"In previous years, the safety always dropped down to the line of scrimmage and played contain or whatever, so it’s not really that much of a big adjustment," Thompson said. "But it’s kind of different when you’re always down there and you’re banging heads every play."

Adjustment has been a theme of the spring for LSU’s defense, which is adapting to new coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme. Under Aranda, a former safety like Thompson or former defensive end like Tashawn Bower might fit better as an outside linebacker than at their previous positions in LSU’s old 4-3 scheme under John Chavis and Kevin Steele.

Their body types and skill sets might be different, but Thompson and Bower are playing the "F" outside linebacker position under Aranda, which is somewhat like a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Where Thompson is adjusting to the physicality of his new role, Bower is getting used to standing up and occasionally playing coverage as opposed to starting each play with his hand on the ground and chasing down quarterbacks and running backs.

"He’s obviously physical, because he played defensive end," Beckwith said of Bower. "From what I’ve seen, he’s getting better with his coverage. He’s trying to get the hang of that. I think that’ll be the next step for him, the coverage part of it."

Bower said he occasionally dropped into coverage at end, but he knows he will do it more often at his new spot -- and it will take lots of work to perfect that skill.

"It’s not that big of a transition," Bower said. "The blocking stuff and playing the run, a lot of it’s the same. It’s just dropping and playing people [in] man [coverage] that you really have to get used to. It’s really not that bad. It’s just work you’ve got to do off the field to get used to it."

Both seniors seemed like strong candidates to shift to outside linebacker once LSU coach Les Miles brought Aranda and his 3-4 to the SEC in January. Bower and Arden Key could form a destructive pass-rushing tandem at the position, and playing linebacker has been an option for Thompson since this time a year ago.

He said he "finally gave in" this year, buying into the notion that a position change might offer a chance at extra playing time.

"[The coaches] brought it up to me like it would be a smart move if I did it," said Thompson, who started three of the last five games at safety last season. "I thought about it and I finally came up and said, 'All right, we’re moving to a 3-4. I probably should bump down to linebacker. I could see more playing time, too.'"

It could also help Thompson and Bower beyond this season as they learn new skills at linebacker. Of course they both have NFL aspirations, and if they can prove themselves as scheme-versatile players by doing something entirely new in 2015, that would only make them more attractive as pro prospects.

"I see a lot of safeties in the league and they drop down to the box and they stop the run and cover the tight end or whoever," Thompson said. "I was like, 'You know, this might not be a bad idea.' I saw [former LSU outside linebacker Deion Jones] last year, I’m a little bit bigger than [Jones], so I can do it.

"It goes back to versatility. People at the next level, when they see that, they’ll be like, 'OK, this guy’s valuable.' It’s good to be able to do two different things."