A year in, LSU linebacker Michael Divinity is working to fix a problem area last season

Michael Divinity wrote his goal for the 2017 football season in capital letters.

Michael Divinity wrote his goal for the 2017 football season in capital letters.

He even scribbled an asterisk next to it:

“I GOT TO BE MORE PHYSICAL.*”

Divinity’s freshman season last year was an awakening of sorts for the LSU sophomore and former John Ehret High standout. He knows now he must be bigger, stronger and more aggressive in the nation’s toughest college football conference.

It was his “No. 1 goal” on a list of offseason objectives that outside linebackers coach Dennis Johnson asked each of his players to create.

The path to that goal began this offseason and continues during preseason camp. Divinity is up to 246 pounds, for example. He arrived at LSU last summer at 218.

But weight gain is only a piece of the puzzle. He’s getting stronger in the weight room, too, and growing smarter in the meeting room. It’s about being free mentally, Divinity said, “instead of sitting there and thinking too much on the field.”

Divinity’s role this season is still uncertain, nearly two weeks through the Tigers’ three-week preseason camp. His position, the F-outside linebacker, isn’t on the field too often. The position exits when the Tigers insert a fifth defensive back, the nickel. LSU plays nickel “85 percent” of the time, coach Ed Orgeron recently said.

Last year, Divinity rotated with Tashawn Bower at the position, playing significantly against power running teams like Wisconsin and Arkansas and seeing no snaps, for instance, against pass-heavy spread teams like Missouri and Southern Miss.

His competition at the spot this season seems stronger, despite the departure of Bower. Sixth-year senior Corey Thompson, out last year with a knee injury, is working there as he continues to fight through injury issues. Divinity’s biggest challenge, though, might come from a redshirt freshman.

Ray Thornton, a Texas native who sat out last year, is working with the first string, bouncing back and forth from the F-outside linebacker spot to the edge rusher position normally occupied by Arden Key.

“I take every day day-by-day and step-by-step and working on the things I have to fix,” Divinity said. “I’m competing every day. Whenever that time comes, it’s Coach’s decision on who’s going to be that starting linebacker.”

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Down, but not out

In his quest to do everything he can to vie for a starting spot after moving from cornerback to safety late last season, LSU senior Ed Paris wasn’t about to be slowed by an injury early in camp.

While he couldn’t talk about the injury or say how much practice time he missed, Paris said Thursday he’s “100 percent physically and mentally” after working extensively in the training room as well as the meeting room.

“When you get hurt, it’s hard for guys to stay in touch with the game. But I think I did a tremendous job staying in touch,” he said. “Even when I was hurt, once I was done with treatment, I’d go outside and watch practice. And, of course, I was still in all of our meetings, taking notes.”

But that wasn’t all. Paris said when he had spare time after lunch, he would go up to the coaches’ meetings and take notes to make sure he was keeping up with everything.

“Even though I missed reps, I didn’t miss any mental reps,” he said. “I took notes and everything, and still grasped every little thing like I was out there on the field. It’s just about being there and working on being the best I can be.”

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“(Defensive line coach) Pete Jenkins is teaching him techniques he’s never heard of,” Orgeron said this week. “He’s destroyed some blocks in there. Very strong.”

Fehoko, a Texas Tech transfer who must sit out this year to adhere to NCAA transfer policy, would be part of the two-deep depth chart if he were eligible, Orgeron said. The 6-3, 298-pounder left the Red Raiders in the spring, hoping to expand his knowledge of the game in Baton Rouge.

In an interview in April, Fehoko said he hoped Orgeron and Jenkins could improve his technique and develop his fundamentals to help him reach the NFL.

So far, he has been “beyond our expectations,” Orgeron said. “Great kid. I ain’t seen him get tired yet.”

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