09/19/15 LSU Football vs. Auburn

LSU senior linebacker Deion Jones (45) congratulates junior linebacker Kendell Backwith (52) after a tackle during the Tigers' 45-21 victory against Auburn on Saturday, Sept.19, 2015, in Tiger Stadium.

In the middle of the No. 8 LSU football team’s defensive nickel scheme, a pair of ‘M’s’ race sideline to sideline — the Mac and the Money.

For a team that has given up the third-least amount of rushing yards per game in the Southeastern Conference thus far, the Mac and the Money linebackers might be the two most important positions on the Tiger defense.

The Mac, junior Kendell Beckwith, and the Money, senior Deion Jones, established themselves as a speedy and instinctive force to be reckoned with.

In the nickel defense, which isn’t the Tigers’ base defense, the Mac’s normal responsibility is the area in the true middle of the field and reads the center’s movements to know if it’s a run or pass play. The Money covers a little more ground in both run and pass situations but still has responsibilities depending on the call.

Most knew Beckwith’s capabilities, who stepped into a starting role halfway through last season and finished second on team in total tackles. But after waiting three seasons to command a starting role, Jones hasn’t wasted the opportunity, leading the Tigers with 20 total tackles to combine with Beckwith for 35.

Though they are starting in tandem for the first time, the chemistry is already obvious.

“We kind of know each other’s strengths and know how each other operates out there,” Jones said. “If I miss to call something, he’ll call it, or I’ll call it for him just to make sure. We just kind of make sure everything is together between us.”

Jones has been impressive in the stat column, but he isn’t perfect, making an inexcusable mistake Saturday.

Jones launched his body at Auburn junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson after he let go of a pass late in the fourth quarter, drawing a targeting call that ejected him from the game and suspended him from the first half of this weekend’s matchup at Syracuse.

The New Orleans native said he wouldn’t purposely harm an opposing player, but the play leaves an open space at the Money position for at least the first 30 minutes against the Orangemen (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference). But the starting decision, which is likely between senior linebacker Lamar Louis and junior linebacker Duke Riley, is still up in the air.

Because all the linebackers are capable of playing both positions in the nickel, Louis said defensive coordinator Kevin Steele made it known that performance in practice will determine who’s on the field each week, not just against Syracuse.

“It’s kind of like what Ohio State got going on with their quarterbacks,” Louis said. “We’re getting the same amount of reps in practice. [Steele] is bringing an NFL-type feel to our defense, and it’s good. It’s a lot more competitive, and it’s bringing good things out of us.”

Whether it’s Louis or Riley, both are comfortable playing with Beckwith, whose infectious personality makes the game even more fun for the linebacker corps, Riley said.

“Kendell [Beckwith] is one of my best friends,” Riley said. “Being in with him, or whenever I’m in with him, is just like playing next to your brother.”

You can reach James Bewers on Twitter @JamesBewers_TDR.

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