“We are gonna dominate them, I am very confident in what we got.”
Those were some very strong words from LSU linebacker Patrick Queen leading into their Peach Bowl matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Especially, coming from a guy who is otherwise known as the quiet, reserved type. While it was only his 15th start in 40 games, Queen had the confidence of a four-year starter. And why wouldn’t he? He had been preparing for his moment to shine since his father Dwayne Queen “raised him to God and said, ‘Lord, I know he’s destined to be an LSU Tiger.’”
Dwayne was a former football player at Nicholls State so he understood what it was going to take to get his son into the Purple and Gold. Patrick was tested physically by his father at a young age. Dwayne started his son out in basketball at age 5 and then football and baseball at age 7. Basketball was the first sport introduced because, according to Dwayne, it was “easier to pick up and could build up his confidence.”
Once Patrick’s confidence was built up, the next two sports were meant to “build up his son’s hand eye coordination, footwork and lateral movement.” At times Dwayne even had his son out on the Mississippi River levee pulling a sled three times a week, sometimes even with a 25-pound weight. Those training moments helped him “become coordinated in everything he did” according to Queen’s father, including running a 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. It also helped Queen develop quicker than most kids his age, but that’s not all it shaped.
Those grueling sessions along the levee strengthened his mind as well, they shaped a mental toughness that he would need years later in Baton Rouge.
In high school, Queen was a four-year starter at linebacker and running back and garnered all-state honors after racking up 1,487 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. He flirted with other schools but he seemed to develop a rapport with LSU’s defensive guru Dave Aranda during the wooing stage of his recruitment. Each school had their own thoughts on what position he should play, but once former LSU head coach Les Miles offered him a scholarship, Patrick didn’t care.
Once in Baton Rouge, Queen had to remain patient just like he had to in high school to earn the starting running back role. He was now stuck behind the future fifth overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft in linebacker Devin White. Once White was drafted, Queen’s opportunity was in front of him, so he thought. But, head coach Ed Orgeron didn’t just hand it to Queen, he opened up the all-important rover position to competition. Queen was crushed, he felt like he had bide his time and paid his dues. How did he respond? By walking into his coaches office and asking “what can I do to get better?”
Stopping the run
“Playing the run” was Orgeron’s response. In limited reps, Queen racked up 40 total tackles and five tackles for loss his sophomore season, but there were too many instances of blown run fits or the inability to shed blocks. Though, it is to be expected seeing as how he was learning multiple linebacker positions and in a limited amount of reps in Aranda’s complex defense.
Queen reflected on advice from White saying that “his best friend would become the film room” and that he needed to be more vocal. White told him “you can’t be scared to talk, you can’t be scared to lead.” So, Queen committed to growing in these areas. He set time aside each week to study film in the offseason, specifically of Texas A&M and Alabama.
And once the season was underway, you could see the fruits of his labor.
Queen didn’t start until the fourth game of the year against Vanderbilt but it was the fifth game against Utah State that teammate Breiden Fehoko told me to go watch because that was the game he “really blew it up.”
Below, you see Queen (No. 8) communicating the defensive play call to his teammates, but it’s what happens post-snap that has become his calling card. Aggies quarterback Jordan Love hands the ball off as two linemen pull from the backside on a gap run. Queen reads it and quickly leverages the ball across the formation and escorts the running back out of bounds. The rate at which he processed the run and scraped across the formation looked effortless.
Fehoko shared that in LSU’s defense “if you aren’t a smart linebacker you won’t last long.” This is why attaching to Aranda’s hip this season was an intelligent decision by Queen. The line of communication was strong between the two and the answers Queen had been getting from his coach helped him on the field.
He began to pick up on opponents’ tendencies. There probably isn’t a much better example of this than when Queen called out the speed option against Florida.
“When they got into that formation I knew what was coming,” Queen said. “They kept overloading one side and running to that side, so when the running back was on the other side I knew what play they wanted.”
Defending option plays is all about assignment football. One defender has to account for the quarterback and one defender has to take the pitch-man. K’Lavon Chaisson stated that Queen “let me know he’d shut the pitch down and I would have the quarterback.”
Watch how Queen is able to stay over top of the blocker in order to eliminate the pitchman.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 12, 2020
Which is why I am not sure why Clemson tested Chaisson and Queen again in the final game of the season. Just another instance of diagnosing the play and leveraging the ball.
Assignment football🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/UtgQ1IuoSs
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 14, 2020
Queen is one of the fastest processors in this draft class. Oklahoma tries quick-snapping the ball after motion in an attempt to muddy up the post-snap processing of the defense. But as the guard and tackle pull to the defense’s left, Queen lets them take him to the ball. He comes to balance in the hole and then strikes to minimize the gain.
Queen turned a perceived weakness into a strength in a single offseason. Just imagine what he could do once he is getting starter practice and game reps.
He suffocates opponents’ run games. Here, the Sooners try to throw some eye candy his way with jet action across the formation, but Queen isn’t buying it. He gets a good look at the ball, then the double team in front of him and he sniffs out the concept. This time Chaisson (No. 18) is spilling the play wide to Queen by slanting inside to take on the blocker.
Queen has to get to the edge to disrupt the play before it can get started and he does just that. He doesn’t let the run come to him, he is proactive and that is why he had 1.5 tackles for loss this game and 12 in 2019.
Queen told me that even though he is now 6’1″, 227 pounds, he still expects to run in the 4.4 seconds range in the 40-yard dash. It’s that type of speed that allows him to be a sideline to sideline linebacker when his defensive coordinator prefers to ‘spill’ runs rather than ‘box’ them like we saw on previous runs.
His athleticism was so coveted, that Aranda made him responsible for two gaps against some formations. On this play, Queen admitted that he took a couple false steps to his left because he was responsible for the backside A-gap. But he has the speed to erase that minor mistake, stay over the top of the pulling guard and still track the ball carrier down for a two-yard loss.
The Ventress, Louisiana, native understands how offenses want to attack the Tigers defense. Below, the Sooners motion an H-back into the backfield and attempt to run an ISO concept on Queen. What can be so difficult with this formation is that the H-back not only creates an extra gap that has to be accounted for, but that gap moves as the offensive player does. So, Queen must process the run blocking up front and his teammates’ reactions to it. But, he must also track where the H-back is going to insert all while tracking the ball itself. On the snap, he remains just outside the H-back, sees the guard and center execute the typical ISO blocking, gets downhill in great position to defeat the block and takes away the entry point for the running back. It’s almost like playing running back helped him stay ahead of the offense.