Middle Linebackers Get a Crazy Boost

The start of spring camp fielded a lot of new faces among the linebacker ranks. Most were walk-ons, while there was also USC transfer Uona Kaveinga and return missionary Aveni Leung-Wai. The group recently received a boost from a linebacker who missed the first part of spring practice but is now firmly in the mix.

At the start of spring camp, evaluating the middle linebackers resulted in an unfavorable diagnosis. The group performed as expected: inexperienced. Although Uona Kaveinga, who will be a major contributor, is still a year away from seeing the field, the middle linebackers have improved heading into the third week of spring camp.

"I feel like the middle linebackers are coming along really well," said Brandon Ogletree. "I feel like spring camp has really accelerated this position and our progression so far. Our first objective over spring is for this group to get all of our assignments down, and we'll work towards that while working on our execution and technique and all that other fun stuff. But the number one thing for us is for everyone to know their assignments and how they fit within those assignments, especially on passing downs against this offense. I think we've done a pretty good job of that over spring."

"The defense as a whole is getting better, and better as a first-team unit," said defensive end Vic So'oto. "We're getting guys running around more and knowing what do to within their positions."

Ogletree missed the first week of spring practice, and was relegated mostly to riding a stationary bike and working out. He only became fully involved with spring camp at the end of last week and the beginning of this week after recovering from surgery.

"I missed the first week and in the second week they kind of had me rotating in a little," said Ogletree. "The end of last week and the beginning of this week is really when I started all of my contact stuff. It was hard for me at first coming back because I got injured at the end of last season.

"I had groin surgery and so I was a little late coming back into spring camp. [My injury] happened about the middle of last season, so I played half the season hurt, but I feel good now. I don't know if I'm 100 percent, but I'm getting there. After spring camp I'll have the summer to get my legs back 100 percent going into fall camp being 100 percent healthy."

As Ogletree has returned to practices, he's seen his role on the team change.

"For me personally, last spring I was the one asking all the questions," said Ogletree. "Now everyone is asking me the questions. I've been in the program for a while now and I've had to really step up my game and be the one to take on more of a leadership role. That's what some of us older guys are trying to do by knowing our assignments and execute those assignments when the time comes."

"If you watch film or go back and watch film on him over last year, his man is always on the ground," said So'oto of Ogletree. "When he was playing on special teams last year, there was always a guy on the ground and it was his guy that tried to block him. The same consistency and intensity that you see him play on special teams he brings every play from the linebacker's position. I love when he's out here because he really gets me fired up and going crazy."

With Ogletree being more experienced with the defense, Coach Tidwell has moved him back and forth between the Mike and Buck linebacker positions.

"I'm playing Mike and Buck right now trying to be better at playing both positions," said Ogletree. "Right now I'm playing more the Mike linebacker position, but I am learning both positions because of depth issues. Also, if I can learn both I can help the younger guys who come along with me. I feel right now most of the stuff I'm doing is second nature to me."

"We're getting more consistent productivity from the linebackers now that he's come back," So'oto said. "He knows the defense really well and is really vocal out on the field. He brings that side of the game to practice and it really helps the defense during practice."

Ogletree has benefitted from learning not only from his Cougar coaches, but also some past players.

"Over the fall of last season, I really learned a lot from guys like Matt Bauman and Terrance Hooks," Ogletree said. "I spent a lot of time in the film room watching them and putting what they did well into my own game. Coach Tidwell and Coach Poppinga have really helped me and the other guys in this group progress. Last season I was fortunate enough to get reps in a few games. I got some of that experience a little bit and got some of that taste of blood in my mouth. I'm excited for this season so I can go out and play hard."

Ogletree playing with a taste for blood is something that So'oto has witnessed.

"Brandon is probably the most craziest guy on the team," said So'oto. "That guy is crazy because he gets the defensive mentality. He just gets it. When it's time to play defense and go out there and smack somebody, he's the one that wants to go smack them. He knows when it's time to not be somebody's friend, and when it's time to smack somebody he's the one that wants to do it. Then after that he wants to do it again. He fits in really well with our defensive mindset of being nasty. He just has that mentality and it's something that you can't really teach. It's something you're born with and he's been like that ever since he's been here. It's a great asset having someone like him on our defense."

"I would say the difference between this group and the group we had last year is we're having a lot of fun shutting down the offense," said Ogletree. "We take a lot of pride in competing against the offense and so far they haven't been able to keep up with us in spring. At the same time it works both ways. We're trying to give our offense a good look and make things harder on them to get them developed quicker over spring. I think overall it's been good for both sides of the ball, but the harder we play and the meaner we are, the better it will be for everyone. That's what I want to do."

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