In addition to the loss of Lemon, seniors Justin Gent and Tolu Moala also finished their eligibility in 2010. Even though that experience and leadership is now gone, the time they spent teaching Lavey and the other young guns at linebacker is about to pay dividends.
Junior college transfer Alex Elkins, sophomores Shaun Lewis and Lavey are slotted to man the linebacking spots entering the 2011 season, with Lewis' six career starts being the total for the three. While experience isn't a strong suit for the unit, athleticism and work ethic has been — something they saw in action from Lemon and Co. Quarterback Brandon Weeden said he has faith in the group to mature and produce right out of the gates.
"It's no secret, we're obviously young at linebacker but I think Elkins, Lavey and Lewis are solid at what they do," Weeden said. "I think maybe they're not getting the respect they deserve because of the other strengths on this team but I'm excited for them."
Lavey, who totaled 10 tackles in nine games last season because he was slowed by an injury to start the year, is being thrust into the most difficult situation of the three at the vital middle linebacker spot. Lavey, however, shares Weeden's optimism because of the unity within the group.
"One of the things I feel about this linebacker group - last year there was a big age difference with Orie and Justin and Tolu and Kenny Alexander and all them - with the linebacker group this year, I feel like we're a really close group. We're like a family," Lavey said. "We're together every day and we hang together after. I love that about our linebacker group right now. We're young, but we're pushing each other and we're competing every day in practice. Coach Spencer's got us working hard."
As for how Lavey's feels about stepping into a leadership role, it's something he knows will come with time.
"Being the middle linebacker, as well as any spot on defense, you have to be a leader to your position group. Leadership is very important," Lavey said. "I'm working on a lot of different things right now. I have to get faster. I have to become a more vocal leader, so right now I'm just working on improving everything."
When asked if he was getting comfortable in his role, his response embodied the aspects of a leader in training.
"(In) each day's practice I'm competing," Lavey said. "I never want to get comfortable because that means I'm not pushing myself to get better."
And as far as getting better is concerned, nobody on the team knows more about Lavey's growth than senior defensive end Jamie Blatnick.
"Caleb, I mean Caleb and I went to the same high school in Celina, Texas, and he played linebacker for me my senior year twice now," Blatnick said. "I know people are like, ‘well, I don't know if he's going to be able to do it?' He can — he always pulls it off.
"He's gotten more physical. In his first year here last year, he was kind of one of those guys — we were used to Orie, and when you're used to Orie, there's a big difference between him and Caleb. There's a big difference in the way they play but all that matters is they get the guy down and they do what they're supposed to do and Caleb does a fantastic job with that, especially with his increased physicality. I think if he puts on a little more weight he'll be even better but he's great as it is."
While Lavey's natural progression from high school to now is expected, if his growth is as exponential as has been indicated in fall camp, he'll make an immediate impact on the defense. While at Celina, Lavey was offered by Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, TCU, Penn State and Miami, among others as a top 100 player in Texas as a senior.
Lavey's ability to learn from a player like Lemon for a season has only strengthened an already stout pedigree, and Blatnick said people will like what they see out of Lavey and the young linebackers in 2011.
"I don't doubt any of those guys' abilities or there heart; we're going to be better than just fine (at linebacker)," Blatnick said. "If people had watched the camp that I watched, they'd feel like I do. I'm very excited about Caleb and our linebackers."