Spring Review: Linebackers

For four seasons the linebacker position has been a strength at Oklahoma State. From the time that Shaun Lewis stepped on the field as a freshman and made plays at the hybrid "star" linebacker position the Cowboys have counted on the likes of Lewis, Caleb Lavey, and eventually, a young Ryan Simmons to make plays. Others like Alex Elkins, Lyndell Johnson and Joe Mitchell have helped out as well.

The Cowboys fourth practice of the spring, and the second practice in full pads, had to be postponed and was made up on Friday, April 11.

The delay worked out well for the Cowboys, and made for a well-planned full week of physical practices that tested the young Cowboys and provided head coach Mike Gundy and his staff some answers they were seeking.

However, the reason for calling practice off was a few injuries at the linebacker position had left the Cowboys with too few healthy players to practice, even to go through drills.

How does that happen? It happens when you have a large senior class that includes stalwarts and long time starters Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, along with back-ups Joe Mitchell, Deion Imade and walk-on Steven Sumpter. Lyndell Johnson also left the squad due to "personal reasons." Demarcus Sherod is not actively taking part in spring due to rehab of an injury.

Walk-on Dillon Rake suffered a serious leg injury on the first practice in pads, and then two of the other remaining linebackers were also mildly injured which kept them from practicing. That left four linebackers, not enough to practice with.

The same thing occurred on the Saturday of the Orange Blitz curtailing the amount of scrimmage plays that the Cowboys could reasonably go through in front of the Boone Pickens Stadium crowd. Is it a concern? It has to be.

Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has to be calculating in his mind where the linebackers he needs on the field next fall are going to come from. From his view on the field veteran Ryan Simmons sees names and numbers but knows the finished product will come in August.

"As far as going out and just running the plays, that's the same level as last year," Simmons said. "Guys (now) haven't really made a name for themselves yet. People are going to want to be out there, but as far as knowing each other, knowing the plays and being on the same bench, it's going to take some time."

Realizing that Spencer will have the final say and is a lot more qualified to come up with the answers than we are, here's a guess at how things may look in the fall.

The one known before the start of spring was Simmons. Originally a middle linebacker when he arrived from Texas high school champion Cibolo Steele, the 6-0, 235-pound Simmons backed up Lavey and then last season moved to the weak side linebacker spot. Through last season he has soaked up plenty from the very high football IQ Lavey.

"I've learned a lot from Caleb, like how to watch film and how to look for tendencies from the offense, from the quarterback," Simmons explained. "Caleb is a very smart football player, and I like to think I am too. I expect from myself to be able to keep that going at the middle linebacker position."

Simmons is a little rangier than Lavey and OSU fans have always admired the way he's capable of covering ground. Simmons stays healthy and that is a good sign for the linebackers in the fall.

Two players that will also seemingly help a bunch are veteran Kris Catlin and newcomer from junior college Devante Averette.

This spring Catlin has been exactly what you want out of a veteran player who has lettered twice. The 6-1, 225-pound junior has played both the middle and weak-side linebacker positions and has been around the ball a lot.

Averette (6-0, 235) was nicked up a little toward the end of spring but before that the All-American out of Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College showed he could play. He really has a chance to be darn good as he has a knack for being around the ball and coming up with turnovers, a highly appreciated trait by Spencer.

Sherod will be back in the fall and he has proven he can contribute, and Dominic Ramacher has made strides as well.

At the "star" position it was Seth Jacobs getting more and more experience throughout the spring. Jacobs was recruited to play that position and he certainly has improved.

The problem is that right now he is really the only one the Cowboys have for one of the most key positions on the defense. Jacobs is 6-2, 220 and athletic, but the hope is that All-American junior college safety D'Nerius Antoine of Trinity Valley can come in and help at that position.

The possibility exists that Michigan "super senior" transfer Josh Furman might land at the star, and Antoine could then play safety. The hope is one will be at one position and that the other can help with the very young safety position.

The Cowboys need more depth at the middle and weak side linebacker positions. That may have to come in the form of freshmen like Josh Mabin, Gyasi Akem, Jordan Phillips, or even Jordan Brailford. It will be an August proposition.

"It's kind of whatever's out there," Spencer said at the end of spring practice. "If it's the guys that are here now, we'll get it done with them. If we get some extra help, that would be great too."

Either way, linebacker is looking good because the players on campus are more than capable and getting better. But it is also a major concern as there are not enough linebackers in total.

That is the kind of issue that can keep a defensive coordinator from sleeping soundly on summer nights. I'm guessing Spencer might be dreaming of that extra help.

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