Cowboys Depth In Focus: Linebackers

There were plenty of people having fun Saturday night at the Oklahoma State Posse Auction. Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer and his wife Jeannine had no sooner walked in the door when they were informed there was a framed picture at one of the bid boards they needed to bid on. It was titled "Defensive Huddle" and featured last year's defense with Spencer standing in the middle.

Spencer will tell you the best thing about that photo is that almost all of those guys are back for the 2015 season. In fact, thanks to what Spencer kind of characterized as a "perfect storm," the Cowboys have gone from experienced depth bare to having a wealth of experienced depth at positions like cornerback and the position the defensive coordinator coaches, linebackers.

"We were so thin last season that we had to play a lot of young players and now they are back, some of our veterans like Ryan Simmons and Seth Jacobs are back, and then we had a number of transfers that have turned out to be really solid players," Spencer detailed on the microphone during the pre-auction festivities.

"Devante Averette had to take a medical redshirt with his knee. Kris Catlin is back. We have a lot of players, and maybe Ryan Simmons and Seth (Jacobs) won't have to play some 1,200 snaps this season. This group hasn't done anything yet, so we have to stay on top of them, but there is more depth than we've ever had."

Only two of those players, three-season starting middle linebacker Simmons and Catlin, are seniors. Another transfer in former Cal freshman Chad Whitener has shown he is good to go at middle linebacker and could be the guy for that important position for the future.

Whitener's presence, as Spencer said, will keep Simmons fresher and that should lead to him making more plays and more big plays like turnovers. The linebackers have bought into the theme for the season, #we'retakingitback.

"It means a lot. We're taking it back as far as what we did in the past," Simmons said. "We were No. 1 in the country in turnovers in 2011, and we lacked in that category last year. We pressed the issue in practice throughout the whole spring. We tried to get five turnovers a day, sometimes we got nine. It's always good to get rewarded for a work when it comes down to game time."

Simmons is a very serious guy and he badly wants his senior season to be one well worth remembering. He feels that was set up pretty well, like most Oklahoma State fans feel, by the finish to last season.

"It was just the way we finished. The last two games we beat OU at their place and we won the bowl game," Simmons explained. "I've been here long enough. It's something that's always on my mind. We want to put ourselves in the best situation. With a lot of freshman on the team, we wanted to have those kind of games where we finished the right way. They can play hard and fast. There's not a whole lot of indecisiveness, so it's always good to finish the way we did last year."

One of those freshmen, maybe the hardest hitting of those young linebackers is Justin Phillips. Phillips will be a key player in the depth at linebacker. Players like Phillips and the addition of junior college transfer Jordan Burton (shown above) at the "star" linebacker make the situation, in short, plentiful at linebacker.

"It was great because I got a feel for the game and a feel for the speed," Phillips said of getting to play last season as a true freshman. "The chances when I did get to get in there I tried to make something happen. I tried to make a couple of plays.

"In the Bedlam game when, unfortunately, someone went down, I was the next man up, so that was a good feel for it to see what it's really like."

The defense is deep and talented, although you know that Spencer will keep it in check through the summer and make sure he keeps his defenders, including linebackers, humble and hungry heading into the fall.

People like me will continue to brag on the situation. In doing my job, here is how I see the deep, talented but still young linebacker corps heading into the fall:
Star Linebacker
20 Jordan Burton, 6-3, 215, Jr.-Tr., Kilgore J.C./Stephen F. Austin/Longview, Texas
19 Justin Phillips, 6-0, 220, So., Pearland, Texas
9 Gyasi Akem, 6-1, 215, So., Broken Arrow, Okla.
12 Kirk Tucker, 6-2, 205, So., Tucker, Ga.

Middle Linebacker
52 Ryan Simmons, 6-0, 240, Sr., Cibolo (Steele), Texas
45 Chad Whitener, 6-1, 240, So., California/Mansfield, Texas
50 Josh Mabin, 6-2, 235, RS-Fr., Houston (Klein Oak), Texas
32 Kris Catlin, 6-1, 230, Sr., San Antonio (Madison), Texas

Weak-side Linebacker
10 Seth Jacobs, 6-2, 225, Jr., Arroyo Grande, Calif.
40 Devante Averette, 6-0, 230, Jr., Ellsworth C.C., Iowa/Melvindale, Mich.
32 Kris Catlin, 6-1, 230, Sr., San Antonio (Madison), Texas
47 Brian Ciszewski, 5-11, 210, Flower Mound (Marcus), Texas

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