The heart of the Oklahoma State defense is usually found on the second level, the linebackers. For one, the system that defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer uses puts a lot of the pressure to know the defense and now the opponent on the middle linebacker. In the past, players like Caleb Lavey and Ryan Simmons have had that responsibility and now it rests with Chad Whitener and he does return. However, the defense also thrives with the “ace” playmaker in the “star” linebacker and one of the better ones for Spencer in Jordan Burton has graduated. Weak-side linebacker Devante Averette has also graduated. That duo did make a number of plays. They had too, because in the Big 12 you have to defend a number of plays, a high number, and Spencer took some time in the off-season to get some information out there defending his players and the defenses of the Big 12 as a whole. He felt the defense needed some defending against national media that like to say that defense isn’t played in the Big 12.
“It does, and the sad part of it is that I have to generate that,” Spencer said of the internet propaganda he had help with from the Cowboys web designers. “Nobody else is out there is noticing that. I always want to take up for my kids and they played well, a lot this year, played against the most explosive big play offenses in the nation and we do that every year. Nobody else will try to get those facts out. The agenda is set and people are going to listen to whatever is out there, and I need to help our kids out and let them know their butts are on the line for 17 or 18 series a game and 80-100 plays a game. Then the national contenders have a game like that and to the media it is revolutionary that the offense is out there trying to keep the defense on the field for so long. I’m like, ‘hey buddy, try doing that for 8-10 weeks out of the year and see how you like it.’ We put that out and that is for recruiting. For those recruits, so they know, the ones we’re getting hammered on, these national kids, so they know we play defense in the Big 12 and we have to do it against the most explosive offenses in the country.”
Now, Spencer needs to reload his linebacker corps. Whitener, who defended a lot of plays last season won’t have to do much physically in the spring as he will be mentally worked but physically saved for the fall. Justin Phillips will get lots of work there and you can expect to see plenty of junior college transfer and NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year from Western Arizona Patrick Macon. At the star position there is Kirk Tucker and last year’s freshman Calvin Bundage, who ended up playing a bunch and got good grades for his efforts. That said, Spencer is always looking for the best combination.
“I might make a couple of moves to make us better,” the defensive coordinator said. “I’m always about working to get our best 11 (players) on the field, and how that best 11 could be different in different situations. There’ll be a couple of guys we might move around a little bit, in order to best see how we can get that best 11 on the field. Some of that is going to take place.”
One of those moves will be at the star position as Kenneth Edison-McGruder, who worked some there last spring is going to be back there. He is a big-time hitter that would be much more effective closer to the line of scrimmage than back at safety. This could be a home run move.
There is also Gyasi Akem and Kevin Henry that will be featured at the weak-side linebacker. The fun will be in some of the red-shirt freshmen as Amen Ogbongbemiga, the Canadian standout; Devin Harper; along with talented walk-ons like Zach Smith and Rashawn Parker get plenty of reps and chances to prove what they can do to pitch in. There is also a true freshman, an athletic sensation in former Forney Jackrabbit Brendan Vaughn that will be out there as well.
Expect linebacker to be one of the more interesting areas during spring football. Fortunately, there are plenty of options and there should be plenty of opportunities to see which options will work best in the fall. This is not a position group waiting on a fall arrival or a fifth-year graduate transfer.