Spring Football Preview: Linebackers

This is a series of previews by position that will continue throughout the week as we approach the start of spring football at Oklahoma State on March 5.

This position starts out with minimal personnel movement but depending on how certain players look there could be some adjustments made on the fly throughout spring. Most changes, if any, would likely occur before the spring break in the middle of spring practice.

One switch already made was Zach Carter's move to fullback on the offensive side. The real "X" factor will be the performance and development of redshirt freshman Justin Gent.

The goal is always to get the best three players on the field, but heading into spring two of the apparent best linebackers are at the same position (outside linebacker). As freshmen Chris Collins and Patrick Lavine were better than you could realistically expect. Collins became the top playmaker in the defense in the first five games before going down with an ACL knee injury in the sixth game at Kansas. That is when Lavine picked up his game as the former high school safety ended up as the second leading tackler on the team. Lavine improved each week during the second half of the season.

Collins has done an excellent job in rehab following his knee surgery and has been doing drills and working almost full capacity in the off-season program. Collins will be back for spring but will be limited on physical contact. The coaching staff knows he will hit and that he can tackle. Lavine will man that outside backer spot in the spring.

Returning Independence Bowl Defensive MVP Jeremy Nethon will line up as the starter at the other outside backer position and is backed up by Alex Odiari. Nethon played his best game to date against Alabama in Shreveport and gives the Cowboys speed and experience at that position.

At middle linebacker is senior and three-year starter Rodrick Johnson. Johnson was the third-leading tackler on the defense, but the coaching staff expect more plays made downhill rather than four, five, or six- ards downfield. Johnson will be backed up by Marcus Brown, who earned his first start in the bowl game.

Gent is a tremendously strong player that proved in some of the pre-bowl scrimmage for the younger players that he knows how to tackle. His performance could allow the coaching staff the luxury of making moves. If Gent seems suited for the middle then Johnson or Brown are both big enough to be tried at defensive end. If Gent is better outside then Odiari has the speed to become a pass-rush specialist. Remember, Odiari was a speedy nose tackle in high school at Lewisville Hebron before coming to OSU.

Orie Lemon and Seb Clements are two other linebackers that will get good looks. Clements was on the verge of playing more last year before a bad ankle sprain sidelined him for a good chunk of the season. Lemon played quarterback and fullback last season before settling in at linebacker the last half of the season.

Two strong feelings here -- it will be tough when the season rolls around not to have both Collins and Lavine on the field at the same time, and the more speed the better in defending all the multiple offenses now run in the Big 12. You can also expect a heavy emphasis on tackling this spring. The linebackers should love that.

2007 Spring Projected Linebackers Depth Chart

19 Jeremy Nethon, Sr., 6-0, 220, Beggs, Okla.
36 Alex Odiari, Jr., 6-0, 235, Lewisville (Hebron), Texas
41 Orie Lemon, So., 6-1, 225, Houston (Yates), Texas

2 Rodrick Johnson, Sr., 6-3, 250, Galveston (Ball), Texas
35 Marcus Brown, Jr., 6-2, 240, Hepzibah, Ga./Air Force
53 Seb Clements, Jr., 6-1, 230, Sangar, Texas

4 Patrick Lavine, So., 6-2, 225, Houston (Jersey Village), Texas
44 Chris Collins, So., 6-2, 235, Texarkanna (Texas), Texas
42 Justin Gent, RS Fr., 6-2, 225, Irving (MacArthur), Texas

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