Position by Position: Linebackers

The Go Pokes Magazine Football Preview issue has been published. Subscribers to the magazine should be receiving the issue in the mail soon, but for those who don't subscribe they can purchase it at your favorite newsstand or convenience store.

A challenge that I have taken on each year is how to make what is a football preview staple, the position by position preview, more exciting and fresh other than what you see in most football preview magazines. In the past we have compared the Oklahoma State position groups to the best in the Big 12, the best all-time at OSU, and others.

This year we are comparing the 2008 team to the 2005 team, Mike Gundy's first squad, the one he mostly inherited. I am often asked, and I have heard Mike Gundy and his coaches often asked, how much better the program is talent-wise since Gundy took over? It is unscientific. Here is a preview of what we did.

We started with the offense, and have now moved on to the defense.

Linebackers
Star 20 Andre Sexton, 6-1, 210, Jr. SLB 12 Paul Duren, 6-1, 235, Sr.
24 Deron Fontenot, 5-10, 200, RS-Fr. 44 Jamar Ransom, 5-10, 230, Sr.

MLB 41 Orie Lemon, 6-1, 240, Jr. MLB 99 Lawrence Pinson, 6-1, 245, Sr.
42 Justin Gent, 6-2, 235, So. 2 Rodrick Johnson, 6-3, 255, So.

WLB 4 Patrick Lavine, 6-3, 255, Jr. WLB 41 Pagitte McGee, 6-1, 235, Sr.
53 Seb Clements, 6-1, 225, Sr. 35 Alex Odiari, 6-1, 225, Fr.

The greatest worry on defense entering the season is not defensive tackle and it is not safety, two positions that have caused their share of concern over the past several seasons. Linebacker has not been as much of a concern, even though at times it has been one of the youngest positions on the defensive side of the ball. It is a concern this season with just one returning starter at linebacker in Patrick Lavine. Andre Sexton is a returning starter, but he was a safety last season and now drops in at the "star" linebacker to take the place of the graduated Donovan Woods.

Defensive coordinator Tim Beckman has moved into coaching the linebackers and he isn't shy about his assessment of the situation.

"At linebacker we don't have a bunch of depth," said Beckman. "I'll tell you flat out that they are considered the weakness of the defense and last year I think our safeties were considered the weakness. In the end the safeties were playing pretty good, and the linebackers need to be better than what we are capable of doing right now, and that is my job as a coach to get them there."

The linebackers absolutely love their new position coach. "They love me and it was a learning curve for Orie (Lemon) because he was moving from outside to middle linebacker," said Beckman. "I'm going to push those guys and we have to find a legitimate linebacker."

Sexton is making the move from safety just like his predecessor Donovan Woods, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sexton is discovering that if you don't pay attention playing closer to the line of scrimmage an offensive lineman will steam roll you.

"I love it playing down there close to the line, getting to blitz more, fighting off linemen," said Sexton. "Just getting to be close to the line of scrimmage and making plays, I like that. I think we are just improving with more guys being physical. I think we have more speed at linebacker this year. We fly around and our defensive line causes more problems. We have to work on fundamentals and making tackles."

During spring the linebackers showed just enough to keep Beckman encouraged. There are two more linebackers arriving this summer in the form of junior college All-American Donald Booker out of Navarro Junior College in Texas and Talu Moala out of powerhouse El Camino Community College in California.

Both of those players will take aim at the middle linebacker spot held by Lemon. Nothing against the newcomers, but it was fun to watch the effort and the improvement of Lemon during the spring and it would be good to see him hang, but with Beckman judging it is the best man that wins. In this defense having a head start is a big advantage. Lavine should know.

"Orie is a big body inside with some speed and he is going to do a great job in the middle," said Lavine. "He will really help in there with his speed."

Comparison: This is one comparison where the 2005 group might come out ahead. The starting group of Paul Duren, Lawrence Pinson, Jamar Ransom and Pagitte McGee was solid with a total of 219 tackles. McGee would end up missing much of the season with injury. Ransom was a playmaker that Beckman would have liked as he had 99 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The difference is the star linebacker position which calls for more speed than any linebacker on the 2005 crew had. Still, the 2005 crew was more accomplished, and remember the defense that season was statistically the best during the Gundy era.

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