BF.C Fall Camp Preview: Linebackers

CORVALLIS - One of the more intriguing fall camp storylines can be found at middle linebacker. Will Joel Skotte be the man? What about all the other LBs chomping at the bit for playing time? SAM D.J. Alexander and WIL Michael Doctor are both starting locks and solid – but can the same be said for the two deeps? BF.C delves into the linebacker situation for Oregon State with fall camp drawing near.

When I take a look at the OSU defense, there are two elephants in the room.

One is the looming defensive tackle situation, where Oregon State has two JUCO transfers, who have never played a down of Pac-12 football, atop the depth chart. The other pachyderm, and it's intertwined to the DT position, is at the middle linebacker spot.

If OSU turns out to have issues on the interior d-line, the responsibility for any missed assignments and improper tackles will undoubtedly fall on the starting linebacker squad that currently consists of Michael Doctor, Joel Skotte and D.J. Alexander, and most of the time on Skotte.

The Starters
As a senior, Doctor is the most well-rounded ‘backer OSU has at their disposal. He led the Beavs in tackles in 2012, with 83 total (44 solo) and was No. 2 in tackles-for-loss with 11. He can play both weak and strong side assignments and is a great overall athlete.

Speed is the name of his game, yet strength is by no means absent.

Alexander has the speed of a defensive back -- see the Wisconsin game where Alexander was stride for stride with a wide receiver down the sideline.

The junior learns fast, plays faster and manages to use his 6-2, 230 pound frame to squeeze past blockers and create disruption in the backfield.

Then there is Skotte, the 6-2, 229 pound sophomore who leads the pack at the middle linebacker spot. Is he ready to assume that role on a team that relies heavily on the MIK to put dents in opposing defenses?

Well, in my opinion -- Yes, but...

The thought of a MLB at 229 pounds is a little disconcerting.

When I think starting middle backer – even in the vastly changing landscape that is the size vs. speed paradigm in college football – I think big, meaty lane-stuffers who are still light enough on their feet to stop a drag route here and there. Essentially, I think of a guy built like Feti Unga, who stood at 6-2, 248 and had biceps the size of small livestock.

Skotte is simply a different breed of defender. He's more mobile and a little better suited to defend against the pass than the run.

Still, from this chair, the sophomore is indeed the most solid option at the MIK for the Beavs.

He maintained that position all spring long and saw some extensive individualized attention from linebackers coach Trent Bray during the 15-practice session.

Skotte thinks well on his feet and his decent speed means he's rarely out of position. As much as Skotte's size relative to MIK's of the past may lend cause for concern, he wraps up well.

An issue he might face is when he is expected to put a dent in power runners who get going downhill. And here's where OSU's lack of experienced d-tackles might be most apparent.

Fall camp, which starts on Aug. 5, will be critical for the Beavs to work out the kinks here.

DESPITE THE NOTION that Skotte has the starting MIK job pretty well in hand, I won't rule out Josh Williams.

The 6-1, 230-pounder is a solid option as a No.2 behind Skotte and he should provide some healthy competition for the role in fall camp.

Williams was consistently seeing reps with the 2's in the spring, and he looked best defending the run.

Despite being a virtual push with Skotte in height and weight, it's packaged differently -- Williams appears stockier in person. He takes up just a little more space on the field than Skotte – will he use fall to his advantage and create a real battle for the starting gig? We're only a few short weeks away from beginning to find out.

ELSEWHERE ON THE ‘backer front, Caleb Saulo and Jabral Johnson saw a good amount of time backing up Alexander and Doctor during the month of April.

Johnson is a junior with quality speed and awareness and was a fixture at SAM with the 2's. Johnson is expected to increase his rotation play at linebacker in 2013 after notching three tackles in eight games played during the 2012 regular season.

Saulo is a redshirt freshman whom the coaching staff seems pretty high on – he is the lightest linebacker in the unit at 225 pounds but he's a speedy guy.

He spent the vast majority of spring backing up Doctor at the WIL. I gave him a personal nod of confidence upon seeing him defend both the pass and run with some precision during the spring session.

Should injury strike the starting three, (specifically Doctor), Saulo is a fairly safe bet for making the right play at the right time. The only bane of having a young guy like Saulo is the relative lack of on-field experience.

He will likely see more than a few snaps this season, but his true impact may be felt most on special teams. Saulo is fast, but still plenty big enough to de-cleat a guy if he can get a bead on a kick returner after hurtling 30 yards down the field.

In the Wings
Redshirt freshman Rommel Mageo will probably see his contributions limited to special teams in 2013 if the spring was any indication. A one year veteran out of America Samoa, Mageo didn't pop much in April which I attribute mostly to the youngster still making technical adjustments to the speed and intensity of collegiate level ball.

Mageo has size and surprisingly quick feet. Not surprisingly, he will need to work on his ability to make proper reads of the offense before he gets a legitimate vote of confidence from Bray, but I would not be surprised to see him peg a few returners on special teams.

I'm keeping my eye on sophomore Jaswha James, who at 6-2, 236 is ideally sized for an outside linebacker and has the potential to factor in at MIK when the situation calls for it. If Saulo, Williams or Johnson get injured during the fall session, James is my first pick to step up and fill a void.

He is a talented athlete who – at the least - should keep the two deeps on their collective toes. He also has the potential to make some noise on special teams.

Walk on Kyle Gardner (5-11, 228) has the potential to be a speedy and disruptive force in the backfield but trying to factor him in past three deeps in the fall and limited special teams play during the oncoming regular season is a bit of a stretch.

This will be the last season for seniors Dyllon Mafi and Charlie Gilmur (walk on). In the time that I've been on the practice field with the team, neither has yet shown they are ready for starting gigs. They'll both head into camp on the third-string D and will need to provide some shock and awe in August to increase their roles.

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