BRAY: How depleted LBs can turn it around

CORVALLIS – At the start of the season, OSU had loads of experience in its linebacker corps with WIL D.J. Alexander and SAM Michael Doctor. At one point, sophomore Joel Skotte was the promising newcomer in the middle who was going to learn from the old guys. The kids were alright, so to speak. How things have changed. We talked to Beav linebackers coach Trent Bray about all that and more…

If I'm Mike Riley, this linebacker situation would be turning my grey hairs white, and my white hairs platinum. And if I'm the 31-year old Bray, these last few weeks have got me checking the mirror for some grey hairs of my own.

With three games left, Doctor has missed nearly the entire season after having surgery on his foot and was replaced by Jabral Johnson. It feels like Alexander (knee, shoulder) has been on and off the field more frequently than a first down marker, with Caleb Saulo coming in this last game in his stead. Skotte was replaced at the MIK slot halfway through the SDSU tilt by freshman Rommel Mageo, and Skotte also just suffered a concussion against USC.

The current picture at linebacker for Oregon State looks thinner than run-over Wonder Bread. You've got freshmen stacked at the WIL and MIK. All of a sudden, Johnson, a junior who was to provide rotational depth this season, is the only experienced starting linebacker Oregon State has to put out there -- and that experience has come this season.

Leave it to Bray to find the positives, starting with Johnson's new role of an upperclassman linebacker leader.

"It's a difficult one, but it's good to see how guys react to those situations," Bray said. "How does J.J. react now to being the oldest guy on the field and playing next to two young guys? It's a good and a bad thing at the same time.

"They've got to learn faster than you normally have to, or would like to," Bray said of Mageo, Saulo and even Darrell Songy. "But that's just what they have to do. They have to treat themselves like they are the guys that have to start, or have to play. They've got to study and prepare like they are starters all the time, so that when it is their opportunity, they are ready to play."

If experience is key to getting better, shouldn't this current injury provide just that to guys like Saulo and Songy? Sure. But those gains are usually realized in the here and now, said Bray.

"The benefit, to start off, is down the road," said Bray. "Next year and the years after that, gaining game experience. The thing that happens – and most people don't understand that haven't played is - playing in a game is completely different. And the pressure of a game and the speed of a game, you have to learn how to play at this level. So that's what a lot of them are learning how to do, as freshmen.

"They're the biggest, strongest and fastest in high school (but) now they're playing against guys that are bigger, stronger and faster."

AT THE SAME time, other veteran players need to help cover the mistakes and lapses that will be made by the youth.

"That's where the old guys step in," said Bray.. "If there are mistakes, the guys with experience have got to know how to play off of them. The plays where we got killed (against ‘SC), we didn't get that from our older guys, and that was a problem. What was disappointing about that USC game was the response of our older guys to the mistakes our younger guys made."

SO WHAT'S THE answer – not for down the road but for this season and these final three games? What needs to happen, and how, for the linebackers to get it done against ASU, Washington and Oregon?

Bray zeroed in on exactly what his guys need to work on this week during the bye.

"Discipline in their assignments is the biggest thing – being able to stay mentally focused and use this week not as a bye week where you think ‘Oh, I've got time to prepare for ASU'," Bray said. "You've got to treat this week like we are playing them Saturday – that's how you study. You gain an extra week when you do that.

"If you study this week like you are playing this week, then you really gain the benefit of a bye week." Bray said.

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