OSU SPRING PREVIEW: The Linebackers

CORVALLIS – The Oregon State linebacker contingent will be talent-heavy this spring, as seniors Michael Doctor, D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson return. But who will go where, and what about the rotation? Just a few months ago, both Rommel Mageo and Caleb Saulo were running with the 1's on Saturdays, how do they fit in with an appealing trio of senior linebackers?

One thing seems plain, there should be a good sized group of game-ready talent for OSU linebacker coach Trent Bray this spring. But where on the chessboard will he place the artillery?

It's a tough question to answer, because there seems to be an overwhelming amount of wiggle room in the rotation.

Does Jabral Johnson remain the strong side linebacker with Michael Doctor back for one more season -- or will he move into the middle, replacing the Rommel Mageo?

If Johnson slides inside, Mageo might stay on as the No. 2 MIK or become a valuable utility chess piece who can aid the LB ranks wherever necessary.

Wait, there is more. If Doctor returns at WIL, where does Alexander go?

Will he battle it out for the SAM spot with Johnson?

While some broad questions persist, Bray's got a good thing going behind the D-line. Last season, Alexander and Johnson roped in 63 and 94 tackles, respectively, and mustered a combined 6.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks.

Johnson was a powerhouse, and Alexander was fast and reliable when he was healthy.

Should they continue to improve under Bray's instruction, the addition of the smart and physical Doctor can only benefit the Beavs in the spring and beyond.

Sophomore MIK Joel Skotte's return remains highly questionable. Even if Skotte can't go this spring, the Beavs are left with a linebacker unit this spring that's heavy on experience up top.

Granted, some own more experience than others.

Mageo and fellow redshirt freshman Caleb Saulo combined for 79 tackles in 2013, and both saw quite a bit of starting time throughout the season.

They are both weapons, but the imminent return of Doctor and the question of where Johnson/Alexander will end up looms over their future with the first string.

Freshman Darrell Songy saw a lot of work with the special team last year – an enthusiastic and speedy competitor, Songy should continue to see quality reps in April.

My gut tells me that spring will about the veterans and who lands where, with a lot of Bray's focus dedicated to making sure Doctor is up to snuff and ensuring that the younger athletes keep learning, growing and fighting with that next man up mentality.

The bottom line here is Oregon State has the potential to field one of the better linebacking crews in the Pac-12. But that's on paper. They need to show it on the field this spring to make believers out of Beaver Nation.

Notable Note
  • Second-year freshmen Manase Hungalu and T.J. Hufanga are a bit further down the ladder and given the talent ahead of them, will probably continue developing their talent and knowledge of the OSU defensive scheme. But spring ball is also their opportunity to open some eyes.


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