You’d be hard pressed to find deeper position on the OSU roster than linebacker. And it’s not just because of sheer numbers.
Due to injuries last season, the Beavers were forced to burn several players’ redshirt seasons, leaving them with a group of youngsters who have experience along with serious upside. Combine that with the return of players from injuries, and linebacker should be a fun position to watch this spring, as about the only surefire starter is probably Bright Ugwoegbu. Seriously, that’s how much young talent OSU has at the position and it will be interesting to see who moves up and down this spring, and hits fall camp with a bang.
- Caleb Saulo (graduated): Played in all 12 games, all starts. Recorded a team-high 95 tackles (7.5 for loss), 4 sacks, five quarterback hurries, and two forced fumbles. Earned Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors.
- Kyle Haley (graduated): Played in 11 games, recording 16 tackles (2 for loss).
- Manase Hungalu (senior): Played in 11 games, coming on strong late in the season, Finished with 83 tackles (3 for loss), an interception (returned for 37 yards), and recovered three fumbles.
- Titus Failauga (senior): Played in six games, recording 19 tackles (3 for loss) and two sacks.
- Bright Ugwoegbu (junior): Played in 9 games, recording 54 tackles (team-high 11 for loss, team high 5.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
- Jonathan Willis (junior): Played in all 12 games, recording 26 tackles (1 for loss).
- Wesley Payne (senior): Played in all 12 games.
- Joah Robinett (sophomore): Played in 2 games, recording five tackles.
- Shemar Smith (sophomore): Played in five games, recording three tackles.
- Andrzej Hughes-Murray (sophomore): Played in six games, recording 24 tackles (3 for loss), and a fumble recovery.
- Ricky Liuchan (sophomore): Missed all of last season due to injury.
- Hamilcar Rashed (RS freshman): Redshirted last season.
- Kee Whetzel (RS freshman): Redshirted last season.
- Doug Taumoelau (RS freshman): Redshirted last season.
- Emony Robinson (freshman): Originally part of the 2016 class. Put on weight during the past year and is now 234 pounds.
3 Things to Watch
- Saulo leaves a big void, not only from a play-making perspective, but a leadership one. The battle to replace his huge contributions begins this month, and with the bevy of outside linebackers on the roster, it will be interesting to see who emerges at the top of depth chart at the end of the spring. Could Jonathan Willis be ready for prime time or will one of the sophomores who played well last season shoot up the charts?
- The Beavers had the luxury of redshirting three linebackers last season in Rashed, Whetzel, and Taumoelau. All three, especially the first two, are highly regarded. So, it will be interesting to see how they fit into the mix. And then there’s Robinson, who is now eligible and has put on some bulk. All the bodies hopefully means increased competition, which should mean players improving lots this spring.
- Yes, OSU runs a 3-4 most of the time now, but with all the depth and tremendous athletes at LB, is it possible we see some position changes during spring ball or afterward? Probably not, but it is something to keep an eye on. Like perhaps someone could move to DE or safety. For example, I am curious about about Whetzel and Robinson.
The Beavers are in good shape at linebacker, as they have nice blend of returning experience and young talent at the position. Ugwoegbu is primed to be OSU’s next star linebacker and should anchor a solid group. The interesting thing will be to see which of the youngsters steps up this spring and seizes the spot left by Saulo. Also, don’t be surprised if some of last season’s starters have to really battle to hold onto their spots — which is a great thing for the Beavers!