INJURIES: Tony Wilson is out for the year due to knee surgery. Zane Norris missed the last week of practice with a bruised knee, but should be fully healed in August.
OVERVIEW: There is no such thing as too much speed and the Beavers will be fielding one of its fastest linebacking units in the last several years.
While their speed is impressive, what makes the linebacker unit one of the strongest units on the team is their collective versatility.
Senior Keaton Kristick can shift around, either inside or outside, and so can sophomore David Pa'aluhi, giving defensive coordinator Mark Banker a cornucopia of options with his defensive schemes. And a changeup might be afoot -- you might well see the linebackers blitz significantly more than in years past.
While neither Dwight Roberson or Keith Pankey, the linebacking unit's second and third leading tacklers respectively, likely relish the co-starting/playing time roles they have slid into at the start of fall camp, both seem to have accepted it.
The coaches love Pankey's quickness, instincts and therefore he got the starting nod last season. But the one complaint fans voice against Pankey is that sometimes he just gets run over. Good news might be in the offing there, he has added 10 pounds in the offseason which should help him when he sticks his helmet in traffic.
And in terms of physicality, that is where Roberson comes into play. The brawny athlete racked up 61 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, as a sophomore playing less than full reps. He rarely misses a tackle and when he does tackle someone they know it - he forced three fumbles a year ago.
Roberson's personal goal is to lead the conference in tackles and if he does, that would almost certainly place him on an all-conference squad.
This summer, Roberson has spent significant time in the film room studying the work of former Beaver greats Keith Ellison and Joey LaRocque, as he hopes to turn past player's success into future triumphs.
In the middle of the field is sophomore David "Bubba" Pa'aluhi who was one of the more pleasant surprises on defense last season. While he hasn't started a game yet, he has played a ton of minutes, and made a ton of plays.
In a backup role last season, he snatched 19 tackles, including four for loss, while showing the ability to be in the right place at the right time. Amazingly, he has only been playing football since his senior year in high school, so there is still plenty of room to grow.
At a solid 233-pounds, he is a great sideline to sideline player who likes to get physical. Pa'aluhi is also a weight room warrior, given the Lunch Bucket award on defense by his teammates.
While the last few Beaver middle linebackers have been very smart, but not exactly the quickest cats on the gridiron - Alan Darlin and Bryant Cornell for example - Pa'aluhi has the speed and tools to become an All-Pac-10 selection. If not this year as a soph, then next year for sure.
Unfortunately, depth took a hit in the spring when redshirt freshman Tony Wilson went down with a knee injury. Wilson, who is out for the year, was expected to potentially earn significant time on defense as well on special teams. The Oregonian is a smart player who is a natural leader.
Wilson's injury opened the door for longtime Beaver Walker Vave to move into the two deeps. Vave is one of the older players on the team having spent two years on a mission. He has been in Corvallis for three years, but has seen little time on the field as a linebacker getting most of his minutes on special teams.
Rounding out the linebackers is the star of the group and almost a sure-lock for All-Pac-10 honors - Keaton Kristick. The self professed coffee aficionado continues the long tradition of great linebackers wearing the orange and black.
With Kristick's seasoned play, it can slip the memory that 2008 was his first year as a starter. He is the team's top returning tackler (82 tackles, 42 solo) after earning second team All-Pac-10 honors as a junior.
What makes Kristick great is sideline to sideline coverage coupled with his textbook solid hits. As a senior, he now has a swagger about him that says he is one of the best players on the field. He was named a team captain in the spring and accompanied Riley to Los Angeles for the Pac-10 media day in late July.
Depth behind Kristick, however, is a little iffy with junior Keo Camat backing him up for now. The coaches have praised Camat's ability in the past, but he can't seem to stay healthy long enough to break through. The good news is Roberson can easily slide to the opposite side of the field to help out if and when needed.
Slade Norris' brother Zane is just a redshirt freshman but could be making an impact earlier than his brother did for the Beavs. He is currently on the two deeps behind Kristick and will play a significant roles on special teams.
Norris was awarded the defensive scout team award last year.
AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY: With two, possibly three, All-Pac-10 selections in the lineup here, the linebackers provide an experienced, solid core for the defense to build from.
A PESSIMIST WOULD SAY: The grass is always greener on the other side.
STAR PLAYER: Keaton Kristick. The complete package at linebacker - every team wishes a Kristick was on their squad.
UNIT STRENGTH: Speed and experience. Besides tight end, linebacker is the most experienced unit on the team. Kristick and Pankey started all 13 games last season while Roberson and Pa'aluhi played in each game and got significant snaps.
UNIT WEAKNESS: Depth across the board. With Wilson going down the middle of the field is a little weak on the two deeps.
INCOMING RECRUITS: Rueben Robinson. Hard hitting, aggressive player with good speed - could see early playing time due to Wilson's injury. Zeke Sanders. Quick footed and a sure tackler - needs to add some weight - expected to redshirt. January enrollee -- Michael Doctor. Athletic, hard hitting linebacker with big-play potential - he could have potential played early on special teams this season but is delaying enrollment until next year.
NOTABLE NOTE: OSU is 6-4 over the last 10 games against top-25 teams
STATS: Pa'aluhi: 19 tackles, 4 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF | Pankey: 43 tackles, 5.5 for loss 1 FF | Roberson: 61 tackles 7.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 3 FF | Camat: 2 tackles |