OSU FALL FOCUS: Linebackers

IF EVER THERE was a year to put Mike Riley's self-titled "Linebacker U" moniker to the test, this is it. With one, and perhaps even two, of the expected starters at the year's outset out of the lineup, the linebacker depth in Oregon State's program faces a strict test in 2010 -- rebuild or reload?

DEPTH CHART
OLB
:  So. Devin Unga, Sr. Keith Pankey, Sr. Keo Camat, Jr. Paul Jones
MLB
:  So. Tony Wilson, So. Rueben Robinson, So. Kevin Unga, Sr. Walker Vave
OLB
:  Sr. Dwight Roberson, So. Zane Norris, Fr. Michael Doctor, RFr. Charlie Gilmur

PLAYERS LOSTKeaton Kristick (first team all-conference, stats), David Pa'aluhi (13 game starter, 77 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles)

INJURIES: Keith Pankey (Achilles tendon surgery)

OVERVIEW:  It is a thin line between love and hate, the saying goes. OSU fans loved the looks of their linebacking corps back at the start of the year with three starters returning. A short time later, only one remained. So is it rebuild or reload time for the Beavs at 'backer?

If the spring drills were any indication, the answer is reload.

Despite two new starters in the box and a host of inexperienced players on the two deeps, Riley and crew have said the 2010 starting three could be just as good as last year's starters.


DID YOU KNOW: Departed players David Pa'aluhi and Keaton Kristick combined for 172 tackles in 2009 or 19.7% of the team's total tackles.


"We think we have the ability there to replace Pa'aluhi, but we don't have the experience and that is something we can't replace," coach Mike Riley said.

Make no bones about it -- David Pa'aluhi's physical play will be sorely missed, perhaps even more than Riley is willing to admit. But Dwight Roberson is a physical specimen as well. Look for him to play up on the line more like Pa'aluhi did in '09 with his two linebacker teammates handling the edge and other duties.

Like all good senior football players, Roberson put in extra time in the weight room this off season getting stronger and faster. Although his official stats show him with 13 career starts, he essentially has two seasons of starting under his belt after sharing starter's minutes with Keith Pankey in 2008.

With his physical play and think upper body, the 6-foot Roberson excels at run support. The team co-captain racked up 55 tackles last year, ranking fifth on the team. And he was one of four Pac-10 linebackers earning honorable mention status.

His counterpart, Pankey, also was named honorable mention, wrapping up 44 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. Pankey was set to take over the graduating Keaton Kristick's spot, but his injured Achilles tendon shuttered his spring.

Although it usually takes at least six months to recover from Achilles tendon surgery, Pankey maintained he was going to be back for the season. He hasn't participate in many summer workouts, but he did start running in June and proclaimed himself fit. The co-team captain still has a redshirt available, but he remains set on playing heading into fall camp.

"Dwight is my brother on the field. That was the first thing I thought about after I tore it." Pankey told The Gazette Times. "For me, it's really important to finish with Dwight. That's something we planned, and I want to do this together."

It remains to be seen if Pankey will play, but in his absence this spring sophomore Devin Unga shone brightly.

Unga had a great showing on special teams last year as a true freshman making key tackles on special teams. Devin, like his twin brother, Kevin, picks up on things quickly, has a great motor and is very physical.

One of the most watched position battles in fall camp will be at middle linebacker with sophomores Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson duking it out. Wilson started the spring atop the depth chart and ended it there, but Robinson saw just as much time on the field and started the spring game.

After being out of football for a year (knee), Wilson was rusty this spring and focused on improving his lateral quickness and reading the offense.

But maybe Riley is right and it's not just "coach speak" -- Maybe it really doesn't who the starter is. Similar to the Pankey-Roberson situation, Wilson and Robinson seem destined to share playing time this season and complement each other well. Both have great football instincts.

Robinson was one of eight true freshman to play last year, backing up David Pa'aluhi with 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, in his first year of collegiate football.

Depending on if Pankey plays or not, the two deeps on the outside figure to be filled out by sophomore Kevin Unga, senior Keo Camat, sophomore Zane Norris and freshman Michael Doctor.

Kevin Unga was slowed down by a pelvic injury in the spring and is listed at middle linebacker, but could be moved to the outside. He was a beast on special teams in '09 and that doesn't figure to change this season.

Camat has been identified a couple of times over his career by the coaches as a potential starter, but has yet to step into a significant role. Norris, the brother of BeavGreat Slade, also has promise. But it was Doctor who had a fantastic spring, and he could rise quickly on the depth chart in fall camp.

"Michael Doctor is doing very, very well," Riley told The Gazette Times. "The off season program was great for him. He was ready to go. He's figuring into a lot things for us defensively and special teams."

STATS: Dwight Roberson (55 tackles, 7.5 for loss, two sacks), Keith Pankey (44 tackles, 4.5 for loss), Kevin Unga (18 tackles), Keo Camat (16 tackles, one sack), Rueben Robinson (12 tackles, 1.5 for loss), Devin Unga (12 tackles), Walker Vave (2 tackles)

 

THE ROSTER

SPRING STAR

So. Devin Unga. Filled in admirably for the injured Pankey.

THE FUTURE STAR Fr. Michael Doctor.  It seems there is always at least one impact freshman each year - Doctor is it in 2010.
WHO TO WATCH Sr. Keith Pankey. Will he or won't he be playing come Sept. 4?
COMING IN THE FALL Michael Bibbee (Hard nosed, tough player who will redshirt).  Shaydon Akuna (Physically ready to play in the Pac-10 Akuna may cut his teeth as a true freshman on special teams).
UNIT STRENGTH UNIT WEAKNESS
Youth. The Beavs have a lot of guys who can run and a good mix of veterans and potential. Starting experience and health. OSU lost a load of talent in Pa'aluhi and Pankey's return remains to be seen. The youth can cover a lot of ground but young mistakes will also be made.

 

THE BIG BOARD

OLB:

So. Devin Unga (6-1, 219) - great football instincts, physical, strong, only getting better...played with the first team in spring 2010 due to Pankey's injury...one half of The Smash Brothers, the nickname for the Unga twins for how they blow up the wedge on kickoffs...one of eight true freshman to play in 2009...made 12 tackles in '09...will practice with the first string defense in spring of 2010

Sr. Keith Pankey (6-0, 231) - started running in June of 2010...missed 2010 spring practice after tearing his Achilles heal...optimistically will be back in July, but could be out for the year...could redshirt as he played as a true freshman...honorable mention all-conference last year...13 career starts...one of the vocal leaders on defense...44 tackles, including 4.5 for loss...one of the vocal leaders of the defense....good speed and active

Sr. Keo Camat (6-2, 238) - Riley has singled out Camat a few times, but the Oregonian has yet to produce...made 16 tackles, including one sack, in 2009...added 12 pounds in the off season

Jr. Paul Jones (6-2, 209) - long time walk on who faces an uphill battle for playing time...did not participate in last spring practice due to a knee injury
 

MLB:

So. Tony Wilson (6-1, 231) - missed most of 2009 after injuring his right knee and having surgery...worked very hard and played on special teams in the Las Vegas Bowl...coaches are very excited about his potential...quick and smart...a standout scout team player in 2008...runs the 40 in the 4.5 range

So. Rueben Robinson (6-1, 222) - can play inside or outside, built like an outside linebacker...played almost the entire Las Vegas Bowl after Pa'aluhi was injured...one of eight true freshman to play in 2009...finished 2009 with 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss

So. Kevin Unga (6-1, 236) - great football instincts, physical, strong, only getting better...slowed in spring of 2010 due to pelvic injury...one half of The Smash Brothers, the nickname for the Unga twins for how they blow up the wedge on kickoffs...made 18 tackles in 2009...one of eight true freshman to play in 2009...added 13 pounds in the off season

Sr. Walker Vave (6-2, 242) - played in seven games last year, mostly on special teams, making two tackles...a longtime special teams player

 

OLB:

Sr. Dwight Roberson (6-0, 232) - 2009 honorable mention all-conference...13 straight starts...a good nose for the ball...strong and physical - plays with an attitude...55 tackles, third most out of returning players, including 7.5 for loss in '09...a lead by example type of player

So. Zane Norris (6-2, 223) - younger brother of Slade Norris...Riley says he will make an impact before his career his over...look for him to make an impact on special teams in 2010.

Fr. Michael Doctor (5-11, 216) - turned in a solid 2010 spring camp...will play on special teams...grayshirt who enrolled in Jan. of 2010...a physical specimen at a solid 203 pounds...could play on special teams...already added 15 pounds since arriving in Corvallis

RFr. Charlie Gilmur (6-1, 227) - walked in in spring of 2010...played for Curtis High School in Tacoma, WA...earned first team SPSL 4A linebacker honors as a senior...also played fullback


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