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May 13, 2010

Final grades for the linebackers

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What I saw the strongest and deepest position entering the spring was decimated by injury and player departure. As we all know by now, MLB David Pa'aluhi left for "military duty" and now looks to be redshirting at Hawaii, and Keith Pankey ruptured his Achilie's tendon, missing all spring. With three seniors left on the roster, you'd think depth and experience wouldn't be a problem, however seniors Walker Vave and Keo Camat haven't seen extended playing time on defense. It will be a mix match of seniors and sophomores who almost all are untested.

Here's the spring grades for the linebackers:

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Entering Spring: D+

With the departed Pa'aluhi and injured Pankey, Dwight Roberson was the only starter left to participate this spring. Roberson needed to and did step up to fill the void and had a tremendous spring. The slightly undersized Roberson plays physical and flies to the football, and what I find most impressive is the natural leadership role he has seemed to take on in this his final year.

Keo Camat and Devin Unga have split time at the spot opposite Roberson and done an admirable job. Camat knows the defense inside and out and can be counted on to execute Coach Banker's schemes. Unga, meanwhile, has natural instincts and athleticism that have been showcased all spring. I liken the two to the early version of Pankey/Roberson and fully expect the duo to split time outside unless Pankey returns fully healthy and ready to go come fall ball - which is expected according to Coach Riley.

Backing up what I see as the top three outside will be Zane Norris and Michael Doctor. Norris has put on eight pounds and increased his explosion and speed which in OSU's system is essential at the outside 'backer spot. Many onlookers have been impressed with the transformation of Zane in just this past off season. Norris has recorded multiple interceptions and been solid against run and pass.

Michael Doctor is a work in progress, but instinctively I don't think there's a 'backer more adept at thriving in this system than he. Doctor has been with the team for two months and looks like a redshirt sophomore. Coverage is textbook, on the hip and against the run at just 5-11 216, Doctor sticks his nose in and delivers blows.

Grade After Spring: C+ (B pending Pankey return)

There is still a lot of room to improve and again a lot of untested bodies who will be in back up roles and we all know how Riley likes to get his second string experience from the get go. The offense did have success on the ground in the spring game, but the work has been good all spring and this group has grown exponentially from where I thought they started.

Who To Watch: Michael Doctor - Yes he is raw, but man can this kid play football. Fast, aggressive, and seems to have a high football I.Q. When he gets the nuances of the defense down it will be fun watching what he can do.

Shaydon Akuna - Arguably OSU's highest regarded recruit for the 2010 class, Akuna, I think will get a look at outside 'backer. Akuna was the number one recruit out of Hawaii.

Michael Bibbee - At 6-3 225 Bibbee already has the size to play on Saturdays, and it's unsure if coaches will move him to defensive end. Bibbee is a big body that has athleticism to match, he will be an interesting story entering this fall.

Most Improved Player: Zane Norris ran away with this one. Nearly out of nowhere Norris had people watching practice whispering "who's that No. 29??" Norris is a student of the game and plays smart and if he's anything like his brother (former Beaver DE Slade Norris) he'll be on the field.

MIDDLE LINEBACKER

Entering Spring: D

When a potential NFL draft pick decides to pick up and take off it's hard to recover for any program, especially when all but one of the back ups are just sophomores. The untimely decision by Pa'aluhi left Tony Wilson, Rueben Robinson, Walker Vave, and Kevin Unga to battle for the middle.

Robinson is the only returning letterman with true game experience at the position. Rueben added bulk to his body and in an interview with him he claimed to be even faster than he was last year. Still slightly undersized, Robinson (6-1 222) looks natural inside and I feel holds just a slight edge because of his natural athleticism and ability to run.

Wilson suffered a season ending knee injury last year before the season started, but now looks no worse for the wear. Early this spring, Wilson seemed hesitant to go full bore on his knee, but he seems fully comfortable now. Wilson has a prototypical body at 6-1 231 and plays strong. My biggest worry was how he would trust his knee, and with that out of the way it's now just a matter of shaking the rust off and getting to it.

Walker Vave is now a senior and hoping to crack the two deeps. There was talk about moving him to defensive end, but it looks like it's too late for that. Vave has his work cut out for him and should work on explosiveness and speed in the off season, but at 6-2 242 he'd be a nice plug in the middle.

For Devin Unga, he missed a good portion of the spring with a nagging (hamstring??) injury. Like his brother, Devin plays with a mean streak and his pursuit to the football and ability to shed tackles is hard to ignore. While he may be the most untested of the foursome, Unga will push the other two and if he continues to progress, I could even see him breaking into a starting role down the road.

Grade After Spring: C+

Hard to grade someone when you haven't really seen em in action. But the group looks the part, with three to four adept bodies. Still, can't go too high until a product is put on the field and shows it's worthy of praise.

Who To Watch: Devin Unga - As I said, he has the potential to be great, it will be a matter of learning and executing with consistency. Walker Vave - Walker has flown under the radar and frankly, never lived up to his billing out of high school and after going on his mission. It would be a great story if Vave could make a splash in his final year as a Beav.

Most Improved Player: Tough to say anyone really improved to the point of raising eyebrows, but Tony Wilson looks to me like he's ready to break through this fall and become the every down starter (and yes I do think Robinson holds the edge at this point). After major knee surgery it's great to see Wilson excelling and making a name for himself.

Outside linebacker is stacked three deep on each side, however as mentioned, beyond Roberson and Pankey there isn't much experience. Leave it to Coach Banker and Coach Newhouse to get the best bodies in the right position, which I think they will do. As far as the middle is concerned, this is the biggest question mark for me on the defense (close second is defensive end). I can see the potential of the guys fighting for the spot, but outside of Robinson's half of football in the Civil War, there's really no tangible evidence to back up the "potential." One person who I find incredibly intriguing is Michael Bibbee. His size could land him at inside or outside backer as well as defensive end with added weight in the off season. I'm fairly certain he will be red-shirting, however I can't wait to see him in action this fall.



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