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Oklahoma State football: Linebacker depth a big plus

Assistant coach Glenn Spencer has the luxury of rotating in several players, keeping the Cowboys' corps fresh.
By Gina Mizell Published: August 28, 2012

— One person who is not all that fired up about Oklahoma State's linebackers this season?

Position coach Glenn Spencer.

“They haven't done a thing yet,” said Spencer, who also serves as OSU's co-defensive coordinator. “I remind them of that every day.”

As a motivational tool, of course.

The truth is, those linebackers best exemplify the athleticism, speed and, most importantly, depth that coach Mike Gundy believes this Cowboy defense now has.

All three starters return in Shaun Lewis, Alex Elkins and Caleb Lavey. Behind that trio are youngsters who are now ready to see significant playing time.

The faith in those newcomers allowed former backup middle linebacker Tyler Johnson to move to defensive end in the spring. It should also dramatically decrease the workload of the starters, which is especially beneficial when playing for a defense that spends a lot of time on the field because of OSU's up-tempo offense.

“Now what I've got the luxury of is some guys that can roll in and keep some guys fresh,” Spencer said. “Whereas a Shaun Lewis or a Caleb Lavey might have had (snaps in the) 70s and 80s a game last year, (they) shouldn't do that this year.

“They should be in the 40-50 range, and then that next guy, there's not a drop-off … the next guy's 100 (percent) is going to be better Alex's 95.”

But even more importantly, Spencer said, is the versatility within the linebacker group as a whole. One player might be more physical, another quicker. One might play better in the box against the run, another better in space against the pass.

That gives the Cowboys several combinations to mix and match, depending on the offensive personnel group or game situation.

“We can have better matchups than we've had in the past, where you might have a guy that may be out of position a little bit,” Spencer said. “It's not only the freshness of the legs, it's the talent that they bring in certain situations.”

Here is a breakdown of OSU's linebacking corps:

Who's back

Shaun Lewis, SLB, junior

2011 stats: 61 tackles (9.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries

A Freshman All-American in 2010, Lewis himself regarded his performance last season as solid but not spectacular. But in OSU's turnover-heavy defense, Lewis has been a staple, recording five interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in two seasons.

Spencer says: “Shaun Lewis is being more instinctive than I've ever seen him. He has a great knack for anticipating. There's a fine line between anticipation and guessing, and he pushes the limit there, and it allows him to make big plays.”

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