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OSU, OU using hybrid linebackers to combat pass-happy offenses

BY BRANDON CHATMON, Staff Writer, bchatmon@opubco.com Modified: February 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm •  Published: February 26, 2011
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Very few have the talents to man the position.

To excel as a hybrid linebacker/safety in college football's new era of pass-happy attacks, a player must have a combination of toughness, athleticism and intelligence.

The emergence of the spread offense has forced defenses to adapt. The answer for defenses has been taking high school safeties and turning them into hybrid linebacker-types who rely on their versatility to be playmakers.

No position on defense requires more versatility or more specialized recruiting than the hybrid linebacker spot. Teams have been looking for ways to get faster on defense for years USC and Texas were among the first to use undersized but speedy linebackers but the hybrid position requires more than just speed.

It requires versatility and smarts.

On first down, they could be asked to hold their own in coverage against a running back or slot receiver; On second down, they could be asked to shed a pulling lineman and support against the run; Then, on third down, be asked to blitz the quarterback.

A player with the athletic ability to handle all three requirements and the football I.Q. to read and react to whatever the offense runs brings a wealth of possibilities for a defense. And a wealth of unpredictability against an offense.

It's a position that asks a lot of those who play it but also allows those players to be main playmakers in their defensive system.

"It's an attractive position," Oklahoma State linebacker coach Glenn Spencer said. "As a high school player (you see) you get to blitz, you get to play the run a little bit, you play the pass.

"He's got to be the most versatile player on the field for the defense."

Both in-state schools have had success converting high school safeties into linebackers.

Andre Sexton was the trailblazer at the position at OSU while Keenan Clayton was one of the first to make the switch at Oklahoma. Heading into the 2011 season, both schools have multiple players who fit the description.

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COWBOY 'STARS'

Several defenders have made an impact as 'Star' (hybrid) defenders for Oklahoma. Here are recent examples of prep safeties who have made the transition to the Star linebacker spot for OSU.

Andre Sexton

Bio: Houston (Texas) Cypress Falls, Class of 2005

Sexton was one of the top ranked safeties in Texas in 2005. After a redshirt season, Sexton became one of the best defenders to come through the Cowboy program in recent memory. The Houston native was a four-year starter who finished with 319 tackles which is tied for ninth all-time at OSU.

James Thomas

Bio: LaMarque (Texas), Class of 2007

Thomas was one of the top ranked safeties in Texas in 2007. After a redshirt season, he backed up Andre Sexton before becoming a starter this season. Shaun Lewis became the starter midway through the season but Thomas maintained a prominent role on the defense, particularly on passing downs, finishing with 49 tackles.

Joe Mitchell

Bio: Katy (Texas) Morton Ranch, Class of 2009

The high school safety made an impact on special teams as a freshman last season. He was one of the stars of spring in 2010 and provides excellent depth at the STAR position heading into spring.

Lyndell Johnson

Bio: Plano (Texas) East

A safety prospect with the willingness to hit and excellent size, Johnson is one of the Cowboys recent signees. He's expected to add to the depth and athleticism at the position when he steps on campus.

* Note: Shaun Lewis, OSU's current starter at Star linebacker, was a linebacker prospect out of Missouri City (Texas) Hightower, earning UnderArmour All-American honors.

SOONER STANDOUTS

Several defenders have made an impact as hybrid defenders for Oklahoma. Here are recent examples of prep safeties who have made the transition to the hybrid linebacker spot for OU.

Keenan Clayton

Bio: Sulphur Springs (Texas), Class of 2005

Ranked the No. 3 safety nationally and No. 74 overall on the Rivals 100 in 2005, Clayton moved to linebacker heading into his junior season with the Sooners. He responded with 84 tackles as a junior then 72 tackles as a senior before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Joseph Ibiloye

Bio: Garland (Texas) South Garland, Class of 2008

Ibiloye, ranked No. 90 on the Rivals100 in 2008, was highly recruited out of high school spurning offers from USC, Miami (Fla.), Michigan and others to play at OU. The redshirt sophomore earned three starts for the Sooners in 2010, recording 13 tackles. He enters spring ball listed as a backup linebacker and starting nickel back.

Tony Jefferson

Bio: Chula Vista (Calif.) Eastlake, Class of 2010

Listed as a safety, Jefferson started eight games as a true freshman becoming the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year. The California native excels at making plays around the line of scrimmage and looks like he could emerge as a star on the Sooners' defense in the next few seasons.

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