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Depth at Linebacker a Concern for OSU as it Enters 2018 Season

The Cowboys can’t afford any more losses in the LB corps.



Oklahoma State’s linebacking corps is talented. And versatile. And loaded with star power at the top of the depth chart.

However, the depth chart entering the 2018 season — which begins on Thursday! — appears as if Gundy left to milk his goats before completing it.

That’s not an accident.

Due to injuries to redshirt junior Patrick Macon and true freshman Blake Barron that will end their season before it ever began — coupled with Kenneth Edison-McGruder’s move back to safety — the Pokes are hitting the ground running … on crutches. As the season kicks off against Missouri State, OSU will boast only five healthy scholarship players: Calvin Bundage, Justin Phillips, Kevin Henry, Amen Ogbongbemiga, and Devin Harper. Five.

It’s the equivalent of a basketball team that has just two backups and a reserve. Or … at least something close to that. Breathers will be few and far between.

Oklahoma State shifted to a defensive scheme this offseason that now features only two linebackers instead of three as part of a 4-2-5 system ran by Jim Knowles. That’s a small glimmer of sun shining through for a hobbled linebacking corps that, had this same quandary presented itself last season, Glenn Spencer have may been in the Colvin giving sales pitches to stringers on why they’d be a good fit in his system. In 2018, with only two spots to fill at LB there’s now room to breathe — albeit very little of it.

The goal in the defensive shift, which is a no-brainer in the Big 12, is that help in the second line is moved back to the secondary. Instead of two safeties and two corners, Oklahoma State now features three safeties, two corners and two linebackers. It represents a significant commitment to providing more air support in a conference that requires it in spades.

But the linebackers aren’t entirely off the hook. In fact, they may be more valuable than ever.

This system will require well-conditioned linebackers to canvas sideline-to-sideline, which in turn could require line changes to keep bodies fresh. There’s a lot of movement involved in playing the position this season, more so than was required under Spencer’s regime, which is a tough ask for a short-handed staff of backers barring a shift in personnel.

“I feel as if this defense is more aggressive. It’s a high risk, high reward type of thing,” says defensive tackle Darrion Daniels. “There are a lot of moving parts. I mentioned earlier how before I get my hand down I’ll turn around, get a call and when I turn around right before the play the DBs and linebackers are always moving, always doing something different, so there are a lot of disguises.”

Players — including linebacker Justin Phillips — have raved about that style Daniels described. The freedom to create, to make instinctive plays, has drawn players to Knowles’ system like bees to honey.

But with a short bench to call on in times of trouble, Oklahoma State must hope it can maneuver the slim margin with agility to avoid poaching other position groups for help to close out 2018.

That’s a less-than-ideal scenario to ponder in the first place, but the fact it doesn’t seem totally unreasonable to broach before the season tells you everything you need to know about where this group’s depth stands.

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