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Before Week 1, Linebacker for Oklahoma State a Beautiful Mesh of Talent



During spring practices, the sneaky depth at linebacker was just a theme. Now, it’s a beautiful collaboration of young potential stars and those who have been at a variety of schools around the country.

Calvin Bundage, a sophomore who will split reps with Kenneth Edison-McGruder, might start Thursday night against Tulsa at star linebacker. Justin Phillips, a soon-to-be fixture, enters his junior season having locked down the starting wide backer spot. Then there is Chad Whitener, the middle linebacker who came in for Ryan Simmons in what seems like 2010.

There isn’t any one All-Big 12 performer yet, but the 2017 group of Oklahoma State linebackers might end up being the most attractive of any spot on defense.

Bundage was delivering ninja kicks and barrel rolls last season. His freshman flaws showed, but the potential was also glaring brighter than the sun. Whitener said the former was cut down and the latter came to fruition through fall camp, understanding the system and making oodles of plays all while maintaining his speed.

Whitener said Bundage is more composed, not just running wild. He knows where to be, knows his leverages, his techniques and in-game situations, Whitener said.

“He’s just a better football player this year than he was last year,” he said.

Bundage is a sexy pick to be one of the defensive MVPs, but Edison-McGruder’s usage might derail that, and vice versa. Bundage led all freshmen with 13 tackles, and Edison-McGruder was second among all non-starters in that category with 40. Whitener said Glenn Spencer, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, likes them equally.

With Phillips, he has been featured on many of the Cowboys’ hype videos in anticipation of the season-opener Thursday. Phillips was the only non-starter to finish last season with more tackles than Edison-McGruder. He pulled in 42.

As for Whitener himself, he said he hasn’t given too much thought to his last first game at Boone Pickens Stadium, the place he has crazily only played at for two seasons after transferring from Cal. He said it will feel more surreal once it’s over.

“Right now, it’s just game-mode,” Whitener said.

The depth behind those four is what sets this year’s group apart, though. The second and third waves are almost as talented as the top.

Linebacker Depth Chart
Star Middle Wide
Kenneth Edison-McGruder (or) Chad Whitener Justin Phillips
Calvin Bundage Gyasi Akem Kevin Henry
Brendan Vaughn* Amen Ogbongbemiga Patrick Macon*
Devin Harper

* Projected, not on official depth chart

“Devin Harper, he’s literally two snaps away from being the guy,” Whitener said Spencer preaches.

Same, too, with Patrick Macon. A junior college transfer from Arizona Western, Macon was one of the key signings in the 2017 recruiting class but was left off the depth chart. Whitener said he is still adjusting to the speed, and Macon revealed another reason he might not be getting the same number of snaps as the other guys via Twitter on Wednesday night.

Nonetheless, Macon’s potential is there, and much like Adrian Baker at cornerback, once he gets the system and style down, we should see him on the field more and more.

Whitener said the biggest challenge is keeping those guys sharp. He remembers what it’s like to be whisked off the bench and thrown into a starting role, and he said he was thankful that he had stayed prepared as if he was already the No. 1 guy.

In the 2015 TCU game, Simmons tore his MCL and PCL on the same play. He had started 31 straight games dating to 2013. What you got with Whitener was unclear. He looked like Simmons physically, but few people knew who he was. He ended up being named a First Team All-Big 12 performer by the San Antonio Express-News that season.

He said it was baptism by holy fire, not water.

“Putting what I could do on paper into working, that was always the biggest thing for me,” Whitener said. “Being able to function on the field when it’s bullets flying at out at 200 miles per hour.”

Fast forward two seasons, and Whitener has been to Big 12 Media Days twice, started every game but once since the Simmons injury, made 173 tackles and been named one of the team captains. Slight work for a two-year stint.

With Whitener at the helm and a group of seemingly rising stars surrounding him, the linebacker corps has loads of potential to become a consistent, beautiful stream of talent in the heart of a defense that might desperately need it.

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