January 15, 2013

2013 Outlook Series: Linebackers

As we continue to move through our series of breaking down each position for the outlook on 2013 at Oklahoma State, we move from the defensive line to the linebackers.

The crew had a decent performance in 2012, as the three main backers finished the season in the top seven on the team in tackles, but struggled a bit against the pass (See: Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma game).

Let's dive in.

Key Losses

Alex Elkins: 75 tackles (second on team), 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks

Key Returns

Shaun Lewis: 58 tackles (sixth on team), 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks

Caleb Lavey: 53 tackles (seventh on team), 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks

Lyndell Johnson: 28 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks

Ryan Simmons: 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks

Outlook: Oklahoma State lost their second-leading tackler on the team after Elkins had another solid year, but they return in 2013 as an even better squad if you can believe it.

Though he had an off year, Shaun Lewis is one of the best defenders on the team, if not in the conference. There really isn't a flaw in his game, with his highest marks coming in the open-field tackling category, which is crucial in the Big 12 as so many offenses run a ton of screens and quick passes to the perimeter.

Lewis is joined by Lavey, who is a more run-stopping backer that struggled a bit against the pass. Lavey took over for Orie Lemon in 2011, and got noticeably better between '11 and 2012. His main goal this offseason is likely speed, as that was his biggest weakness this season against passing teams (I noticed it most against Arizona).

Outside of the two returning starters are two guys who played quite a bit. Lyndell Johnson has every coach drooling on the OSU sideline, while he likely gives offensive coordinators headaches and sleepless nights. The incoming junior played safety in high school, and excelled in pass coverage once he got over an ankle injury early in the year. He also has a knack for playing through contact and looks great in the pass rush (8.5 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage despite being healthy for about half the season).

Johnson reminds me of Elkins, though he's a bit more athletic and finesse, while Simmons reminds me more of Lavey's playing style. He's listed at 6'0, 240 pounds on the website, though he's probably dropped a few pounds since that was posted. He's a brute on the field, but has the chance to turn into another great OSU backer from the glimpses I saw this season. He takes on blocks well, and can get to the perimeter faster than you'd expect for a guy his size. The Pokes also have Joe Mitchell, who's similar to Johnson in a few ways and was impressive on special teams and key plays on defense in 2012.

As far as wild-card's go, this is a position that Oklahoma State really has some depth at. If I had to guess, I'd think we'll see Jeremiah Tshimanga there from time to time in both spring and fall after missing last season with an injury, but that depends on how he's handled recovery so far. Kris Catlin is also a name you'll probably hear, as well as Seth Jacobs and DeMarcus Sherod.

As I said before, the Cowboys have a great blend of every kind of backer you want on a team. They have power with Lavey and Simmons, finesse with Johnson, and a couple of balanced guys, most notably Lewis.
With that in mind, don't be surprised if defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer finds a way to roll out an extra linebacker from time to time, whether it's at a defensive end position or in a 3-4 scheme against the more pass-heavy offenses that call the Big 12 home.

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