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'Backers are back as force at OSU

Three seniors return as starters; depth also solid for Beavers


Photo Credit: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Michael Doctor, returning an interception against Utah, is a key veteran outside linebacker for the Oregon State Beavers.CORVALLIS — There was a time when Oregon State liked to call itself “Linebacker U. West,” with such notables as Nick Barnett, Richard Siegler, James Allen, Trent Bray, Keith Ellison, Alan Darlin and Joey LaRocque patrolling the middle of the OSU defense in the 2000s.

Maybe never, though, have the Beavers exhibited the quality depth as they’ll display on the 2014 team.

The loss of reserve outside linebacker Darrell Songy — suspended for the season for violation of athletic department rules — thins the ranks a bit. Even so, five players already have started in games, and all are worthy of being regulars in a Pac-12 program.

“We have a lot of guys back with experience,” senior outside ‘backer Michael Doctor says. “That’s a major plus for us. And the chemistry is there. We’re excited about our linebacker corps.”

Bray, now coaching Oregon State’s linebackers after earning all-Pac-10 recognition as a player under Riley, isn’t ready to call the Beavers’ linebacking crew the best in the conference.

“I would never make a statement like that,” Bray says with a smile. “But we can be right up there if we play like we’re capable.”

It begins with the three senior returning starters — outside ‘backers Doctor and D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson in the middle as the Beavers prepare for their season opener Aug. 30 against Portland State at Reser Stadium and the Pac-12 campaign that begins Sept. 27 at USC.

“They’re monsters,” senior D-end Dylan Wynn says of the trio. “It’s great to have that kind of support behind you, knowing they’ll be where they need to be. There’s a trust building up. There are some good players behind them, too. We have unbelievable depth both in the D-line and linebackers. It’s looking really good.”

Adds Doctor: “We have great potential. Off the edge, we could be vicious. Our middle linebackers are fast, too. We had a great offseason with our conditioning coach, Bryan Miller. He did a great job with us.”

Doctor and Alexander have outstanding speed and pursuit skills, and each is bigger than he was a year ago. The 6-foot Doctor and the 6-2 Alexander are both up to nearly 235 pounds.

“My body fat is down from 16 to 14 percent,” Doctor says, “and I think I’m just as fast.”

The best news is, Doctor and Alexander are healthy. Doctor got a medical redshirt year after breaking a foot early last season. Alexander missed three games with knee and neck problems.

“My foot is responding nicely,” Doctor says. “Haven’t had any problems. I’m excited to be out there again with my brothers.”

The 6-1, 230-pound Johnson started all 13 games a year ago at one of the outside sports and has been moved to the middle.

“Jabral is one of those guys who has worked himself into the position he’s at,” Bray says. “He’s a great example of a guy who, early in his career, didn’t get on the field because he had too many deficiencies. He worked at it and worked at it, and now he’s a starter and one of our best guys.”

Backing up Johnson is 6-2, 235-pound sophomore Rommel Mageo, who started seven games a year ago.

“ ‘Romo’ is playing at a real high level,” Bray says. “He’s pushing Jabral, which is great.”

The backups on the edges are 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Caleb Saulo — who started two games and saw plenty of duty in 2013 — and 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore Kyle Haley, a transfer from Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“Caleb is doing a lot of things right,” Bray says. “Kyle is starting to show up and get what we’re doing. It’s encouraging.”

Bray says with all the experience, he’ll be able to mix up his schemes to throw off the opposing offenses.

“We have a lot of guys now who know how to play, so we can start doing things,” Bray says. “We can disguise things. We can start moving guys around and not just be stagnant. That’s going to help us.

“D.J., Michael and Jabral are extremely athletic and hardworking guys. When you have them as leaders, it goes through your whole group.”

Bray has substituted fairly liberally at linebacker the past two seasons. He doesn’t intend to change that now. Mageo, Saulo and perhaps Haley are going to get their chances.

“You always want to be able to rotate and give starters series off throughout the game, especially since with all the no-huddle offenses, we’ll be on the field for 16 to 18 series a game,” Bray says. “We want to be fresh in the fourth quarter. The more guys who can play, the better off we’ll be.”

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