The trials of an athlete’s final collegiate campaign are an awesome sight. Michael Doctor, D.J. Alexander, and Jabral Johnson are the three senior Beaver linebackers who headline the Oregon State linebacking corps in 2014. The trio could be the most underrated positional group in the conference, and once more, could be the difference between the Beavers couch surfing in December or taking the field under a clear January sky.
Michael Doctor, who was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing most of 2013 with a bum ankle, will serve as an anchor in the middle of the field. Oregon State ranked 11th in the conference in run defense last year, making Doctor’s 6’0, 227 pound presence even more valuable to the middle in 2014.
In 2012, the Tulsa, Okla. product started all 13 contests and led the team with 83 tackles. Even after an injury torpedoed his 2013 season, Doctor was named to the preseason Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list, given to the defensive player who has the biggest IMPACT on his team both on and off the field. IMPACT is an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.
D.J. Alexander fought through nagging injuries to his knee and neck, the latter of which would require season ending surgery at the end of the season. However, the senior from Palm Desert, Calif. still managed to finish fifth on the team with 63 tackles, compiling 31 in last three games of his 2013 campaign.
Alexander is a speedy, athletic presence on the outside. He was the ability to cover tight ends and still make plays on the line of scrimmage. With Doctor filling the middle, Alexander should have more opportunities to showcase his quickness on the blitz and overall athleticism in coverage.
Jabral Johnson was voted Most Improved by his teammates in 2013, and is the final piece of the senior class of Oregon State linebackers. He quietly finished second in tackles on the team, flexing between the outside and middle linebacking positions throughout all 13 games.
Johnson has had a solid spring and could potentially lock up the starting middle linebacker position by the end of August. His 6’1, 230 frame makes him another big body in the middle of the field, which will only help the Beavers in their attempts to bottle up the running game of teams like Stanford, USC, and Oregon.
Behind the three senior pillars, the Beavers have an exciting young group of athletes that will provide the fresh legs defenses rely on to hang with the influx of hurry-up, high tempo offenses that has swept into the conference.
Sophomore Rommel Mageo stacked up 47 tackles in 2013, and is another big run stopping threat in the middle.
Could Oregon State’s linebackers be the most overlooked group in the Pac-12 in 2014? Possibly. As with all things in football, it’s a team effort. Poor pressure up front by the line or sloppy coverage on the outside by the secondary will render this talented and deep group ineffective in the most prolific passing conference in the nation.
That said, Oregon has the athleticism, talent, and experience to stay with any offense in the conference in 2014. Adjusting to the tempo of no-huddle offenses, mixing in the younger talent, and avoiding the injury bug will be essential if the Beavers hope to improve on a defensively lackluster 2013.