BF.C NOTEBOOK: Bray talks LBs headed into ASU

JABRAL JOHNSON

CORVALLIS – BF.C stepped aside with Oregon State linebackers coach Trent Bray this week and touched on some of the finer points of MIK Rommel Mageo's role in the defensive scheme, the complexities of defending a mobile QB's, the importance of one linebacker's return to playing shape with little time left prior to the first snap in Phoenix and more...

Trent Bray has mentioned to BF.C multiple times this season that for a linebacker – particularly younger guys such as freshman middle linebacker Rommel Mageo and freshman backup WIL Caleb Saulo – it is much easier to play mistake free football when one is constantly engaged and always moving.

That way, there is less time to stop and think and all that time spent on the field is spent producing for the defense in some way. With that said, does the threat of a mobile QB have the chance to benefit Mageo on Saturday?

"We don't put him in a position where he is in space a lot," Bray said of Mageo. "So we can use his size, where he is tackling the ball inside or using inside gaps. I think he is always engaged in that sense."

The linebacker setup OSU was working with against USC consisted of the aforementioned pair of freshman - who at that point had combined for less than six games worth of starting linebacker experience – and one junior, SAM Jabral Johnson. The trio's performance was highlighted by some stout play by Johnson, and some inconsistent play and mistakes from Saulo and Mageo.

Things should be different when OSU touches turf at ASU. The Beavs will be fielding Johnson, Mageo and junior WIL D.J. Alexander, who had been steadily recovering from a stinger for two weeks prior to taking full speed reps with the first team defense in practice at the start of this week.

"All of a sudden, we're a much faster football team," Bray said. "It definitely helps. And then (Alexander's) experience – he played in this game last year, he's played against these offenses a lot – so his experience and his athletic ability helps us a lot."

ASU features an under-appreciated corps of running backs and a speedy QB, the latter of which has thus far proven to be problematic for the Beaver stop corps 2013.

But Bray is confident that with Alexander's speed, Johnson's size and Mageo's burgeoning combination of both attributes, his troops will provide more than just a tough matchup for ASU signal caller Taylor Kelley, senior tailback Marion Grice and others.

"I think we are more than capable, we have shown it many times this year," Bray said. "The biggest thing is ‘knowing my job, doing my job, and then when I'm there, making the tackle.'"

Don't mistake the first person references the 31-year old Bray makes for collegiate nostalgia. In a variety of ways, Bray is still playing football. He is one of the more active and involved OSU coaches in practices, running to and fro and physically showing his players how to accomplish this move or that stick.

And Bray knows the OSU system well, having played under Mike Riley and Mark Banker from 2003-2005. In that time, read-option quarterback threats were not common. Now, the Pac-12 is littered with speedy quarterbacks that can throw and run with the best of them.

According to Bray, the difficulties that pundits and fans associate with mobile QB's are contingent upon whether or not a team can provide solid containment on the defensive side of the ball. But the toughest thing about stopping a mobile QB is all about...

"Just being disciplined and staying on your leverage. You know a lot of guys, sometimes they get lost trying to chase the football," Bray said. "Well, against these offenses it makes you be disciplined, even if you don't make a play all game, you do your job, then you are helping us win.

"You can't get bored in doing your assignment . A lot of times when you watch these teams, (linebackers are) disciplined, disciplined -- then all of a sudden that guy that's supposed to stay outside wants to go make a play on something that's not his and that's when the quarterback pulls out the backside and gets big yards."

Boredom, in a football game? Bray emphasized that it is a very real thing for any defender, but especially a linebacker.

Let's say for example the Beavs were to allocate a QB spy and that's all he does. Bray says it's easy to get bored in that scenario and with younger athletes that want to make contact, they want to help the guy next to them, their eyes stray – and it leads to mistakes.

Bray said that having Alexander and Johnson out there should result in far fewer mistakes overall, especially when it comes to defending the run.

"Any time you get experience and guys that have done it before, learned from the mistakes they've had in the past and the things they've done good in the past, it's a definite plus," he said.

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