POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

PA'ALUHI, PANKEY and KRISTICK

CORVALLIS--With the loss of four seniors off the depth chart, one might ponder whether a drop off in the linebacking corps this season for the Beavs is looming. But with senior strongside linebacker and Lott Trophy watch list member Keaton Kristick, fast rising David Pa'aluhi plus other young developing talent, the 2009 Beavs might just field the strongest linebackers unit OSU has seen in years.

Of course, no disrespect to that stellar group of Joey LaRocque, Derrick Doggett and Alan Darlin from a few years back.

But the speed, intensity and toughness that this year's linebackers displayed this spring was impressive.

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Continually throughout the spring, Beavers head coach Mike Riley suggested that strongside linebacker Keaton Kristick may potentially be the best player in the Pac-10 conference. And Riley may be onto something..

The way that Kristick flies from sideline to sideline like a man possessed, some of the hits that he laid into offensive players getting in his way, and the all around way that the linebacker disrupted plays could play a favorable role in how well the Oregon State defense plays this season.

Every spring practice, so it seemed, Kristick engaged his "non-stop motor," and found himself in the backfield play after play, something that undoubtedly irritated the offensive line to no end. The tenacity that the senior linebacker displayed on a day-to-day basis was second to none on the OSU defense. Add in his sure tackling and leadership traits and it might turn out to be a special season for the 6-3, 226-pounder.

AT MIDDLE LINEBACKER, the Beavers have potentially one of the hardest hitters in the history of the program in David Pa'aluhi III. But more importantly than that, in part-time duty in '08, he was a playmakin' Jimmy out on the gridiron last season.

Indeed, Pa'aluhi burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman, gaining more and more playing time as the season progressed, and he carried his play over to this spring. Some of the licks that the sophomore 'backer laid on offensive players made Al Afalava's hit on Jake Locker a couple seasons ago look tame.

Naturally, Pa'aluhi is a virtual lock to become the first Oregon State linebacker to start at the position as a sophomore since Richard Seigler started as a freshman in 2000.

A pair of juniors are expected to backup Pa'aluhi after redshirt freshman and No. 2 middle linebacker Tony Wilson went down with a knee injury late in the month of April. While Wilson is expected to make a full recovery and return sometime in the fall, the Beavs will move on with Walker Vave and Keo Camat as the MLB backups.

Both have been special teams players over their careers at Oregon State, but both will have ample opportunities to get on the field this season in order to spell Pa'aluhi -- it remains in question which one will step up this fall to grab said playing time.


DWIGHT ROBERSON

AT THE WEAKSIDE linebacker position, it has seemingly become clear there will not be a solution to the "PT problem" -- juniors Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson continue to battle for the starting position, a battle that Riley has strongly indicated will continue late into fall camp until one or the other come out on top. It could also be a similar situation to last year, when both played roughly equal reps on Saturdays.

Roberson seemed to have the upper hand mid-spring but then Pankey came on strong -- and back and forth it went.

Both players covered a lot of ground throughout the spring, and each displayed good pass coverage skills, as well as an affinity for hard hits and the ability to track down the ball carrier. Riley has said that both players will likely end up getting playing time at the position; it is just a matter of how it will be split. 50-50? 60-40? Or will one emerge as the prominent starter? Only fall camp will tell.

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mark Banker and linebackers coach Greg Newhouse like to substitute on defense -- liberally. But it might be hard to sit Kristick down much. When the coaches do want to give him a breather, however, there's developing depth behind him in Zane Norris and Kameron Krebs, the latter is also listed on the depth chart as the No. 3 weakside linebacker.

Losing Wilson hurts a bit depth-wise but Norris, younger brother of Slade Norris, was one of four Oregon State "Scout Team MVP's" last season as voted on by his teammates. This spring he showed good sideline to sideline speed for a player of his size (6-2, 200), and a good nose for reading where the play is headed.

Krebs, brother of Beaver wide receiver Kaulin, injured his knee early on in the month, returned to practice, and then re-injured it in the later weeks of practice, requiring offseason surgery.

Both linebackers are young and still raw, but this spring showed a good amount of potential and certainly add depth to the position.

LINEBACKER HAS BEEN a position of consistency at Oregon State for some time now, and year after year Newhouse has been able to churn out dynamic, game-changing players. While most of the pressure will be on Kristick to deliver, keep an eye on Pa'aluhi, he's a rising star. The spring also showed an ample supporting cast that should help solidify a youngish Oregon State defense.

If you missed any of the BF.C post spring breakdowns so far, click to:
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Quarterback
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Wide receivers
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Running backs
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Offensive line
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Tight end
POST-SPRING BREAKDOWN: Safeties

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