UPDATE, 4:00 PM: The countdown clock in the left sidebar has been updated. Watch that space over the next few weeks as we countdown to kickoff on September 5!
So far, we've analyzed questions that need to be answered in fall camp in the secondary, at running back, and on the defensive line. Today, we'll round out the defense with the linebackers.
A week into fall camp, it seems like the linebackers are a group that not many people are worried about, and rightly so. The headliner of the group is of course Keaton Kristick, who has the potential to put his name right up there with the best linebackers in Oregon State history. He recored 82 tackles last year on the strong side, and is poised to continue his improvement this season. He was overwhelmingly voted a team captain, represented the team at Pac-10 media day, and has his name on the Bednerik Trophy (best defensive player in the nation) watch list.
There is moderate reason to be worried about David Pa'aluhi, the penciled-in starter at middle linebacker who has missed the last couple days of practice with what was originally called headaches, then changed to a concussion. I haven't heard much on his progress, but I'm guessing that Barney Graff and the OSU training staff is taking it easy on easing such a hard-hitter (think Al Afalava) back into practice after his head trama.... in the meantime, Keaton Kristick has moved over into the middle linebacker spot (he could probably start there), flanked by Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey. That's not a bad threesome there-- but lets hope Pa'aluhi is ready to deliver some blows again as soon as possible.
The weak side is where the Beavers have two players who could start: juniors Dwight Robertson and Keith Pankey. They're both probably going to start in 2010 after Kristick leaves, but who will start in 2009? The answer to that question is probably... well... I don't know. Pankey started in all 13 games last season, but Roberson played just as much it seems like... and was often in the game down the stretch in the 4th quarter.
This was what Keaton Kristick had to say on the two-headed monster at weakside linebacker earlier in the off-season:
"Where one has an upside, the other has a downside, you know? They flip-flop and come in every couple plays for each other but it makes a lot of sense. ... they've gotten to the point where they're both juniors now. They probably shouldn't be picking one to play all the time because next year they're going to be seniors and I'm going to be gone.''
Additional backups at the linebacker position include juniors Keo Camat and Walker Vave.
Assuming Pa'aluhi returns healthy, I'm pretty excited about the linebackers this season. Throw in Kristick on the strong side, and the aforementioned two-headed monster on the weak-side, and this should be a group ready to stuff the likes of Best, McKnight, Blount, Grigsby, and all the other talented running backs who will look to run over Pac-10 defenses this year.