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OSU shows new look at LB

CORVALLIS — It's not unusual for a position group to enter spring practice with some questions.

Players move on, others compete to fill those spots.

The Oregon State football team is going through quite a bit of change and the linebackers are at the top of the list.

Gone are starters D.J. Alexander, Michael Doctor and Jabral Johnson, and with them a big chunk of production.

Alexander was second on the team with 70 total tackles. Doctor was third with 69 and Johnson fifth with 63.

With Trent Bray at Nebraska with Mike Riley, new linebackers coach Ilaisa Tuiaki is tasked with molding a new group in a new system and eventually finding the starters.

For now, Tuiaki is sticking to the basics.

"I'm just focusing in on the fundamentals and just getting them right and making sure they're doing their assignments the right way," Tuiaki said.

The Beavers do have a some experience at the spot.

Junior Rommel Mageo started seven games in 2013 and got plenty of playing time last season. Junior Caleb Saulo started twice in 2013.

Junior Kyle Haley transferred into the program just before the start of the season last year and got into three games. Sophomore Darrell Songy played a lot of special teams in 2013 but was suspended and sat out last season.

After that, there are sophomores Manase Hungalu, T.J. Hufanga and David Henry, redshirt freshmen Jonathan Willis and Bright Ugwoegbu and freshman Ricky Liuchan.

"I think that the group is really good," Tuiaki said. "I think that the group is athletic and they're young, still have got a lot to learn and growth to go through, but as far as giving them the expectations and having them live up to it, they've been fine so far."

Haley is going through his first spring with the Beavers and said he a strong connection with the team.

His goal is to learn as much as possible along with his fellow linebackers this spring.

"Take it all in, take it day by day and learn from your mistakes, watch film," Haley said. "I feel like they're expecting us to do well. They feel like we have a lot of talent in this group, a lot of young players but we're also talented. So I feel like we're going to have a great group of linebackers this year."

For now, the players are working from a 4-3 formation, which was what they used in previous seasons.

Saulo said there's just some minor differences, such as getting used to new terminology.

"As a linebacking corps, our main thing is to learn the system as fast as we can and I think our coaches are doing a great job of helping implement it so easy and making everything so simple," Saulo said.

"I really want to just develop on the small details of the game and build my awareness, my football IQ level. I feel like I've learned a lot and with this new coaching staff, they're really teaching me a lot of new things."

There's a good mix of players for Tuiaki to work with throughout the spring.

"We've got some guys with pretty good size that move well and we've got some guys that are a little bit smaller than others, but they're faster, more explosive and more athletic," he said. "So we've got a good combination of different types of 'backers and so we're excited to see how we can fit them into the puzzle and make it work."