Linebacker play has been at the center of Oregon State’s defensive success this football season.
Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander have made an impact with their speed on the outside and Kevin Unga anchors the middle.
However, the unsung standouts have been the backups at each of the positions. And they share the same name — Rueben Robinson.
“We hope they all make it through the season,” coach Mike Riley said recognizing he’s thin at linebacker. “Those are our four best guys and they’ve done a nice job. And we have Rueben, who is a good versatile guy who can play inside and outside.”
Robinson, a senior, is the backup at all three positions. The Beavers have played only four linebackers so far this season.
Is that a lack of depth or a testament to what Robinson can do?
“No, it’s not a problem,” linebackers coach Trent Bray said. “With Rueben, he’s like an extra linebacker with the multiple positions he can play. It’s a good rotation for guys to get enough rest. We rotate them in and the guys know what they are doing.”
Bray, in his first year working with OSU’s linebackers, came in and assessed them. He found four were game ready, so he has worked with who’s available.
Jabral Johnson and Shaydon Akuna, younger outside linebacker backups, still need some work but are coming along.
“They are getting better every week,” Bray said. “Behind them it’s real young with sophomores without a lot of experience. They are gaining it every week. Guys who play are guys who can execute. If six show me in practice they can execute, they play. If four do, then four play.”
Until the younger players are ready, Robinson has been given the task of being three people and he enjoys the challenge.
“I just wanted to help the team any way I could,” Robinson said. “I respect the coaches’ decisions. They play who they think can win, and I just want to help.”
Robinson played as a true freshman, mostly on special teams, but some as the middle linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Chandler, Ariz., has the size to play in the middle and played more as a sophomore.
However, there was an abundance of middle linebackers last year so he moved to the outside to utilize some of his speed.
When Bray saw Robinson’s versatility during spring practice and training camp, he decided on his role.
“I’ve started both positions so that helped me,” Robinson said. “It’s awesome the coaches have faith in me and I understand the responsibility on me to play both outside and inside.”
Robinson continually runs in and out of games and must practice all three positions during the week.
There are times he thinks like a middle linebacker while on the outside, but his responsibilities come back to him quickly.
“Thankfully we have four days of practice so I can get all my mistakes out of the way,” Robinson said. “I’m used to it now so I know what I’m supposed to do.”
Robinson has been in on 16 tackles, a sack and an interception. As long as the Beavers keep playing tight games, they’ll need him to keep the linebackers rested and make plays when needed.
“I’m sure they want to get some of these younger guys in to see what they can do, but I’m just making the best of my opportunity,” Robinson said. “The starters and I are all healthy and we are having fun.”