Last spring, Tim Tibesar’s defense was so banged up at certain positions they barely had enough healthy players at times to spell guys, causing the healthy ones to take more reps than usual.
But through four practices this spring, Tibesar and the Oregon State football coaches are feeling good about the renewed depth on the field.
They have been able to piece together three groups at each position.
Now they want to get all those players up to speed.
“You are always continuing to develop the guys behind the starters because all it takes is one play and the next guy’s got to be ready to go,” Tibesar, the Beavers’ defensive coordinator, said on Tuesday. “We’re still trying to develop the kind of depth that we need to play in our league.”
One of those areas is the linebackers. Tibesar said the outside linebackers have gotten bigger and stronger through the offseason. He also likes the depth at the inside position, where Nebraska transfer Avery Roberts is beginning to find his way.
“Then we’ve got some guys who weren’t here even last spring — Isaiah Tufaga played a lot of football for us in the fall,” Tibesar said. “We’re certainly a lot better positioned this spring than we were last year.”
Roberts was on campus last season but spent most of his time working with the scout team so this spring has been an adjustment.
“You can see, obviously, his physical talent,” Tibesar said. “He’s a very instinctive linebacker, does a great job of reading and reacting. And when he hits a guy he can knock him backwards.
“So we’re seeing some of those things. There’s still some missed assignments like that because he got here in fall camp so to speak but then the rest of the time he was running the scout defense and he was looking at a cards. So he’s trying to get familiarized again with our defense.”
Roberts, who said he chose Oregon State in part because of his relationship with linebackers coach Trent Bray, who coached Roberts while at Nebraska, is excited to be back in the mix.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s the first time actually getting to run all the plays with the guys. Being on the scout team all last year I didn’t get to really run the system so this is actually my first time getting to be with the guys and learning the system and getting to see what it feels like and how everything flows.”
Roberts joins a group that includes starters Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Andrzej Hughes-Murray and Shemar Smith. Tufaga, John McCartan, Doug Taumoelau and Matthew Tago also saw plenty of action last season.
Also, Oklahoma transfer Addison Gumbs will join the mix when he is healthy.
“It seems like we have a lot of people stepping up right now, I personally saw Omar (Speights) step up today,” Rashed said. “... John, all these young people working and getting mental reps. And being more physical to the ball.”
Being physical to the ball is something the Beavers lacked last season.
“That’s probably a huge part of me playing linebacker,” Roberts said. “You have to be physical. Everything else follows that.”
With so many more healthy bodies, Rashed said players can get mental reps while watching and learning from teammates.
“Coach Tibs always talks about always correcting and getting corrected on mistakes and learning from other people’s mistakes so you won’t make the same mistakes," he said. "That’s how we’re stepping forward and doing that right now.”
While Roberts wasn’t on the field last season, he has seen a lot of growth from the end of last season.
“It’s a huge improvement from what I seen at the end of last season to now,” he said. “Guys are flying around at all positions — D line, DBs, linebackers, so it’s really exciting getting to see guys compete and young guys stepping up and getting in the mix.”