In Oregon State’s 3-4 scheme, outside linebackers are required to be multifaceted havoc wreakers.
Stopping the run, rushing the passer and understanding coverages are the prime skills defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar seeks in an outside linebacker. It’s a job fit for a select few.
“They have to be some of the major playmakers on our defense,” said Tibesar, who works with the OLBs while Trent Bray handles the interior linebackers. “There’s an obligation and a responsibility when you play that position in this defense that you have to be a playmaker.”
The message has been received by the Beavers’ young but talented batch of rangy defenders.
For the first time since fall camp began Aug. 3, OSU went fully live in 11-on-11s — including quarterbacks — to close Wednesday’s practice at Prothro Field. Kee Whetzel opened the scrimmage by deflecting a Jake Luton pass and fellow outside linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray sacked Connor Blount a few plays later.
The rare live session was a nice treat for a defense that had just 14 sacks and forced 14 turnovers a season ago.
“Your mouth starts to water a bit,” Hughes-Murray said of being allowed to hit the quarterback. “You want to do everything you can to get to them because we work every day in practice, but we can’t touch them. So when you finally get that chance, it’s ‘ooh, I’ve got to get them!’”
Added Tibesar: “Nothing simulates a live tackle like a live tackle in 11-on-11 football.”
Hughes-Murray, a native of Federal Way, Washington, played in all 12 games last year and finished with 21 tackles and a sack. The versatile 6-foot-2, 245-pound junior figures to have a bigger role on the defense this fall.
Whetzel and Hamilcar Rashed have run with the first-string in practice, regularly causing problems for the offensive tackles and quarterbacks.
“Me and Ham are definitely molding well with the positions we play,” Whetzel said. “There are high expectations for both of us coming from coach Tibs, so we’re just looking to fulfill those high expectations.”
Whetzel recorded 26 tackles with two sacks as a freshman in 2017 and was a standout performer during spring practice. The 6-3, 206-pound sophomore from Clearwater, Florida, traveled to Pac-12 media day with teammate Blake Brandel and has blossomed into a leader for the Beavers.
“It’s just been a joy for me,” Whetzel said. “This is always kind of what I wanted to do, and I’m just living out my dream. … Pac-12 media days was awesome, I had so much fun with that. Coming back, the guys were teasing me about being on TV.”
Rashed, who stands 6-4 and weighs 223 pounds, said the linebackers are putting in hours of work each day to learn the playbook. Rushing the passer is a big emphasis, but Tibesar expects the outside linebackers to be well-rounded players.
The responsibilities aren’t overwhelming for Rashed, a graduate of Arizona’s Chandler High.
“I love it,” the sophomore said. “You’ve got to love it. We have to set that edge, man up to it and just take it to them and get gritty.”
Hughes-Murray credits Tibesar for striking a balance between work and play during practice and meetings.
Tibesar allows the players to be themselves while keeping things serious and focused.
“I love being an outside linebacker here at Oregon State, it’s so much fun,” Hughes-Murray said. “I get to be with my best friends and I’ll say it, our linebacking corps is a brotherhood more than anything.”
The close-knit batch of playmakers have a long way to go before their Sept. 1 season opener at Ohio State, but Tibesar is encouraged by the progress.
“We’ve got a group that has some talent and we’ve got to get a lot more precise in our technique and our consistency,” Tibesar said. “But I’m excited to be working with these guys.”