Throughout fall camp, one of the deepest and most competitive positions for the Oregon State football team had to be the outside linebacker spots.
The Beavers had starters Hamilcar Rashed Jr. and Andrzej Hughes-Murray returning along with sophomore Matthew Tago and John McCartan in the mix after playing last season.
Throw in the addition of Oklahoma transfer Addison Gumbs, who was rehabbing a torn ACL, and the Beavers appeared set.
But that depth has been severely tested just two games into the season.
Hughes-Murray, voted a team captain, was injured during the final week of training camp and may or may not return this season.
Then last Saturday night at Hawaii, Gumbs tore the ACL in his other knee and is out for the season.
Tago, who had earned a starting spot with Gumbs, also went down with an injury and will miss at least this Saturday’s game against Cal Poly.
“We went from having a lot of depth in that room to not having much depth at all,” defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said Wednesday. “So we’re just trying to get the next guys up and ready to go. ... It’s kind of the next man up. There’s nothing you can do about injuries. They are part of the game and when they happen you’ve got to make the best adjustment we can and go from there.”
The Beavers will turn to Rashed Jr. and McCartan to move into the starting lineup this Saturday at home against Cal Poly. That puts redshirt sophomore Isaac Garcia and redshirt freshman Riley Sharp as the primary backups. Tibesar said true freshman Ryan Franke is also getting some reps.
“It’s very tough because we are a tight-knit group,” Garcia said. “Those guys going down hits us personally but I know what they would want from us would be to step up and to play and to give it our best and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We wish those guys nothing but the best for their speedy recovery and that’s what we’re going to do is step up.”
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Garcia saw some action last week, the first extended time on the field since making the move from the defensive line last season to linebacker this year. That game experience and more reps this week in practice should help, he said.
“It was great to get in,” Garcia said. “Watching film is one thing but actually playing is another because it’s a whole different speed. You’re not going against the scouts, which they do a great job for us but the speed is not quite what it is on the game field.
“So getting those snaps were a great quality rep and I was appreciative of what I got and I made the most of it."
Tibesar pointed out Rashed Jr. as one of the players who stood out in the Hawaii game, saying it was some of the best football he has played at Oregon State.
Rashed Jr. had the trifecta on one play with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery in the third quarter.
“He had a great rush and beat the guy around the corner and beat him clean and was able to get great pressure before the quarterback was ready for it and made a good hit on him and jarred the ball loose,” Tibesar said. “That’s what we’re looking for from those outside backers is to generate that kind of pass rush and get to the quarterback and cause that kind of disruption.”
Rashed Jr. said Wednesday he is ready to elevate his game and feels very confident in his ability to not only perform on the field, but lead some of the younger players as needed.
“Coaches do everything they have to do but also us as players have to get other players better,” he said.
Losing two starters will definitely hurt, but the Beavers feel as if the defense took some big steps against Hawaii. They were able to get more pressure from the pass rush and the run defense limited the Rainbow Warriors to less than 3 yards a carry on 25 attempts.
“I think from last year to this year the defense has made tremendous strides,” Garcia said. “… Obviously there’s a long, long way to go if we want to make it to a bowl game, and that’s why we work day in and day out to get better every day.”