By Kevin Hampton

Corvallis Gazette-Times

The circumstances weren’t ideal, but when Jabral Johnson was thrust into action at outside linebacker for Oregon State last season, he made the most of the opportunity.

Injuries limited D.J. Alexander at times and knocked Michael Doctor out for most of the season, so the Beavers relied on Johnson to step in and play at a high level.

Johnson responded by finishing second on the team with 94 tackles with 3.5 for loss.

With all three players back, the best way to get them on the field together was to move Johnson to middle linebacker this spring.

“I think it’s a good look for us,” Alexander said. “Jabral’s very smart and he can play any of the linebacker positions, so when we found out he was going into the middle, it was like, ‘OK.’ He can play anything he wants to play, but that’s a good fit for us.”

There hasn’t been any major speed bumps in Johnson’s transition inside.

He played some middle linebacker (MAC) in nickel and dime formations for the Beavers last season.

Johnson’s experience as an outside linebacker also comes in handy.

“It helps me out a lot because I already know what to expect as far as the linebackers are concerned. I can just take my knowledge from outside linebacker and put it together with the MAC and learn different stuff,” Johnson said.

“Just knowing exactly what the outside linebacker has to do according to what plays. So power, the outside linebacker spills, so the MAC plays off the outside linebacker. It’s just simple stuff like that, knowing where your help is, what the outside linebacker does in pass routes. It all ties together.”

OSU linebackers coach Trent Bray compares Johnson to Rueben Robinson, who had the ability to fill any of the linebacker roles.

“He adds depth at MAC and he adds depth at outside because he can play both,” Bray said. “So he’s really like two guys for us, which is great.”

Johnson said he wants to stay in the 230- to 235-pound range so he can continue to contribute at outside linebacker when needed.

With Alexander and Doctor back, Johnson can relax and settle into his new role.

“It feels good,” Johnson said. “I can count on the outside ’backers to make the right decisions and I can just play more confident and fast because I know they’re going to do their assignments.”