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Rodriguez's transition to linebacker fills key area

Trey Sermon and Malcolm Rodriguez

Oklahoma State safety Malcolm Rodriguez (20) has switched to linebacker.

Malcolm Rodriguez put on some weight this summer, much to Mike Gundy's approval.

The weight gain was enough that Gundy has switched Rodriguez to a new position that fills a key hole.

The junior from Wagoner spent last season as the Oklahoma State football team's primary safety on defense. This season, Gundy decided to switch Rodriguez to linebacker, a position that's been less than hopeful for Gundy due to injuries. 

"That's the one area we have limitations right now," Gundy said. "We've had a few guys get dinged up and so we needed some depth there."

Calvin Bundage, who is the defense's most experienced linebacker, started practicing again a few weeks ago after recovering from prior injuries.

Injuries aren't the only thing holding this Cowboy linebacking corps back. On the Cowboys roster, there are only three upperclassmen at the position. Rodriguez's addition will bring needed experience.

"(We're) youthful at linebacker," Gundy said. "Linebacker will be a lot like the quarterback position."

When looking at Rodriguez's physique, he draws comparisons to a football player at the striker position. And no, not the striker position in association football. Similar to the cowboy back on offense, a striker is a linebacker/defensive back hybrid. 

The position has been popularized by teams such as Miami and Navy. These strikers are similar to outside linebackers, but have the speed and agility of a defensive back. 

If Gundy lines Rodriguez up with an opposing team's slot receiver, his speed will provide better coverage than the typical outside linebacker.

"A lot of the game is played side-to-side now," Gundy said. "It’s not played straight ahead so that allows him to come down and help us out a little bit in that position.

It may not be the ideal situation for Rodriguez as the only position he's played in college was safety. But sliding him to linebacker does add some needed experience.

“I was kind of the oldest one last year," Rodriguez said. "This year I really am the oldest one back there, so I have to step into that leadership."  

While Rodriguez added weight this offseason, he is still on the smaller side for a typical linebacker. Gundy said that Rodriguez currently weighs from 212 to 215 pounds, but would rather have him be around 225.

It may take time for Rodriguez to get adjusted to the new position, but Gundy believes the change works well for his defense.

"To a certain extent, what they do is a lot like the position he's playing anyway," Gundy said. "(Rodriguez) was the guy that was a good fit for us to move down to that position anyways."