CORVALLIS — A defensive unit that has nowhere to go but up is getting promising returns from its linebacking corps early in preseason camp.

Jonathan Smith singled out the group on Monday and Oregon State defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar echoed the head coach’s sentiments Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve certainly improved from where we were at a year ago,” Tibesar said after practice at Reser Stadium. “The guys who are back look a lot more comfortable than they did a year ago at this time … and then obviously some of the new guys like Addison (Gumbs) and Avery (Roberts), they have really bolstered the quantity and quality of that room.”

Roberts, a redshirt sophomore who transferred to Oregon State from Nebraska, opened each 11-on-11 session at inside linebacker next to returning starter Shemar Smith. Hamilcar Rashed, Andrzej Hughes-Murray and Gumbs, also a redshirt sophomore transfer (from Oklahoma), all received first-team reps at outside linebacker.

There is also plenty of depth behind the Beavers’ top five linebackers, a fact Hughes-Murray brought up after practice.

“Guys are making huge strides,” the senior said. “We’re really working on our techniques. It being our second year in the system is really helping us out. A lot of it feels like review, and we’re only going up from here.”

Roberts arrived in Corvallis last fall and worked his way into a starting role during the spring. He has solidified that spot through six camp sessions.

The solid 6-foot-1, 231-pound Roberts flies around the practice field and possesses the necessary strength to win inside.

“He’s got great instincts,” Tibesar said of Roberts. “When he arrives, he can arrive with some stopping power and he’s just doing a really good job right there in the middle of our defense.”

Gumbs suffered an ACL injury last August while at Oklahoma and did not participate in spring ball for Oregon State. The coaching staff opted to ease him into camp, gradually increasing his practice reps.

“Great size and athleticism,” linebackers coach Trent Bray said of the 6-4, 242-pound Gumbs. “Just another quality football player in there to add to that competition and add to that depth so we can play more people.”

Added Tibesar: “I think he’s picked up the playbook very well. … He’s not getting every rep in practice, but he’s getting pretty darn close.”

Gumbs and Roberts are bonus pieces for a linebacking corps that was already one of the team’s deeper units.

Returning safety Jalen Moore led the Beavers with 102 tackles last season. Right behind him were linebackers Smith (85 tackles), Doug Taumoelau (54) and Rashed (52), all of whom are back. Matthew Tago, John McCartan, Isaiah Tufaga and true freshman Omar Speights could also be significant contributors this fall.

“We’re bigger, we’re stronger,” Bray said. “We’ve got a little more weight to us on the edges, helps us set those edges better. And then the understanding of where to drop, where to be in the pass rush. Being that it’s year two, I think that growth has happened at all levels for us.”

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