Expectations were high for senior linebackers Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay last season, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. The trio was the backbone of the programs’ best defense in recent memory and combined for 226 tackles (22 percent of the team total), 34.5 tackles for loss and nine of the teams 28 sacks. That production resulted in high draft positions for Jordan (third overall, Dolphins) and Alonso (45th, Bills), but begs the question: how will the Ducks replace them on the field?
A large number of linebackers sat out spring practice due to minor injuries, but JUCO transfer Joe Walker didn’t waste his opportunity to make a strong first impression. A true run-stuffing middle linebacker with a 6’2″, 230 lb-frame (and three years of eligibility remaining), Walker’s high-effort, high-motor style of play could shake things up a bit this fall when the depth chart is revealed. The experience of Derrick Malone, Rahim Cassell and Tyson Coleman may give them the inside edge for now and relegate Walker mostly to special teams (where he’s a willing participant), but he could develop into a player similar to Casey Matthews or Michael Clay – but three inches taller.
The “Next Man Up” philosophy of the Ducks has allowed them to overcome losses such as that of John Boyett last season. In the end, the best players always find a way to get on the field, and the Ducks’ linebackers should embrace the competition and opportunity that they have in front of them this fall. The Ducks are, again, one of the favorites to win it all this season, but a critical issue is effectively reloading at linebacker.