The departure of Kiko Alonzo and Michael Clay after 2012 made last season a rebuilding year of sorts for the Duck linebacker corps, and some maintain the Ducks’ run defense suffered accordingly. The numbers reveal that the Ducks gave up 169 ypg on the ground, up from 142 ypg the year before.
How much that attributed to the extra loss Oregon suffered over the previous season is debatable, but Oregon would like to improve significantly against the run in 2014. Returning all linebackers except Boseko Lokombo from the 2013 two-deep should help. Here’s what’s in store for Oregon’s LB unit this fall.
Derrick Malone: Pride of Colton Part I
Derrick Malone was half of the “Colton Combo” the Ducks relied on to fill those big shoes left by graduation in 2012. The 6-2, 220-pound Malone responded by leading the Webfoots with 105 tackles, most on the team by nearly twenty stops. Though a bit small for a major college linebacker, Malone makes up for it with speed and play-making ability as evidenced by his 38-yard pick six against Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Malone actually played defensive back at Colton High School near San Bernardino, then got to Oregon and kept growing. Now weighing in at 30 pounds over his listed weight as an in-coming freshman, Derrick is prepping to pop someone and spearhead the 2014 edition of Gang Green.
Rodney Hardrick: Pride of Colton Part II
Suffice it to say, the Colton Yellowjackets fielded a salty defense when it featured both Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone. Hardrick will again man an inside backer position after emerging in 2013 with 65 tackles, third-most among returning Ducks. Like his Colton counterpart, Hardrick flies to the ball and has good ball-hawking skills when he drops into coverage. His 65-yard scoop and scamper of a blocked FG attempt aided Oregon’s furious fourth quarter rally at Stanford.
New DC Don Pellum has voiced an inclination to turn players loose a little more in 2014 and let playmakers make plays. Along with Malone, Hardrick stands to benefit as much as any Oregon defender in a more aggressive defensive philosophy.
Tyson Coleman is ready to breakout
One of three Oregon natives with a solid shot at starting when the 2014 season kicks off is outside linebacker Tyson Coleman out of Lake Oswego. After a promising redshirt freshman season that saw him get significant backup and special teams duty, Coleman seemed to experience a minor hiccup in 2013. Late in the year, injuries hampered the former 4-star prep standout named by ESPN as the 17th-best outside linebacker in the nation in 2011.
Like Malone, Coleman has great athleticism and a nose for the football, making him a disruptive force against both the run and pass. After missing the Civil War and Alamo Bowl games, Coleman looks to get back on track in 2014.
Rahim Cassell is back with a vengeance
The 6-0, 223-pound product out of Lakewood, CA, is another Duck linebacker who saw the field a lot last year. Whether he earns a starting spot in 2014 or not, he’ll be counted upon heavily. Last season he accounted for 32 total tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. He also forced and recovered a fumble.
At the very least, Cassell provides the quality depth Oregon needs to keep the linebacker corps fresh enough to play with speed and urgency for four quarters. As Duck fans know, given how horrible the team is at possessing the ball on offense due to scoring so quickly (writer’s tongue firmly in cheek), the team simply can’t have too many fast, physical linebackers to rotate into the lineup.
Joe Walker arrives and thrives
Don’t let Joe Walker’s Southern California surfer dude appearance fool you — his game is more all out than laid back. Walker plays with his hair on fire, which accounts for quite a conflagration given the extent of his locks. From summer pre-season workouts on, it was clear the transfer from L.A. Harbor Community College was going to contribute in his first season in the program.
Walker’s passion and work ethic was rewarded with enough playing time in 2013 to show flashes of what Duck fans can look forward to in the years ahead. Look for him to be among those making the greatest strides of any Duck player in 2014.
Backing the backers
As with defensive backs, Oregon has recruited linebackers at a high level in recent years. The LOI day splash signing of Torrodney Prevot in 2012 comes to mind, and the talented Texan did, in fact, burn his redshirt in his first year in Eugene. At 6-3 and only 215 pounds, Prevot is several laps around the buffet table inside the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex of weighing what he needs to, but his high motor and athleticism is compelling reason to believe the Houston native is going to an outstanding defender.
Other highly touted preps poised to earn their wings in the very near future include 4-star San Diegan Tyrell Robinson, Danny Mattingly out of Spokane, Oshay Dunmore from Newport, OR, and Isaac Ava from Ewa Beach, HI. The 2014 recruiting class welcomes incoming standouts Jimmie Swain from Olathe, KS, and Justin Hollins of Arlington, TX.
At the presser introducing him as the new Oregon DC, Don Pellum indicated a desire to ratchet up the attacking defense the Ducks have been known for. The very players he’s been most instrumental in recruiting in recent years can make that happen.
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Top photo by Craig Strobeck