Linebackers hope to remain the core of Duck defense

Linebackers hope to remain the core of Duck defense
April 10, 2013, 11:00 am
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One on One with Boseko Lokombo, Filling Big Shoes as Leader

Eugene– For all of the love and praise the Oregon offense receives, the defense may feel like a shunned sibling at times.  Who would blame them, though, with the Ducks scoring so frequently and often, the defense usually finds themselves reaching for their helmets before they even take a swig of water.

Last year’s unit was historically one of the best, allowing just 21.6 points per game in an offensively loaded conference which saw weekly matchups rival basketball scores.

The only thing that really was able to efficiently attack he Duck defense last year were injuries. John Boyett and Avery Patterson would suffer season ending knee injuries, while Dion Jordan and the rest of the defensive line were being patched up weekly. The only consistent position in terms of health last year was the linebacker core of Boseko Lokombo, Michael Clay, and Kiko Alonso. There durability was helped sustain Oregon’s defense during some very injury-plagued stretches.

So as spring practice approaches, and the rest of the positions heal up after off-season injuries, the linebackers have some patching up to do, though this time its due to graduation.

Clay and Alonso are out the door, and so are their combined 182 tackles. That leaves Lokombo and his 39 tackles last season as the sole returning starter. That’s no cause for panic though, as Lokombo is quickly maturing into a leader on the defensive side and has taken some lessons from the book of Dion Jordan on preperation. Lokombo has discussed how Jordan educated him on the importance of emerging as a leader, and the hard work necessary to become an elite defender.

Lokombo won’t be alone in ’13, there has been plenty of early buzz about the development of Tyson Coleman, who in a reserve role last season, still managed an impressive 34 tackles. Coleman is one of many young Ducks looking for a chance  to crack into the starting lineup.

For veteran linebacker coach Don Pellum, the issue isn’t a lack of talent, but where does he place that talent? Clay excelled as the middle linebacker–the quarterback of the defense– as Alonso and Lokombo were able to make plays on the outside. Lokombo is now the most experienced player, but is the middle the best fit for him, or do the Ducks keep him on the outside and bring a younger player in like Coleman to command the middle?

Expect the Ducks to follow the same philosophy for defense, that they do on offense; placing the best players on the field and putting them in positions to excel. Oregon rarely tries to “force” a player into an unnatural position. Experience is valuable for any position, but would Oregon be better suited to keep Lokombo on the outside and groom a new middle linebacker to replace Clay? I wish I could give you the exact answer now, but that’s what spring practice is for. Just like last season though, the Ducks will need to have their linebackers continue to step up. Besides, the offense can’t get all the love, right?