Leading up to the start of Oregon’s fall camp on Monday, CSNNW.com will preview the Ducks by ranking the Top 25 (or so) most important players entering the season. Spoiler alert: Quarterback Marcus Mariota is not No. 1. Importance here is measured by a a subjective combination of past production, expected production and potential production weighted against replacement options, and how much of an impact a player’s success of failure could have on the overall success of the Ducks in 2014 as they continue to chase an elusive national title.
No. 21: Rodney Hardrick.
Position: Inside linebacker.
Year: Redshirt junior.
Ht./Wt.: 6-1, 231.
Claim to fame: A first-year starter last season, Hardrick had 65 tackles with three for loss. Also recovered three fumbles and had an interception.
Why he is important: Oregon's run defense struggled late last season, and there was plenty of blame to go around.
Hardrick finished sixth on the team with 65 tackles, a relatively low number for an inside linebacker, a position that routinely produces the team's top tacklers. Hardrick certainly could improve, especially in the area of producing tackles for loss. A big hitter with great instincts, Hardrick figures to make a leap in production this season.
The Ducks will need him to do just that in order to contend for a national title. If there is one aspect of the defense that appears a bit off from the BCS Ducks teams it's the linebacker positions. This crew, as of yet, has not measured up to the group of Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.
The options behind Hardrick and fellow inside starter Derrick Malone, have thinned considerably with the departures of Rahim Cassel and Tyrell Robinson.
Projected linebacker depth chart:
ILB: Rodney Hardrick (RJr., 6-1, 243); Joe Walker (Jr., 6-2, 237).
No. 22: DT Sam Kamp and company.
No. 24: OL Andre Yruretagoyena.
No. 25: DB Troy Hill.