(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
|Starter||Josh Kaddu (6-3, 235, Jr)||Casey Matthews (6-2, 235 Sr)||Spencer Paysinger (6-3, 231, Sr)|
|Reserves||Boseko Lokombo (6-3, 223, RFr)||Bryson Littlejohn (6-1, 225, Sr)||Michael Clay (5-11, 225, So)|
|Blake Thompson (5-11, 230, Jr)||Kiko Alonso (6-4, 222, So) *Injured/Suspended||Dewitt Stuckey (5-11, 221, Jr)|
This year's linebackers have everything you want in a group, speed, experience, talent, leadership and depth. Even with the season long suspension to Kiko Alonso (and subsequent season long injury) as well as the move of Eddie Pleasant to Safety (a starter all last year) the Duck linebackers are loaded in the two deep.
This group will be one of the biggest reasons for either success or failure of the defense this year. The defense of the Ducks is predicated now on how the linebackers play. You look at the losses last year (Boise State, Stanford and Ohio State) and the play of the linebackers was a main contributing factor for each of them. Given the scheme that Aliotti has chosen to employ, that will be the case this year again. When you look at the move of Pleasant to safety, the experience of Paysinger and Matthews and the position battle between Kaddu and Lokombo you will see that the Oregon Duck defense firmly revolves around the play of the linebackers.
The senior leaders of this group will be Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger. Paysinger usually lines up on the weak side, but with the adjustments and variations that Aliotti uses these two guys are pretty much interchangeable.
Routinely, the defense will line up and then Matthews will signal the adjustments to the D-line as well as the linebackers. If the QB is the commander of the offense the middle linebacker is definitely the commander of the defense and Matthews has the pedigree, talent and experience to be one of the best in the Pac 10. He's already on the watch list for the Lott Trophy and Lombardi Award. Plus he loves to make plays like this:
Paysinger, a converted WR, is one of the fastest guys on the team. Besides speed he also brings versatility to the weakside linebacker position. He can blitz, run stop, play zone and also line up and cover a slot if needed. He's the lightning to Matthews' thunder. Besides his devilish good looks, he's also able to make plays like this:
The final starter will be Josh Kaddu, who after a very promising start to last year suffered a season ending injury during the UW game. Kaddu is a stud strongside linebacker with his ability to take on a lineman, shadow the linebacker and also shut down the running game.
The only thing that might be standing in Kaddu's way is Boseko Lokombo. As a redshirt freshman, there's not a lot of history on Lokombo, but judging by the way Kelly talked about him in the Spring, and from the reports that have come out so far in the first week of practice in the Fall, it's obvious that Lokombo will get his shot at playing time this year.
Whether Kaddu or Lokombo starts this coming year, both are an upgrade in size at the linebackers by moving Pleasant to safety. Both Kaddu and Lokombo have much better size to be able to take on a pulling a guard or full-backs and keep the running back from exploiting some of the gaps in Oregon's 3-4 defense.
Adding to the obvious depth and talent of this group is Michael Clay. One of only 3 true freshman to see the field in 2009 for the Ducks, and a guy who is firmly in the plans at linebacker for Oregon's future. Clay will play an important role as a reserve for the Ducks this year. Clay, Bryson Littlejohn (YEEEEAAAHHHHH!!!!), Blake Thompson and Dewitt Stuckey round out a group that will not only be important as reserves, but should also see plenty of time early in the season and throughout the year on special teams.
There are high expectations for the Ducks defense this year coming off a conference leading performance in 2009, and the linebackers are going to be the ones that determine whether or not the Ducks repeat as the best defense in the Pac 10. Given the increase in size by adding Kaddu and Lokombo, the experience of Paysinger and Matthews, the depth that is provided by Clay and Littlejohn, and the overall speed of every Duck linebacker, look for the Oregon defense to be shutting down offenses once again and bringing all kinds of different packages for offensive lineman and quarterbacks to try and figure out as they lead this defense back to the top of the Pac 10.