You really screwed things up Kiko. I had a comparative post for the defenses between 2010 and 2011 all set to put up after the Spring Game and my conclusion was going to be this coming year's defense will be better than the last year's defense.
Now I'm not so sure.
If you compare units you'll see that every unit would have been more talented and better prepared to run our defense than last year. The defensive backs lost Talmadge Jackson, but Cliff Harris 2011 will be better than Jackson 2010. All we would have needed was for Gildon, Hill, Mitchell, Patterson to be better than a 6 game Cliff Harris from 2010 (considering Gildon started the first 6 games last year). Boyett and Pleasant will both be improved, and Dargan and Scales will add depth to the DBs making the entire unit better than last year.
The defensive line will see the greatest improvement. Don't get me wrong, I loved, Rowe, Clark and Bair, but they were undersized or not fast enough to be elite at their position. Heimuli, Special K (Keliikipi), and Jordan are a dramatic improvement. We've seen that already in the spring practices. Some are concerned that Brandon Hanna would be able to step in and be just as effective as Rowe at the drop-end position. My contention is that Hanna would have been better suited to cover the flats because we won't be using the drop-end as much on the blitz with Jordan, Turner on the edges and Heimuli, Special K up the middle combined with the upgrade in speed the LBs provided.
But that brings us to the linebackers. We lost Matthews and Paysinger. Two talented and experienced guys that had produced every year for the Ducks. These guys transformed what Duck fans think about and expect from the LB position. Paysinger never really seemed comfortable with the WILL position being a converted WR. But his speed allowed him to stay with TEs and get to the edges. Too often though he'd get caught looking inside and had to rely on that speed to not get beat (watch the first half of the UT game). Michael Clay will be replacing him and is a junior with two full years of experience. Clay's fundamentals are exceptional. He reads the line and closes as well as any linebacker we have right now. He needed to work on his pass coverage skills, but with such a talented group of DBs behind him, my last concern was going to be whether or not our WILL was going to be able to cover the 3-7 yard passes and we'd lose to teams that way.
Kaddu will be improved at the SAM having played there all of last year and most of 2009. On top of that we have Boseko Lokombo right behind him on the depth chart with experience, and word out of spring practices was they were experimenting with moving Lokombo into the drop-end putting more speed on the field and using a more tradional 3-4 alignment (makes a lot of sense with Special K and Heimuli in the middle clogging things up).
Lastly, we were going to have a hungry, ready to prove himself MIKE in Kiko Alonso ready to lead that defense in the middle. The MIKE has been the most important position in New Aliotti's defense. He communicates the alignments, he reads the offensive fronts and he's the first to react to pass, rush, middle or outside. Alonso was going to be the main cog that turned the defensive wheel. He'd had such a promising Sophomore year playing in 12 games, accumulating 16 tackles as a reserve MIKE, and being one of Oregon's top special teams players. With a full year off rehabbing a knee injury and paying his dues for a DUII, my concerns with the defense were in Kiko's ability to lead the defense and the overall depth of our LBs.
With Alonso's indefinite suspension (and most likely long term loss of playing time) consider me even more worried now.
Take a look at our depth chart. Beside the LBs already mentioned we have Dewitt Stuckey (a senior who appeared in 7 games with 6 tackles all of last year) and Blake Thompson (another senior who appeared in 4 games and had 2 tackles) as our only other guys with experience. Everyone else on scholarship is a freshman, sophomore or redshirt freshman with no experience.
Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you. We could move Kaddu over to MIKE (not ideal whatsoever) and start Lokombo to give us the most experienced LB corp. But that means Kaddu is going to have to learn all over again and it also takes away Lokombo from playing in that drop-end position. We could put Stuckey in the MIKE but we're relying on a senior with 14 games of total experience and 12 total tackles in his career (FYI, Jeff Maehl has more tackles in 2007 (14) than Stuckey does in his whole career) to lead this defensive front 7. On top of all that, we can't afford a single injury or we'll be relying on redshirt freshmen or incoming freshmen that have a month to learn a complex 4-3 hybrid zone blitz system.