Over the next week, before spring practice starts on March 30th, we'll be taking a look at each section of the team, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and looking at any battles that will be taking place. Today we look at the linebackers.
Going into last season, the linebacking corp was a significant concern. Former walk-on Spencer Paysinger was starting at the will linebacker position after the dismissal of Kevin Garrett, while the middle linebacker position was up in the air with Casey Matthews and John Bacon fighting it out. However, by the end of the season, Paysinger and Matthews were stars of the defense -- Paysinger was the 2nd leader tackler on the team, while Matthews notched 13 TFL over the season, while only starting the last 7 games of the season. These two playes will be the building blocks for what will be one of the best and deepest linebacking corps we've seen at Oregon in some time.
Matthews is going to be starting at middle linebacker, while Paysinger will be starting at one of the outside spots. As both of these players will be juniors this fall, it will be great to see them progress and begin to lead the defense, as more will be put on them this year.
Rounding out the main corp will be either Eddie Pleasant or Bryson Littlejohn. Pleasant, a sophomore, could be an absolute beast, as long as he has his head together. Last season, with 5-11 223lb size, he was the teams fastest linebacker, with a 4.72 electronically timed 40 (he had a hand timed 4.44 during winter conditioning), while being one of the strongest as well. He has the speed and strength to play and pass and run, and I am excited to see what he can do this year. He played a good deal in last year's UCLA game, and he showed flashes of greatness. Oh, and just to reiterate, he's a sophomore.
Littlejohn, a 4-star JC transfer will push him. He's got a bit of size on Pleasant, and could be every bit as fast. In his JC video, he was all over the field, and was frequently in coverage. Due to this, he could conceivably push Paysinger, as well, for playing time, however, with Paysinger's production last season, this is doubtful.
[UPDATE] Littlejohn will not be on campus for spring practice.
With the starting positions pretty much set, the backup battles could become interesting, not necessarily for this year, but for future years.
Brandon Hanna (So.) will likely be backing up Matthews, but may have to hold off Kiko Alonso, who was productive on the scout team last year. battling for outside spots will be Dewitt Stuckey (So.), Riley Showalter (Sr., former walk-on, who may not have a scholarship next fall), Josh Kaddu (So.), and if he can work out his issues, Terrance Pritchett (So.), who is currently suspended. All of these players have been productive in special teams and on scout teams, so even if they don't play at linebacker often, get used to hearing their names.
Also, two very talented incoming freshmen will be coming in for fall camp, Boseko Lokombo and Michael Clay. We won't see them in the spring, but they figure to compete for playing time this fall.
The main 4 linebackers could all end up being great college football players. There is experience as well as talent, and backing them up are a lot of competent young guys who have done well in the roles they've been given.
This position doesn't really have any holes, and will be counted on to carry the defense at times. The addition of Pleasant and Littlejohn will be very important to watch, as they take over some of the linebacker cover roles. This spring could be fairly boring when watching this unit, but I'm just fine with that.