Some of the more interesting position battles of fall camp come across the board at the linebacker position. After losing the likes of Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick , Tyson Coleman and Christian French the Ducks are in need of new blood at the position. Changing into a 4-3 means that not as many bodies will be needed as in the past where not only would we see the 4 man linebacker group but also the mass substitutions.
As mentioned the Ducks certainly lost some talent at the linebacker position and more importantly senior leadership. Although it’s fair to argue this point as there were so many times last year where we saw poor play from the position. Regardless, departed from the Ducks are 7th round draft pick Joe Walker along with inside linebacker partner Rodney Hardrick and outside linebackers Tyson Coleman and Christian French.
Definitely a spot for some newcomers to break their way into the rotation this year with the aforementioned departures. Transfer players Jonah Moi and A.J. Hotchkins both have a real good chance at early playing time. Moi redshirted last year so he has more experience with the program but Hotchkins is quite talented. Plenty of freshman join the list as well. LaMar Winston and Darrian Franklin are two that I have my eye on for playing time as well as A.J. Hotchkins, who Helfrich recently praised publicly.
Returners to watch
Johnny Raigan III. When you’re the defensive player brought to the Pac-12 media days, the pressure is squarely on you to lead the defense. Raigan has the expectation to be a very solid player in the middle and I look for him to have a nice season. I think he’ll be solid, but he needs to make a big jump from how good he was last year to be a star this year.
Danny Mattingly. Mattingly is your everyday middle linebacker who brings the thump. Still never adjusted to pass coverage, but perhaps the change in defense helps with that. He’s a nice player to have who has been around for a while and seen what the Pac-12 has to offer.
Jimmie Swain. The junior from Kansas looks to play a much bigger role this year than what he has in the past. Swain played in 13 games last year, although he put up just 15 tackles with four of these coming against Utah. He played well in the spring game and he’ll certainly be in play for a starting role.
Freshmen. There’s a lot of talk about the former junior college transfers in Jonah Moi and A.J. Hotchkins but to me the biggest wildcard lies with the freshmen on the roster. A few of these guys have been getting some nice praise in spring and the early going of fall. There’s certainly some snaps available for freshmen to step up and take.
One freshman I see stealing snaps is Darrian Franklin especially after he got the jump on fellow newcomers by enrolling during the spring. My only concern though is his size, as 6’ 1” 200 pounds has the potential to be pushed around. Enrolling early with Franklin was also Troy Dye who brings a little more size. Dye played as a safety in high school so he brings more speed and versatility to the table. La’mar Winston and Keith Simms are the other freshman who have a shot at playing. Both of these two will be playing at the outside linebacker position, and my guess would be that they keep the better of the two on the travel squad while redshirting the other.
C+. Too many unproven pieces in this group to give them anything above a C+. I think what helps this team was the freshman recruiting class and how many have the potential to play early. Let’s be honest, can you get much worse than last year at the position? Wait, let’s not answer that.