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Inside Linebackers: 2018 Spring Recap + Fall Preview


Oregon v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Troy Dye will be the leader of Jim Leavitt’s defense, this is a given, but who will play beside him? The position is up for grabs, but will it go to the most experienced or the most talented? If a group of players participate in a linebacker-by-committee approach, who will be left to redshirt?

NCAA Football: Oregon Spring Practice Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Pre Spring Depth Chart

  1. Troy Dye - 6’4 - 224 - Junior
  2. Keith Simms - 6’3 - 227 - RS Sophomore
  1. Isaac Slade-Matautia - 6’1 - 209 - RS Freshman
  2. Kaulana Apelu - 5’10 - 204 - Senior
  • DUCK
  1. Fotu T Leiato II
  2. Pou Peleti-Gore - isn’t currently on the Go Ducks roster.


-One thing is obvious, Troy Dye will once again be the leader of this defense. Brenden Schooler and Troy Dye were two of the lone bright spots to come out of the 2016 Hoke defense (though Schooler has since switched to receiver), and both have proven themselves as true Ducks by guiding this team through very tough times. Now, Dye will have the opportunity in his third year as a starter to solidify his legacy as one of the most important defensive players in Oregon history.

-The all knowing Joseph Yun has Keith Simms as third string OLB, but I can see him training on the inside as well. There have been a lot of positive reports about Simms’ improvement after redshirting his freshman year, so I can see the coaching staff wanting to teach this young linebacker some versatility.

-One of the best things that Turnhill-Will Taggart did was give Kaulana Apelu a scholarship. The senior has always been known for his determination. His final year as a Duck will hopefully serve as a Cinderella tale from walk-on to starter. Though a bit undersized, Apelu held his own before a fractured ankle suffered in the doomsday California game forced him out for the rest of the season. Apelu looked fantastic during the spring game, providing the play of the game:

-Fotu T. Leiato II would have likely claimed the Duck role, but due to tragedy and unfortunate decisions, the team will have to move on without him. After his passing, a handful of Ducks vocalized how special Fotu was on and off the field. He will be missed for much more than just his athletic prowess.

Post Spring Depth Chart

  1. Troy Dye
  2. Isaac Slade-Matautia
  1. Kaulana Apelu
  2. Sampson Niu
  3. MJ Cunningham


  1. Keith Simms
  2. Sampson Niu


- Hot Take Alert: I think Apelu becomes the starter come October. The first three games will have a lot of substitutions that will serve as try outs for a number of key roles, however, I believe that Apelu will become the player that is on the field in big time moments in big time games- call it wishful thinking, but I believe he is ready to play some disciplined and clinical football as a starter.

- If Niu has healed up from his bowl game injury, he should see a lot of time off the bench this season. He looked pretty damn good against Boise State, but missing spring practices may hold him back from outright claiming the starting role. Perhaps he will find opportunity at the Duck position with the mysterious disappearance of Pou Peleti-Gore from the Go Ducks roster.

-Isaac Slade-Matautia nearly saw the field last year, but Leavitt decided to retain his redshirt. If I wasn’t so smitten with Apelu, I would say Slade-Matautia is the starter. In fact, he’s probably the odds on favorite to play next to Dye.

Redshirt Candidates: Every linebacker should see playing time. Even with the new redshirt rules, unless a player proves truly unready, all of these players should try to gain as much experience as possible. We have a perilously thin front seven, and the only remedy is solid recruiting combined with lots of playing time for our current linebacker corps.