By Rob Moseley
A look back at Oregon’s month of spring practices that culminated in the spring game on May 3.
Where things stood: Predictably after the loss of Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, the linebackers endured a transition year in 2013. New starters Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick all had ample experience as backups, and they provided solid production over the course of last season. What the Ducks missed were some of the big, impact plays their predecessors made – timely tackles for loss and forced turnovers. The good news was, all three of those new starters from 2013 were back for 2014. The Ducks did lose starting outside linebacker Boseko Lokombo, but had two promising younger players in line to replace him, in Tyson Coleman and Torrodney Prevot.
This set up as Oregon’s most stable position group defensively entering the spring, not only due to the returning starters but all the experienced depth. Rahim Cassell and Joe Walker played a considerable amount behind the inside linebackers, and talented freshmen Tyrell Robinson and Danny Mattingly showed flashes of greatness at those spots. Outside, Christian French has enormous athletic potential, and the Ducks added two intriguing new faces at the position, converted safety Oshay Dunmore and transfer Johnny Ragin III.
What happened in April: For all the potential the younger guys showed last fall and in the spring, the veterans answered the challenge. Hardrick and Malone played consistently as the No. 1 inside linebacker pair, with Walker and Cassell as the twos. Prevot and Dunmore made huge strides in their development under new position coach Erik Chinander, but Washington and French also held their own; Coleman was not in pads for the spring game. There’s tremendous value in experience, and while Oregon has some young linebackers with enormous physical talents, the veterans seemed to put all of last season’s game action to good use in taking the next step this spring. Walker and Hardrick had tackles for loss in the spring game, an encouraging sight, and both Hardrick and Washington were involved in fumbles.
Who to watch in August: We’ll assume that the three returning starters continue to hold down their spots. On the outside, Coleman’s spring game absence doesn’t figure to impact his chances of opening preseason camp with the ones, but Prevot did show some real growth and maturity this spring. If he can bring his other skills up to the level of his pass rushing, look out. One lingering question mark is Ragin. His possible eligibility for 2014 is still being explored; if in the mix, he’s a guy that could help big-time on special teams, at least. Incoming freshman Jimmie Swain is another guy to watch in the kicking game, where he could have an early impact, Mark Helfrich said on signing day.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
SAM: Tyson Coleman, Jr.; Torrodney Prevot, So.; Oshay Dunmore, So.; Johnny Ragin III, So.; Justin Hollins, Fr.; Mike Garrity, Sr.
MLB: Rodney Hardrick, Jr.; Joe Walker, Jr.; Danny Mattingly, RFr.; Isaac Ava, Sr.
WLB: Derrick Malone, Sr.; Rahim Cassell, Jr.; Tyrell Robinson, So.; Grant Thompson, Sr.
DROP: Tony Washington, Sr.; Christian French, Jr.; Cody Carriger, So. .; Jimmie Swain, Fr.; Ryan McCandless, Jr.; Ivan Faulhaber, RFr.