By Rob Moseley
DROP: Tony Washington, Jr.; Christian French, So.; Cody Carriger, RFr.; Ryan McCandless, So.; Ivan Faulhaber, Fr.
WILL: Derrick Malone, Jr.; Rahim Cassell, So.; Tyrell Robinson, Fr.; Grant Thompson, Jr.; Brett Bafaro, RFr.
MIKE: Rodney Hardrick, So.; Joe Walker, So.; Isaac Ava, Jr.; Danny Mattingly, Fr.
SAM: Boseko Lokombo, Sr.; Tyson Coleman, So.; Torrodney Prevot, Fr.; Oshay Dunmore, RFr.; Mike Garrity, Jr.
Starters: It was a transition year for the Ducks at the second level of the defense. Gone were 2012 standouts Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan, replaced by younger guys who played in reserve in the past but were thrust into much more significant roles. Malone replaced Clay in the lineup and also as Oregon's leading tackler, with 105 stops. He overcame a vicious Civil War knee injury to record a pick-six in the Alamo Bowl. Malone's former high school teammate Hardrick — just a sophomore after being granted a medical hardship for 2011 — replaced Alonso in the middle of the defense and finished with 63 tackles.
Where the Ducks most missed Alonso was in his ability to penetrate the line and make stops in the backfield; Alonso had 14 tackles for loss alone in 2012, and Clay had 10, while in 2013 all of the UO inside 'backers combined for 10.5. On the outside, the production was more consistent from 2012 to 2013. Washington led the Ducks with 12 tackles for loss in 2013, 1.5 more than the guy he replaced, Jordan. And Lokombo had 63 tackles, though based on his production as a freshman and sophomore, bigger things might have been projected for his senior season.
Reserves: Oregon's most productive backup was the sophomore junior college transfer Joe Walker, who had 37 tackles. He had some trouble in space early in the year but ended up earning an Alamo Bowl start due to Malone's injury (Hardrick moved to WILL when the two played together), and Walker enjoyed a productive bowl game. Cassell was Malone's primary backup, but that didn't keep Robinson from getting on the field as a true freshman. Initially his breakthrough was on kickoff coverage, but Robinson played a considerable number of defensive snaps late in the season. Ava, Bafaro and Thompson were primarily scout-team guys.
On the outside, injuries were an issue all fall. French played sparingly around midseason, missing out on valuable snaps as he continued his transition from tight end. Coleman made a couple starts ahead of Lokombo midway through the year, but an injury sidelined him for the Civil War and Alamo Bowl. A true freshman played outside as well, with Prevot getting snaps primarily in passing situations. Dunmore made a quick transition from safety and looks like a future contributor at linebacker, while Carriger, McCandless and Garrity worked mostly with the scout team.
Redshirts: With Robinson and Prevot pressed into action, the only guy held back was Mattingly. That said, he may have a ceiling as high as any of the three. Based on his big frame and hard-hitting style, Mattingly looks like "Kiko 2.0." A local walk-on, Faulhaber also didn't see the field in games, spending his first year with the Ducks on the scout team.
DROP: Tony Washington, Sr.; Christian French, Jr.; Cody Carriger, So.; Ryan McCandless, Jr.; Ivan Faulhaber, RFr.
WILL: Derrick Malone, Sr.; Rahim Cassell, Jr.; Tyrell Robinson, So.; Grant Thompson, Sr.; Brett Bafaro, So.
MIKE: Rodney Hardrick, Jr.; Joe Walker, Jr.; Danny Mattingly, RFr.; Isaac Ava, Sr.
SAM: Tyson Coleman, Jr.; Torrodney Prevot, So.; Oshay Dunmore, So.; Mike Garrity, Sr.
With Lokombo the only senior in the group, the linebacking corps figures to be a major strength of the 2014 team. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum — who will remain the position coach for the MIKE and WILL — cited all the depth as a primary reason for sticking with a 3-4 base defense going forward. His task in April is to sort through the mix of returning starters and talented newcomers, as it's not inconceivable to think both Robinson and Mattingly could make the two-deep come fall. On the outside, new position coach Erik Chinander has a bunch of experienced guys back, too. Washington is a mainstay, allowing French more time to develop. And when healthy, Coleman is a good bet to replace Lokombo's production. Prevot might be the best pure pass rusher of the group, and now will look to show he's strong enough in other aspects to push Coleman for time.