Oregon Ducks: Rahim Cassell

Lokombo leads Oregon LBs

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
5:30
PM ET
Just because a position is questionable in the preseason doesn't mean it's not answerable.

Questionable: Oregon is replacing three A-list linebackers. Dion Jordan was first-team All-Pac-12 and the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were both second-team All-Pac-12, with Alonso getting picked in the second round of the draft. Clay was cut this week by the Miami Dolphins.

The lone returning starter is Boseko Lokombo, who only ranked 10th on the team in tackles last year.

Answerable: Lokombo, a fantastic all-around athlete, has been a dominant playmaker during preseason practices, and the Ducks have five other linebackers with significant playing experience.

With the first official depth chart out, Tony Washington, as expected, will step in for Jordan at the position listed as defensive end opposite Taylor Hart, though everyone and their grandmother knows the Ducks defense is a base 3-4 and Washington will be an outside linebacker opposite Lokombo.

Juniors Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone, who were injured during spring practices, are the starters inside.

The three new guys are hardly green. Washington started twice for Jordan last year and finished with 20 tackles. Malone had one start and finished with 41 tackles, which ranked eighth on the team. Hardick had 11 tackles.

Depth? Backup Tyson Coleman, who can play inside and outside, had 34 tackles last year, and Rahim Cassell had 19. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Ducks played nine linebackers against woeful Nicholls State on Saturday.

Still, Lokombo is the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound senior could play his way into the early rounds of the NFL draft next spring if his production equals his potential this fall.

"He's a guy who is almost limitless from a potential standpoint," Oregon's first-year coach Mark Helfrich said. "We expect huge things from him. But he needs to be more consistent."

Lokombo had 39 tackles last year, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. Look for the sack numbers, in particular, to go up. Lokombo is powerful -- 500 pound squat -- and fast, though he's more quick than a 40-yard dash guy. He started all 13 games last year and the native of Congo has seen action in 40 since arriving at Oregon from Abbotsford, British Columbia four years ago.

He doesn't seem too worried about the new starters surrounding him.

"Some of them already played a lot last year," he said. "They are ready to take on their roles. It's next man up and that's that."

It also helps that Oregon's defensive line and secondary are both among the best units in the Pac-12, with the secondary widely considered as good as any in the nation.

The Ducks 2012 defense was very good. This one might still be able to match it, even with a question at linebacker.

Said Helfrich, "We have a lot of unproven guys, but a bunch of guys who have played to this point in camp really hard and really well."
Carl WinstonOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSan Jose, Calif., native Michael Clay was a crucial recruiting win for the Ducks over California in the Class of 2009.
After the Ducks program began to take off in the mid-1990s, California hired former Ducks' offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford in 2002. As the Ducks' upward climb reached a standstill, Cal stepped up and looked like it might be the next in line to challenge USC.

The Golden Bears did win four of five games with the Ducks between 2004 and 2008, including a game for the ages in 2007. After they walked out of Autzen Stadium with a 31-24 win over the No. 5 Ducks, things began to change between the two schools. Cal did win the following season in Berkeley, as the Ducks fumbled gave away a game they dominated. Starting in the class of 2008, the Bears responded by going on an unprecedented run of recruiting success. The Ducks began to dominate the series on the field with a 42-3 win over the Bears in 2009. Despite the dominant performance over the then-No. 6 Bears, Cal beat the Ducks head-to-head for a number of elite recruits from 2008 to 2012.

Whether it was location, academics, Cal's plans for facilities upgrades -- which are now complete -- or former Cal assistant -- and current Washington assistant -- Tosh Lupoi, the Bears won the majority of the recruiting battles between the two schools. Similar to the recent history with USC, the Ducks don't care about recruiting rankings as much as they do the on-field results.
Michael ClayMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireSenior Michael Clay is the unquestioned leader of Oregon's linebacker corps after registering 102 tackles as a junior in 2011.
The Oregon Ducks have been steadily improving their talent level at every position, but the biggest jump in talent level might lie at the linebacker position.

While there have been a few Ducks linebackers who have gone on to the NFL, they have been few and far between historically. That’s started to change recently, as the program has seen a significant rise in talent level, sending Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and Josh Kaddu on to the NFL in the past two years.

This year's crop of linebackers may be among the strongest groups yet, as the Ducks return three upperclassmen that could all challenge for all-league accolades. There is plenty of young talent waiting in the wings and this season should provide those players plenty of opportunity to get more game experience.

(Read full post)

2012 Rose BowlKelvin Kuo/US PresswireDe'Anthony Thomas fulfilled his five-star hype, and then some, as a freshman in 2011 and could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this season.
Oregon Ducks fans have been witness to one of the greatest rises in college football history over the past two decades. The Ducks have risen from cellar dwellers to one of the hottest names in all of college football. The facilities, the uniforms and the Nike connection have all played a big role in the Ducks' rise to the top of the Pac-12.

Along with the success and the increased exposure nationally has come a major boost in recruiting elite athletes to come to Eugene. It isn't always the high school All-Americans that turn into college stars. Oregon has made a living finding "diamonds in the rough" that have helped build a powerhouse.

There have been some big names in the recruiting world who chose to play their college ball in Eugene, but how many of them have lived up to the hype?

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