The Sports Daily > Duck Stops Here
Linebacker development a key section of the Oregon defensive death star

Barring something cataclysmic from the NCAA, Oregon will contend for the national title game in 2013.

They have some challenges at running back, offensive guard and linebacker, but there’s time to sort that out. This fall’s schedule begins at home versus Nicholls State, on the road to Virginia, home versus rebuilding Tennessee, hosting the rebuilding Cal Bears, and traveling to the hopeless, hapless renovation project that is the Colorado Buffaloes.

The Ducks don’t get a serious test until an October 12th road game with the Washington Huskies. That means linebacker coach Don Pellum has a full six weeks to assemble his part of the Death Star. 

And Pellum has proven to be very good at getting depth on the plane in the linebacker corps. He has a way of bringing along young players, testing them on special teams and playing them in spots as they acclimate to the speed and complexities of college football.

In Brett Bafaro, Danny Mattingly, Torrodney Prevot, and Tyrell Robinson, he has a quartet of young athletes that have ability and potential to become early contributors to the rotation. Christian French and Tony Washington got valuable experience last year that should boost their confidence as they step into larger roles. French is a freakish athlete with length and speed who played safety in high school. Washington has some of Dion Jordan’s work ethic and leadership ability.

Derrick Malone and Tyson Coleman have shined in reserve roles and on special teams in their early exposure as Ducks. Getting them healthy is a huge key to the season, particularly Coleman, who seems ready to blossom into stardom as he prepares to step in for Michael Clay. Coleman rushed for 1580 yards and made 78 tackles in his senior year at Lake Oswego High, leading his team to the state semi-finals. At 6-1, 222 he’s lighter than the traditional middle linebacker, but so was Clay. The Duck system favors speed and smarts over bulk anyway, especially in the PAC-12, where most teams run wide-open offenses with an emphasis on the passing game. Coleman had 34 tackles last season, and the Ducks need him to double or triple that production as a sophomore.

Reports from spring camp indicate junior college transfer Joltin’ Joe Walker is making good progress in picking up the defense. At 6-2 225 he has the size and intensity to be a force in the middle for the Ducks, and he has that five-game cushion to complete his transition to the D-1 game.

Getting this group to gel and assert itself is the biggest challenge on the Oregon defense in 2013, a key to the season. After Washington there’s Washington State at Autzen, a rising UCLA squad after a 10-day break, then the November 7 showdown with Stanford in Palo Alto.

If the Ducks are still healthy and undefeated by that time, this could be the year. The players can’t think that way, but as fans, it’s a very real consideration.

Don Pellum finds your lack of faith disturbing.