Post-spring Linebacker Breakdown

Linebackers Troy Dye and Danny Mattingly prepare to tackle Tony Brooks-James during spring practice. (Photo: Josh Phillips, 247Sports)

Oregon completed its month of spring football with last month’s spring game. Now, the players turn to summer workouts to further develop themselves in preparation for August’s fall camp and the beginning of Willie Taggart’s first season of football at Oregon which kicks off on Sept. 2 with Southern Utah.

Over the next week or so, we’ll aim to reexamine each position group, adding in things we learned from spring practice. Today, we continue with linebackers.

What we said pre-spring:Oregon has a bona fide stud who will be playing on Sundays soon in Troy Dye, but beyond that there was not a ton of production from the Oregon linebacking core in 2016. Jimmie Swain was able to come on strong at the end of the season after switching to inside linebacker. Other than those two, Oregon will want some new blood in their starting rotation. The hire of Willie Taggart as head coach lead the Ducks to switch to a 3-4 formation from a 4-3.”

Key Developments: The Ducks will be multiple in their looks. That is to say, that they will play a base 3-4, a nickel defense and a hybrid defense that closely resembles a 3-3-5. None of these formations impact the three defenders with their hand on the ground, but the biggest impact will be to the linebacker position. The 3-3-5 defense, reportedly referred to as the “Duck defense”, features a hybrid safety/outsider linebacker. The position ensures more speed is on the field when the Ducks are in need of more versatility in the pass game.

The above development brought an unlikely player to the forefront defensively. That would be rarely-used reserve Fotu Leiato, who spent the final two weeks or so as the first-team “Duck” linebacker. Leiato had been searching for a role since stepping foot on campus three years ago. Now it appears the headhunting defender has a spot lined up. Khalil Oliver began the month as the lead man at that position, but transitioned back to safety the final few weeks, while La’Mar Winston became Leiato’s primary backup. It will be interesting to see which incoming recruits might also fit into the hybrid spot this fall.

The inside linebacker position is in need of a major talent infusion. Troy Dye was the lone bright spot at the position, after moving from outsider backer, and should be in position to make even more plays this fall. Senior A.J. Hotchkins filled in at the other inside linebacker. The issue is depth. There were few practices this spring that didn’t find walk-ons Kaulana Apelu and Blake Rugraff as the second-team inside linebackers.

What we learned: That the incoming class of linebackers will have a great opportunity to step in and play right away. Sampson Niu in particular will be allotted the opportunity to compete for a reserve spot at the very least.

Several former defensive end prospects appear to be moving to linebacker based upon their…

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