May 17, 2016
By Rob Moseley
Photo: Eric Evans
A look back at Oregon’s month of practices that culminated in the Spring Game on April 30.
Where things stood: Like the defensive line, Oregon’s linebackers experienced rampant turnover this offseason, in terms of both personnel and scheme. The Ducks began 2015 with four senior starters, and though Joe Walker finished with a team-high 87 tackles and Tyson Coleman led the attack off the edge, they couldn’t decelerate the defense’s decline overall. The Ducks returned several key backups, including Johnny Ragin III, Danny Mattingly and Jimmie Swain; and they added former JC teammates A.J. Hotchkins and Jonah Moi to the rotation for 2016, along with some athletic freshmen in Eric Briscoe Jr., Troy Dye and Darrian Franklin. But there weren’t many sure things among that group, and they were being introduced to new coordinator Brady Hoke’s 4-3 scheme.
What happened in April: The first group for much of the month included Ragin and Mattingly at the two inside spots, and Swain shifted outside. He had been an inside linebackers the last two seasons, but Swain played SAM in high school, so he wasn’t outside his comfort zone. Hotchkins and Moi played with the second unit, along with De’Quan McDowell, the former junior college wideout who joined the Ducks in 2015. Ragin and McDowell were around the ball most consistently throughout the spring, showing off their instincts but perhaps also the emphasis on the WILL linebacker in Hoke’s scheme.
Among the freshmen, Dye really jumped out right from the start in April. He’s big and can run, as is Briscoe. Franklin is a little undersized at the outset of his career, but he has plenty of time to add weight — and his athleticism could be enough to earn him some special teams reps as a true freshman. Another guy who really made a strong impression in April was Paris Bostick. He spent time with three different position groups after transferring in for 2015. But Bostick hit the practice field this spring with a new attitude, and his playmaking ability stood out in the Spring Game.
Who to watch in August: There’s a lot to sort out for Don Pellum, who is back focusing on this position group after two years juggling his time as coordinator as well. Ragin made a consistently strong case in April for playing time, but from the sideline it was hard to conclude that anybody else made a definitive push for a starting job. That should make for a very interesting month of preseason camp, as the jockeying for reps continues. The linebackers all have a chance to take what they learned in April and apply it to their summer workouts. Perhaps come August, a clear pecking order will have emerged.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
WILL: Johnny Ragin III, Sr.; De’Quan McDowell, Sr.; Eric Briscoe Jr., Fr.; Keith Simms, Fr.; Blake Rugraff, RFr.; Jake Froehlich, RFr.
MIKE: A.J. Hotchkins, Jr.; Danny Mattingly, Jr.; Kaulana Apelu, So.; Darrian Franklin, Fr.; Matt Mariota, RFr.
SAM: Jimmie Swain, Jr.; Jonah Moi, Jr.; Paris Bostick, Jr.; Troy Dye, Fr.; Ivan Faulhaber, Jr.