MLB position key to Oregon’s defense

By Marc Hudgens  |   Thursday, July 24, 2008  |  Comments( 1 )

Oregon Ducks
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Other than Oregon, six of the remaining nine Pac-10 teams return no fewer than three starters to their offensive lines from last season. Of those 20 total linemen, 12 are on the interior (four centers, eight guards). What that means for the Ducks is trouble if the defensive tackles can’t tie up those experienced interior linemen in 2008.

Not that there are any glaring problems as of yet; instead, there are just question marks for Oregon at D-tackle, where the Ducks have no returning starters this year. There will certainly be a learning curve for newcomers Ra’Shon Harris and Cole Linehan, both seniors, as they will be key players in a conference that is becoming increasingly balanced between the run and pass.

In turn, what it means for Oregon is that until the tackle spot finds its niche, the middle linebacker will likely have to pick up some slack. And what the Ducks have at that position are current projected starter John Bacon, a senior, and talented sophomore backup Casey Matthews.

In his first year as a starter in 2007, Bacon racked up 42 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one pass defensed in nine games before sustaining a season-ending injury. Matthews replaced him as starter during the next two games before he also got hurt; as a starter and backup, Matthews totaled 18 tackles, four TFLs and one sack last season. Many consider Matthews to be the more talented of the two and currently have him possibly replacing Bacon at some point this season.

There is experience at the mike position, albeit not a lot; but if rotated properly by coordinator Nick Aliotti and linebackers coach Don Pellum, that could be the very salve the Ducks’ defensive front four needs.

Throw in that returning strong safety Patrick Chung is among three Ducks defensive backs on the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list, and it’s likely Bacon or Matthews may get help from Chung at their position. The secondary will be fine against opposing passers, so the all-points bulletin will be directed toward the run.

But it all depends on Harris and Linehan. If Harris plays up to his massive size (6-foot-5, 321 pounds) and Linehan maintains the productivity he had during his five starts from last season, that will free up Bacon and Matthews to help direct the defense and cover the middle. If it plays out like that sooner than later, Oregon could very well end up with the best defense in the Pac-10.
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About Marc Hudgens

Marc Hudgens has been with RealFootball365 since 2007, covering college football, specifically Clemson and Oregon. He also writes for SouthernPigskin.com covering the ACC. He enjoys the acidic wit of Hunter S. Thompson, is a freelance graphic designer and has written several screenplays. He...
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