Danny Mattingly

Oregon 2017 Outlook - LBs: Plenty of young talent to work with beyond Troy Dye

Oregon 2017 Outlook - LBs: Plenty of young talent to work with beyond Troy Dye

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backsTight ends, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Defensive line, Defensive backs

Today: Linebackers.

Key losses: Johnny Ragin III was the only senior starter on defense in 2016.   

Projected starters (3-4 defense): Outside linebacker Troy Dye, Soph., (6-4, 225), inside linebacker A.J. Hotchkins Sr., (5-11, 230), inside linebacker Jimmie Swain, Sr., (6-2, 235) and outside linebacker La'Mar Winston Jr., Soph., (6-3, 220).

Key backups: Inside linebackers - Danny Mattingly, RSr., (6-5, 245), Keith Simms, Soph., (6-3, 235). Outside linebackers - Eric Briscoe, RFr., (6-3, 225), Justin Hollins, RJr., (6-6, 235), Kaulana Apelu, Jr., (5-11, 200).

What we know: Dye is already a force to be reckoned with and he should only get better as he continues to grow physically. He led the Ducks with 91 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 6 1/2 sacks. He was the only consistent impact player on a defense that ranked among the worst in the nation and he should thrive in the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jim Leavitt.

Swain began the season in the doghouse before emerging as a quality starter and finishing the season with 77 tackles, second on the team. He could be a candidate to start inside but must have more of an impact. His two tackles for loss last season won't cut it.

Hotchkins never discovered consistency and could be in danger of losing his starting job if he doesn't demonstrate great improvement after making just 34 tackles last year.

What we don't know: Will any of the unproven linebackers make an impact in 2017?

The Ducks signed six linebackers in 2016 (Darrian Franklin was kicked off the team last season after legal troubles). Dye and Hotchkins, a junior college transfer, started, but UO will need Winston, Simms and Briscoe to take the next step for this group to truly rebound from a poor season.

Simms contributed 10 tackles last season while Winston had five and Briscoe redshirted.  All three combine the combination of height, size and athleticism that's often been missing from Oregon linebackers save for Kiko Alonso, a former second-round pick in the NFL Draft.

Simms and Winston were both four-star recruits while Briscoe was listed as a three-star, according to Rivals.com. If all three live up to their potential, they, along with Dye, could form a very high-end group of linebackers down the road.

Hollins, a promising pass rusher, presents is an interesting case. He played defensive end last season in the 4-3 at 235 pounds. Unless he bulks up considerably there is no way he would survive as a 3-4 defensive end. He could fit perfectly as a 3-4 linebacker in the mold of former UO stars, Christian French and Dion Jordan. But Hollins would have to show that he could perform well in pass coverage.

No matter what Oregon calls Hollins, expect at the very least to see him on the field in obvious passing situations where he can use his athleticism and quickness to get after the quarterback. Hollins had 9 1/2 tackles for loss, including 3 1/2 sacks in 2016.

Final word: Former linebackers coach Don Pellum left the Ducks with a lot of strong, young talent at this position that ultimately will prove to have a major impact on Oregon's future success.

Position grade: C. If the young linebackers deliver, this grade immediately jumps up to a B.

Next up: Defensive backs.

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 6 - Linebackers in flux

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 6 - Linebackers in flux

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Linebackers. 

Projected starters: Redshirt junior middle linebacker Danny Mattingly (6-5, 245), senior outside linebacker Johnny Ragin III (6-3, 225) and junior outside linebacker Jimmy Swain (6-2, 235).

Key backups: Junior (transfer) middle linebacker A.J. Hotchkins (6-0, 235), redshirt sophomore Justin Hollins (6-6, 230), redshirt junior Jonah Moi (6-4, 250) and senior De'Quan McDowell (6-1, 203). 

Smelling like roses: Oregon must hit on all three new starters in order to have a chance at contending in the Pac-12. Mattingly has the most overall game experience within the group, followed by Ragin. That's bad news considering Mattingly had 25 tackles last season and Ragin had 20 while Swain contributed a modest 15. This doesn't mean that trio couldn't combine for 225 tackles this season. It just means that they remain a mystery. Mattingly so much so that he could be challenged heavily by Hotchkins, a junior college transfer, who looks like the perfect middle linebacker. According to some reports he could have the inside track at starting over Mattingly. We shall see. 

Place your bets: This position group could be the defense's weak link after losing Rodney Hardrick, Joe Walker and Tyson Coleman.  UO could find itself rotating guys in and out of the lineup trying to find some consistency. Oregon, after shifting defensive philosophies to the 4-3, is going to have to adjust how it recruits this position moving forward. Chances are we see 3-4 elements in the 4-3 scheme this season as the defense adjusts.    

Odds are: Not good. This is not a championship-caliber group, on paper. Maybe they will surprise. 

Poker hand: Pair of 10s. While the secondary returns starters and the defensive line is loaded with bodies, the linebacking corps doesn't have much to hang its hat on at this point.   

Next up: Defensive backs.  

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