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2022 Oregon Ducks Spring Football Preview: Linebackers/Edge

Oregon's linebacker corps is one of the deepest groups in 2022, but the edge rushers must replace Kayvon Thibodeaux's production.

The 2022 season feels like the year for the Oregon defense to return to dominance, especially with the incoming staff led by Dan Lanning.

Perhaps the biggest domino that didn't fall in Oregon's favor last year was health, and the Ducks' linebacker corps was torn to shreds with injuries, providing opportunities for players like Jeffrey Bassa and Keith Brown to jump into the fire sooner than expected.

The outside linebackers/edge rushers were a more consistent group week-to-week, with the exception of Kayvon Thibodeaux's nagging ankle injury early in the season. In Tim DeRuyter's lone season as defensive coordinator in Eugene, it felt like the Ducks' defensive line showed flashes of dominance, including against Stanford in the third and early fourth quarters, against Cal, and against Oregon State.

But now with defensive leaders coming to town like Lanning, Tosh Lupoi, Matt Powledge, and Tony Tuioti, the talented players in the front seven are primed to reach their potential.

Noah Sewell

Noah Sewell Arizona 2

There are simply few returning linebackers in college football, if any, that had the kind of season that Noah Sewell had in 2021. In fact, he recorded 114 total tackles last season — more than any returning Pac-12 defender.

Sewell showed the caliber of player he can be in his freshman year but elevated his game to the next level in 2021. Now without the veteran leadership of guys like Thibodeaux and Verone McKinley III, Sewell will have to continue to grow as a vocal leader for the Ducks defense.

The man in the middle for Oregon improved as a run defender in year two but still has room to grow in that category. As a blitzing linebacker, he's near unstoppable with his impressive combination of size and speed.

The last middle linebacker that Lanning coached, Nakobe Dean, won the Butkus Award for the nation's best linebacker and was one of the primary pieces of a championship-winning defense. If Lanning and his staff can help Sewell produce that kind of a season, he will have plenty of NFL buzz next fall.

Justin Flowe

Justin Flowe Fresno State Yell

Oregon's defense hasn't been lacking in talent for the past two seasons, but there has been a monster hiding in the shadows that shouldn't be overlooked heading into this season.

Justin Flowe has played in just two games over his two seasons in Eugene, missing the majority of both seasons due to injuries. In one of those two games, the 2021 season opener against Fresno State, he erupted for 14 total tackles, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble. His breakout performance earned him Pac-12 Freshman of the Week, but he never saw the field again due to injury.

Now that it's been six months since the injury, it's safe to assume that Flowe is ready to go for spring, and he should still have a starting spot open for him come Week 1. 

Lanning and Lupoi have both coached aggressive linebackers who are freak athletes, and if Flowe can remain healthy, the sky is not the limit for the former five-star prospect.

Keith Brown

Keith Brown Fall Camp

Brown was not expected to be a major contributor early in the season, but he earned his introduction to college football in Columbus against the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes.

In place of guys like Flowe and Dru Mathis, Brown displayed flashes of being a quality starting linebacker for the Ducks, but being thrown into the fire so early was tough for the true freshman at times. He battled injuries late in the season and was limited to seven games, recording 15 total tackles.

Behind Sewell and Flowe, Brown can be an important role player for the Ducks in his second season.

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Jackson LaDuke

Jackson LaDuke

Jackson LaDuke was a player who perhaps slipped through the cracks because of the amount of talent in his 2020 class. After appearing in the first two games of his true freshman season, he missed the majority of his second season due to a knee injury.

Once LaDuke hit the field, he fit right into the defense and even started the Pac-12 Championship Game, logging three of his five tackles this season in Las Vegas. But he only appeared in three games before missing the Alamo Bowl.

Seeing as how LaDuke was primarily an outside linebacker in high school, it will be interesting to see if he continues to see reps on the inside given the need for power off the edge.

Edge defenders

Mase Funa


Mase Funa is the most experienced returner in the linebacker room, having 33 games to his name and being one of the last players remaining from the Rose Bowl season. He battled injuries throughout the 2021 season but still managed to play in 12 of the 14 games.

His production dipped from years past, collecting 28 total tackles (one tackle for loss) and a fumble recovery. Under the guidance of Lanning and Lupoi, however, he could be a top candidate to replace the production of Thibodeaux off the edge and bring the kind of impact he did in his true freshman season. He has the size (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) to be a hand-in-the-dirt player if Oregon needs him to be.

DJ Johnson

DJ Johnson Stony Brook

DJ Johnson announced his return for one final season, but his role isn't cemented just yet. Bouncing back and forth on offense and defense throughout his Oregon career, his calling may be as a pass rusher given the departure of Thibodeaux and the Ducks' depth at tight end.

Johnson earned some reps off the edge last season, including against Ohio State, where he recorded a crucial sack on the final play of the game to clinch the win. He was a full-time defensive end in the Alamo Bowl and picked up a pair of tackles.

The incoming senior will certainly be of the most explosive pass rushers Oregon will have if he chooses to make the full-time switch. He has seven career tackles for loss and three sacks since transferring to Oregon from Miami.

Bradyn Swinson

Bradyn Swinson Cal Hype

Bradyn Swinson is a player that's another popular choice to replace Thibodeaux, and he even did so when the future first-round pick was sidelined early in the season with a sprained ankle.

Swinson bulked up over the offseason before his second season and kicked off the year looking like a whole new player. He recorded 10 combined tackles and two sacks in his first two games against Fresno State and Ohio State, but he went down with a knee injury for a month.

Once he returned, he amassed just 14 tackles and one sack over the next nine games but showed his ability to blow up plays in the backfield.

Treven Ma'ae


Treven Ma'ae was an unsung hero for the Ducks' defense and deserves a shoutout for his impressive season. He barely made it into the three-deep organizational chart to begin the year, but by the conclusion of the season, he played all 14 games and was one of the team's best run stoppers.

The third-year redshirt freshman even started two games in place of Funa. He picked up 20 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two tackles for loss. Ma'ae should enjoy a bigger role in 2022 on the outside.

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