The hiring of Tosh Lupoi, who spent the last three seasons in the NFL, as the Oregon defensive coordinator shows that the linebacker position will be prioritized under Dan Lanning. Joining Lupoi on the Lanning's staff is Jake Long, who comes to Eugene to coach the inside linebackers after spending last season with Nick Saban at Alabama.
The Oregon inside linebacker corps will be led by 2021 first team All-Pac-12 defensive selection Noah Sewell. Playing in his second college season in 2021, Sewell led the Ducks with 114 tackles, 54 of which were solo. At 6'3" and 251 pounds Sewell possesses game-changing physicality along with strong athleticism, something both Lupoi and Lanning raved about during spring practice.
The big question for Oregon at linebacker is Justin Flowe, and not because of his ability, but rather his availability as he recovers from a second serious injury. The second highest-rated recruit to ever sign with the Ducks, both Flowe and Sewell committed to Oregon under the previous staff led by Mario Cristobal. Their additions positioned the Ducks to have one of the most dynamic linebacking units the program has ever seen.
But so far injuries have prevented to two from teaming up for any extended period of time, with Flowe only appearing in two games since arriving in Eugene. In the one game he played in 2021, he was all over the field and was impossible to take your eyes off of.
“He's training back,” Lupoi said in spring as Flowe worked back from injury. “We're getting him involved with a little bit of drill work each day.”
Lanning also expressed his shared excitement for Flowe's return.
“He's just eager, he's eager to get to work,” the head coach said. “He has an infectious personality and enthusiasm in the way he approaches every day, he knows he's got a long way to go.
Jeffrey Bassa, a sophomore from the heralded 2021 signing class, is another promising linebacker.
At 6'2", 217 pounds Bassa was recruited to Oregon to play safety, a position requiring speed and IQ, but was quickly switched to WILL linebacker when Flowe and Dru Mathis went down with injuries.
“He's explosive, as he adapts to the defense,” Lupoi said. “As he processes and begins to diagnose his play starts to improve and that's a really cool thing to see… I'm excited about his future and I think he has a chance to contribute to our success in the future.”
Another versatile linebacker for the Ducks is Adrian Jackson. After playing in 12 games his freshman year, Jackson redshirted his sophomore year due to a foot injury. He then played in only four of seven games in the shortened 2020 season before having his best season yet in 2021, recording 16 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, in 11 games.
Thompson Ready for QB Competition After 'Refresher' at Manning Academy
Could we see Thompson take the next step in his development during fall camp?
Observations From Oregon Football's First Practice of Fall Camp
The latest notes and updates from the opening day of fall camp in Eugene.
Jerry Mixon Sets Commitment Date, Talks Oregon Interest
The 2023 linebacker has the Ducks among his finalists ahead of a decision.
Lupoi acknowledged Jackson’s talent as well as his room for growth.
“He plays fast with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We’ve still got to get him pointed in the right direction at times but I love his juice, his demeanor, he has good blitzability, the defensive coordinator said. "You might see him on the edge still and you might see him inside… we are going to be moving guys around, we're going to be a versatile defense.”
Like Bassa, Jackson can be expected to be moved around the defense. In Oregon’s new pressure-heavy scheme they'll be able to rover the defense, setting up peak efficiency from hard-hitting Sewell and Flowe, who can be expected to take reps when healthy.
The Ducks also return Oregon native Keith Brown, who recorded 15 tackles, six of which were solo, during seven games in his freshman campaign. At 6'2", 244 pounds, Brown showed promise to progress into a three-down MIKE.
The final big returner for the Ducks at inside linebacker is Jackson LaDuke. After battling injury and COVID-19, LaDuke’s potential is largely unknown as he appeared in just two games in 2020 and three games in 2021.
He's been clear about his excitement to play for coaches with the pedigree of Lupoi and Lanning, and the potential to mentor younger players in the system like Devon Jackson and Harrison Taggart who enrolled in the spring.
“It’s exciting knowing that it's [Lanning] a guy that can develop players,” LaDuke said. “We got a bunch of guys who know what college football is like… so I think it has helped with the newcomers coming in… I think it's a lot better for the coaches because we can be a secondary coach.”
In the absence of Mathis the trio of Bassa, Brown, and Jackson all gained invaluable experience. Now with Mathis graduated from the program, Oregon can further experiment with their combination of talent both returning and incoming.
For a defense that Lupoi wants to be “extremely aggressive and confrontational” a physical and experienced linebacking unit should bode well for success.
Join the Community
Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricBerniker