Oregon fans got a bit of a shock Friday afternoon when linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia announced his intent to transfer. I have to admit, I was surprised by the move myself.
He had spent the last four seasons with the Ducks in Eugene after signing as a 4-star recruit in the 2017 class. He was a mainstay in the Oregon defense and had his ups and downs, but was ultimately one of the most veteran leaders, finishing with 127 total tackles, 72 solo tackles, and 2.5 sacks in 28 games.
The Honolulu native saw the Oregon defense go from average in his early years to among the best in the country in 2019, as the unit helped lead the Ducks to a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl win against Wisconsin.
The news of his departure now begs the question: What's next?
Slade-Matautia figured to start for the Ducks, so they'll need to find a new name to man the middle of the defense.
Fortunately, there's TONS of talent at linebacker. The only problem is that most of it is young, unproven talent.
Noah Sewell is the undoubted best of the bunch--at least from those we've seen play in a college football game. He was an absolute star in 2020 and showed exactly was he was billed as a 5-star recruit.
Maybe the staff gets creative with him and uses him to fill the void left by Slade-Matautia's departure. Starting as a freshman is a lot to put on a young player, but he was more than capable of dealing with whatever the staff asked of him.
Justin Flowe was already someone fans had been buzzing about since his stellar performance in the spring game, and this only serves to build that hype. Flowe is one of those players that will be incredibly difficult to keep off the field. If he starts like many think he will, we'll have to monitor where he slides in at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds.
He plays like a man possessed and has the kind of energy that you want to infect your defense. Flowe is a physical specimen that plays with the violence and intensity you see on national championship teams and he'll likely be involved on just about every play in one way or another.
Dru Mathis is the most experienced option the Ducks now have, but he hasn't had the best performances since coming to Eugene from JUCO and has seen limited action.
Jackson LaDuke is another player that received heavy praise from the staff throughout spring ball and has been waiting for an opportunity since signing with Oregon as part of the 2020 class. He, along with Nate Heaukulani and Keith Brown looked strong in Oregon's spring scrimmage that was open to the public.
Other names to watch for include Adrian Jackson, one of the more athletic linebackers on the roster who helped hold off UCLA, as well as Treven Ma'ae, a longer linebacker who flashed during the spring game and is learning how to better utilize the athleticism in his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame.
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The Ducks have talent at the linebacker position, but almost none of it has proven production at the college level, so this will be one of the biggest headlines to track heading into fall camp and the start of the season.
Linebackers Coach Ken Wilson spoke about his group this spring:
"I've got a nice room of good athletes and we've gotta learn how to grind in there. They gotta learn how to be mentally tough in drives and when things aren't going right we gotta play harder."
Wilson added that he had hoped for everyone to have equal reps exiting spring ball this year and that he would let the depth chart shake out between spring football and when the Ducks open the season against Fresno State on September 4.
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