In the days leading up to the 2013 Alamo Bowl, the Emerald will take a unit-by-unit look at Oregon and Texas, determining which team has the edge going into the showdown on Dec. 30 in San Antonio. Today, we’ll look at each team’s linebackers, with thoughts on Texas from Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation.
The biggest question mark surrounding any Oregon position group going into this season involved the linebacking corps. Three starters – Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan and Michael Clay – in 2012 all left Oregon and ended up on NFL teams (Clay was cut by Miami in August after initially signing with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent).
Nobody knew if their replacements could step up for the Ducks this season, but for the most part, they did.
Junior middle linebacker Derrick Malone made the biggest impact, compiling a team-high 102 tackles (fifth in the Pac-12) to go along with 1.5 sacks. Malone’s fairly undersized at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds and isn’t great in any particular area, but he was a menace all over the field, helping stop the run and pass equally.
Junior Rodney Hardrick joined Malone in the middle but wasn’t nearly as good. He had 60 tackles, zero sacks and one interception and didn’t provide the same intensity as Malone, although he filled the Alonso-Clay hole adequately.
The one returning starter, senior Boseko Lokombo, didn’t quite live up to his massive potential, although he certainly didn’t have a bad season. He had three sacks, seven tackles for loss and one forced fumble and performed well against the run.
Backups Rahim Cassell, Joe Walker and Tyson Coleman were called upon multiple times this season due to minor injuries from the starters, and they did decent jobs filling in.
The Ducks struggled at times on defense this year, but overall, they had a good season. In many ways, they performed better than people might think (they gave up the ninth-fewest yards per play in the nation this season). The linebackers, three of whom replaced elite players, were arguably the biggest reasons for Oregon’s success.
Unlike Oregon, Texas’ linebackers have not managed to stay healthy. Senior starter Jordan Hicks tore his Achilles tendon in Texas’ fourth game of the season, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. Two games ago, junior Steve Edmond lacerated his liver, which will force him to miss the Alamo Bowl, as well.
Eberts said the Longhorns only have two linebackers they trust right now – Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens.
“[Santos] is probably the hardest hitter on the Texas team and he can really cause some damage to receivers who want to try to come across the middle,” Eberts said.
Eberts said the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Santos has to make the right reads in order to succeed because he isn’t the fastest player. Jinkens, on the other hand, is known for his speed. In fact, Eberts said he ran faster than running back Jonathan Gray (out for the season with and Achilles injury) in workouts before the season. However, Eberts said Jinkens never built on last season’s good finish and fell out of the rotation before Hicks and Edmonds went down.
“Jinkens played okay against Baylor, he’s got good speed but he’s kind of indecisive sometimes and has some trouble beating blocks since he’s only 6’1,” Eberts said.
After giving up 550 rushing yards to BYU in the second game of the season, Texas improved as a defense. The loss of Edmond was devastating though, especially considering their next two opponents (Baylor, who beat Texas 30-10, and Oregon) have two of the best offenses in the nation.
Advantage – Oregon. This probably goes to Texas if both units are at full strength, but that is obviously not the case with the Longhorns.
Monday: Offensive line
Tuesday: Tight ends
Thursday: Defensive line
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415