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Offseason Burning Questions: LB

With Signing Day officially in the books, so is the 2012 campaign for Oregon football. However, as one chapter closes another one opens and it's never too early to take a sneak peek at the upcoming season. DuckTerritory's "Offseason Burning Questions" series takes a look at each position on the Oregon depth chart and addresses the biggest questions at each spot, priming Duck fans for what they can perhaps expect in 2013. Today, the series continues with an examination of the linebacker position.

Senior-to-be Bo Lokombo leads what figures to be a green unit at linebacker.

Projected 2013 Depth Chart

*Bo Lokombo - Sr.
*Derrick Malone - Jr.
*Rodney Hardrick - Jr.
*[DROP] Tony Washington - Jr.
Tyson Coleman - So.
Rahim Cassell - So.
Joe Walker - So.
[DROP] Sam Kamp - So.
[DROP] Christian French - So.
[DROP] Cody Carriger - RFr.
Brett Bafaro - RFr.
Carlyle Garrick - So.
Tyrell Robinson - Fr.
Danny Mattingly - Fr.
[DROP] Torrodney Prevot - Fr.

* - denotes projected starter at one of four linebacker positions.

Who gets the start at MIKE linebacker?

There may not be a more unsettled position for the Ducks heading in to the 2013 season than the one at MIKE linebacker. With the graduation of Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, one can expect the Oregon coaching staff to be tinkering with numerous starting combinations leading up to the season opener and perhaps beyond. In fact, the only player virtually guaranteed a starting spot is senior-to-be Bo Lokombo, who returns as Oregon's most experienced player in the linebacker unit. At MIKE, there are a handful of options, but arguably the best bet to assume the starting duties at that position is junior-to-be, Rodney Hardrick. Despite seeing limited action in his first two years on campus due to injuries, the 6'1", 230-pound Hardrick fits the size requirements necessary to man the middle. Known as a heady player with great natural football instincts, the greatest hurdle Hardrick will have to clear is remaining healthy over the course of an entire season. Plagued with knee injuries since his high school days, another setback for Hardrick could mean getting lost on the depth chart altogether. If Hardrick doesn't pan out, Malone, Cassell, and Walker are three other viable options, though each has concerns of their own. Malone may be the best suited of the three, though his potential as an outside linebacker is far greater than the opportunity that could be afforded to him at MIKE. Same goes for Cassell, who's slight frame is far more conducive to a successful career at either SAM or WILL. Walker is the wild card of the bunch as he possesses ideal size and experience at MIKE, but is a JUCO transfer who will have to make what can be a tricky leap to the game of major college football. Options are plentiful, though all are far from clear-cut.

How will Oregon cope with the loss of Dion Jordan at "drop" end?

Outside of the uncertainly surrounding MIKE linebacker, finding someone to help fill the void left by the graduating Dion Jordan at "drop" end is another legitimate concern. Expect junior-to-be Tony Washington to be that guy, though Jordan's shoes will be enormous ones to fill. Washington performed admirably during stretches when the Ducks were without Jordan last season as he dealt with chronic shoulder issues, however carrying the burden of being a consistent pass rushing threat over the course of a season will be a new experience for the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) native. Behind Washington at "drop" are Kamp, French, Carriger, and Prevot. Presumably, none of these four players are immediate threats to wedge Washington out of the starting group, but that doesn't mean any of these four should be completely counted out. Kamp may be the least athletic of the bunch, but is a hard-nosed player who may be better equipped than his counterparts in helping against the run. French and Carriger are long and extremely athletic options in the mold of Jordan, though neither has really had the opportunity to prove himself. Prevot is a true freshman who arrives on campus this summer with a lot of pomp and circumstance, but is likely a year away from making a true impact.

How much playing time will Tyson Coleman command?

A ton, in all likelihood. Coming off somewhat of a breakout year last season as a redshirt freshman, Coleman could be in line for an even bigger sophomore campaign if he can find a way to stay on the field. Tabbed as a future starter -- and perhaps star -- at SAM linebacker, Coleman will have to contend with Lokombo who returns as one of Oregon's most seasoned and accomplished veterans on defense. WILL linebacker could be another option, but like Coleman, the emergence of Derrick Malone at that position has been similarly impressive. This leaves the Lake Oswego (Ore.) native in a bit of lurch in terms of spotlight, but there's no doubt that Coleman will once again be a regular contributor next season on defense. Fast, athletic, and viciously aggressive, expect Coleman to be one of Oregon's most productive linebackers in 2013.

Offseason Burning Questions: QB
Offseason Burning Questions: RB
Offseason Burning Questions: WR
Offseason Burning Questions: TE
Offseason Burning Questions: OL
Offseason Burning Questions: DL

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