Oregon's Boseko Lokombo (25), seen here pulling down Kansas State's John Hubert during the second half of last season's Fiesta Bowl, leads a talented and deep defensive squad for the Ducks. - MCT

Oregon flush with defensive depth

There was the Production Line (Lindsay, Howe, Abel) in Detroit, the Punch Line (Richard, Lach, Blake) in Montreal, the French Connection (Martin, Robert, Perreault) in Buffalo and more recently Two Blondes and a Brunette (Koivu, Miettinen, Brunette) in Minnesota.

Oregon's deep and talented defensive platoons might have to come up with their own NHL-style nicknames this season.

"We play like a hockey team," defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. "We need to have anywhere from 22 to 25 guys playing."

Aliotti plans to use up to seven defensive backs and eight defensive linemen this fall. The rotation at the linebacker spots, where Oregon loses its two leading tacklers, should be even more fluid with as many as nine different players running on and off the field.

"Yeah, we've got nine, 10 good guys that all know what they're doing," sophomore linebacker Joe Walker said. "We have a lot of good players."

Three-year starters Michael Clay (101 tackles in 2012) and Kiko Alonso (81) were dominant inside linebackers who leave some big cleats to fill. Juniors Derrick Malone and Rodney Harrick are the leading candidates to start this year, but Walker, sophomore Rahim Cassell, redshirt freshman Brett Bafaro and true freshmen Danny Mattingly and Tyrell Robinson are also in the mix.

Senior Boseko Lokombo and sophomore Tyson Coleman are solid on the outside. Of course, some of the above are learning all of the linebacker positions and could line up at any of them.

"I know that young men are really hung up on being the starter, but the guys in the rotation all have to be starters because of the way we play," Aliotti said. "We will be mixing and matching as we rotate our groups."

Malone had 41 tackles last season, the most among returning linebackers. Lokombo (39), Coleman (34) and Cassell (19) also gained experience on a defense that was on the field for 985 plays and allowed just 4.9 yards per snap.

The Ducks should be able to ease the new faces in at inside linebacker against Nicholls State in the Aug. 31 opener at Autzen Stadium before the competition gets stronger.

"There's not a lot of proven, seasoned, crusty veterans. But there are a lot of guys that are running fast and playing hard," coach Mark Helfrich said. "Our linebackers have practiced really well. They don't have 300 starts between them, but they're doing a great job and (Don Pellum) is doing a great job of coaching them up. I'm excited about their future for sure."

The Ducks will hold their final two-a-day session today before a scrimmage on Thursday. The two-deep is going to be pretty easy for the defensive coaches to fill out with plenty of worthy names to choose from, but there will be questions at inside linebacker.

"Our D-line and our secondary are playing outstanding," Aliotti said. "Our linebackers are growing as we go. I think we're getting better. We have some experience on the outside. The inside is where we need to develop some depth and maturity scheme-wise."

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