- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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After looking at the big offensive numbers in the Pac-12 -- who's coming back; who might step up -- we move on to defense.
Tackling numbers are a little more difficult to measure in terms of value. A player might have a lot of tackles because he plays for a bad defense that sees a lot of plays. So while five of the eight guys who had 100 tackles last year are back, let's just start with which teams welcome back their top tackler.
Here are the returning leading tacklers -- calculated as per game average, not total tackles -- for each team.
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA: 10.6 tackles per game (No. 1 in the Pac-12)
Jake Fischer, LB, Arizona: 9.2 tackles per game (No. 3)
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State: 8.8 tackles per game (No. 4)
John Timu, LB, Washington: 7.0 tackles per game (No. 12)
Brian Blechen, S/LB, Utah: 6.4 tackles per game (No. 17)
Michael Doctor, LB, Oregon State: 6.4 tackles per game (No. 20)
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford: 6.2 tackles per game (tie for No. 26)
Derrick Webb, LB, Colorado: 5.5 tackles per game (No. 39)
So eight teams welcome back their top tacklers, which is a good number. All eight are a good bet to again lead their team, or at least to be near the top.
So what about the other four teams?
Arizona State: Pac-12 blog favorite, linebacker Brandon Magee, had 25 more tackles than any other Sun Devil last year, and the No. 2 tackler was safety Keelan Johnson. The Arizona State defense tends to provide plenty tackling opportunities for its weakside linebacker -- Magee's position -- so the guy who emerges there figures to lead the tackling charge. The big question is whether senior Chris Young, the No. 3 tackler last year, stays at "spur" or moves to the weakside, or whether Grandville Taylor or Carlos Mendoza emerges and keeps Young at spur. Young was shared top billing at both positions on the post-spring depth chart.
California: The Bears are breaking in a new 4-3 defense, and that tends to make the starting middle linebacker the leading tackler. That's going to be Nick Forbes, who ranked 11th in the Pac-12 last year with 7.1 tackles per game, just behind teammate Josh Hill, a safety who averaged 7.2 tackles per game.
Oregon: This one is completely up in the air. Michael Clay led the Ducks with 101 tackles last year. Kiko Alonso was second with 81. Both of them are gone. No. 3 was safety Brian Jackson with 69. Strongside linebacker Boseko Lokombo is back, but he was 10th on the team last fall. Injuries this spring clouded things. Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone, who was eighth on the team in tackles last year, were both out, and Tyson Coleman got hurt after moving from outside to inside. Junior college transfer Joe Walker played well when the other guys were out. Rahim Cassell is another possibilty.
USC: The Trojans are doing the opposite of Cal: Moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (or 5-2, as USC folks are calling it). But even with that, it's a good bet that "mike" linebacker Hayes Pullard will lead the Trojans in tackles next fall. He averaged 8.2 per game in 2012. That ranked seventh in the conference, two spots behind safety T.J. McDonald (8.6 tackles per game).