- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Just because a position is questionable in the preseason doesn't mean it's not answerable.
Questionable: Oregon is replacing three A-list linebackers. Dion Jordan was first-team All-Pac-12 and the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were both second-team All-Pac-12, with Alonso getting picked in the second round of the draft. Clay was cut this week by the Miami Dolphins.
The lone returning starter is Boseko Lokombo, who only ranked 10th on the team in tackles last year.
Answerable: Lokombo, a fantastic all-around athlete, has been a dominant playmaker during preseason practices, and the Ducks have five other linebackers with significant playing experience.
With the first official depth chart out, Tony Washington, as expected, will step in for Jordan at the position listed as defensive end opposite Taylor Hart, though everyone and their grandmother knows the Ducks defense is a base 3-4 and Washington will be an outside linebacker opposite Lokombo.
The three new guys are hardly green. Washington started twice for Jordan last year and finished with 20 tackles. Malone had one start and finished with 41 tackles, which ranked eighth on the team. Hardick had 11 tackles.
Depth? Backup Tyson Coleman, who can play inside and outside, had 34 tackles last year, and Rahim Cassell had 19. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Ducks played nine linebackers against woeful Nicholls State on Saturday.
Still, Lokombo is the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound senior could play his way into the early rounds of the NFL draft next spring if his production equals his potential this fall.
"He's a guy who is almost limitless from a potential standpoint," Oregon's first-year coach Mark Helfrich said. "We expect huge things from him. But he needs to be more consistent."
Lokombo had 39 tackles last year, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. Look for the sack numbers, in particular, to go up. Lokombo is powerful -- 500 pound squat -- and fast, though he's more quick than a 40-yard dash guy. He started all 13 games last year and the native of Congo has seen action in 40 since arriving at Oregon from Abbotsford, British Columbia four years ago.
He doesn't seem too worried about the new starters surrounding him.
"Some of them already played a lot last year," he said. "They are ready to take on their roles. It's next man up and that's that."
It also helps that Oregon's defensive line and secondary are both among the best units in the Pac-12, with the secondary widely considered as good as any in the nation.
The Ducks 2012 defense was very good. This one might still be able to match it, even with a question at linebacker.
Said Helfrich, "We have a lot of unproven guys, but a bunch of guys who have played to this point in camp really hard and really well."
1dKevin Gemmell and Erik McKinney