Over the past two weeks, we've been examining the depth and talent (or lack thereof) in each position group -- offensively and defensively -- in the Pac-12. Last week, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings discussed the most talented offensive group so naturally, this week the talk of the town is defense.
So, which position group is it? And can you single out a certain team?
Chantel Jennings: As a whole, I think the linebackers are going to be very strong this season. With depleted defensive lines across several teams, coaches are going to rely on this group more and more for pressure up front. Just go through the teams in the conference and many return at least three starting linebackers. The cupboard is full for Pac-12 linebackers, which is awesome because there are also a lot of good (as well as up and coming) running backs, so this will be a fun area of the field to watch this season.
If I had to single out a certain group it would be the Oregon linebackers for several reasons. First of all, the Ducks' personnel is top-notch. They return starting weakside linebacker Derrick Malone, who led the team in tackles last year, as well as last season's starter at middle linebacker, Rodney Hardrick. At drop end/outside linebacker they'll field Tony Washington, who led the Ducks with 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2013. At strong side, it's still an open battle between Tyson Coleman, Torrodney Prevot and junior college transfer Eddie Heard (unless he or the Ducks decide he should redshirt). Second, in addition to that talent, the Duck defense is now being coordinated by former linebacker coach Don Pellum (who's still acting as linebackers coach). He has high expectations for his linebackers and because he knows that group the best, there's a good chance he's going to call on them to do more on the field than another coordinator might. Look for the Oregon linebackers to be more involved in every aspect of the defense, giving them the chance to make more big plays.
Kyle Bonagura: I have to admit I wasn't expecting the Pac-12 to lead the nation in players on the Bronko Nagurski watch list when it came out on Thursday. And what stands out when looking at the list of 18 guys, is how spread out the talent is -- five defensive linemen, six linebackers and seven defensive backs. Using that as a rough baseline, it's fair to say the defensive groups are fairly balanced in the conference. I'd also probably go linebacker because of the overall depth, but the amount of star power in the secondary is impressive.
You can easily make a case for position groups at several schools to get top billing and I'm hesitant to pick one (too wishy-washy?), but UCLA's secondary is clearly one on the rise. The Bruins' depth is as impressive you'll find anywhere in the conference. Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson and Fabian Moreau were given Pac-12 honorable mention honors last year, while Ishmael Adams and Tahaan Goodman are also intriguing talents. And that's before introducing Tyler Foreman to the equation, a big-time safety recruit that redshirted last year or some of the Bruins' recent signees like Adarius Picket or Jaleel Wadood.