April 7, 2009

Spring Focus: Middle Linebacker

At the center of the defense is the middle linebacker, who is called upon to direct traffic and make plays. For the Oregon Ducks in 2009, MLB might be one of the best positions on the field. At the beginning of the 2008 campaign, senior John Bacon was the starter due to hard work and knowledge of the system. Following the USC game, Oregon linebacker coach Don Pellum had seen enough evidence to make the switch from Bacon to sophomore Casey Matthews. Productivity from the position shot upward and Matthews finished the season sixth on the team with 67 tackles, 13 of them for loss.

"It was unfortunate for John because he had that knee injury the year before," Pellum recalled. "At the end of last year John was performing at a pretty good level for John but he wasn't making plays. When you looked at the production per play, and John was playing the majority of the earlier games and Casey was playing a small amount but when you looked at the production on the field, Casey was out-producing him on a regular basis. John was getting four or five tackles in 50 snaps, Casey was getting four with 20. At some point as a coach you have to make hard decisions and you have to base it on facts. You can look at hustle and you can look at all those other things and other defining elements. In the end it's just making plays within the scheme. And that's what allowed me to go to Coach and say 'we've got to change'."

After making the switch for the UCLA game, Pellum liked what he saw out of Matthews.

"He only started six or seven games, and he was still in the top 20 in the conference for tackles," said Pellum. "And he missed a lot of opportunities when he wasn't out there and he still caught up with a lot of people in tackles. He also finished in the top 15 in tackles for loss. When you look at that and go 'if he had started the entire year, hmm'."

After the fourth of fifteen spring sessions, Pellum likes has seen nothing to lessen his opinion of the junior from Agoura Hills.

"Casey played at a very high level at the end of last year," recalled Pellum. "Particularly the Oregon State game and then at even a higher level in the Oklahoma State game. He has started off spring where he left off. With the things a year ago, I don't think he understood the defense totally but he had a pretty good command of it. Right now he's hitting all cylinders. It's been kind of fun when guys start hitting it like that because they know it. They anticipate plays, and when some other positions thinking he'll stand there and make all the calls. Tom goes here, I want this front, watch this, here comes the play over here, over here, over here, I mean he'll just make all the calls. He's starting to function at that level which is exciting."

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