May 9, 2012

2013 In Depth: Middle Linebacker

Today Duck Sports Authority continues our look at the recruiting needs for the Oregon Ducks heading into the 2013 signing class. So far we have looked at running backs, safeties and offensive tackles. For this article we will head back tot he defensive side of the ball.

The campaign leading to the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin began with questions at the middle linebacker position. Due to off-season indiscretions, the projected starter after Spring was going to be unavailable being suspended for the first game. Fortunately, Dewitt Stuckey filled the void more than capably and become a pleasant surprise to many Duck fans. The Rose Bowl, of course, put the incredible talents of former projected starter Kiko Alonso on display for the nation to see; and he did not disappoint.

The 2012 season will be Kiko's senior season, but he is the only middle linebacker leaving after 2012. More importantly, barring attrition or early entry into the NFL draft, there are no departures expected after the 2013 season either. That means that the middle linebacker position is one of strength heading into this recruiting cycle; and also a position where there will be few offers and even fewer signings.

Currently, the Ducks have offered just one middle linebacker for the 2013 class. We will take a look at his strengths and introduce you to a couple of other prospects that might be interesting.

Isaac Savaiinaea

Status: Offered, Committed to Stanford

Overview: Savaiinaea is a superb athlete and has the size and speed that will make him a star at the position. At a Nike Combine in Honolulu, the Hawaii native had the top SPARQ score out of 450 athletes. He ran an electronically timed 4.66 40 yard dash, ran a very good shuttle time with a 4.14 and had a vertical leap of 31 inches.

Strengths: There is not much that Savaiinaea cannot do from his linebacker poisition. He does a great job of shedding blocks and making plays. When the play is to the other side, his speed allows him to make tackles many high school players simply cannot make. He can catch running backs from behind. His speed makes him an asset in pass coverage and he has very good instincts and reads the ball well.

Weaknesses: There are not a lot of glaring weaknesses in Savaiinaea's game. The main thing that stands out on film is that he tackles high a lot and when he goes low it is usually because he is trailing the runner. He may not get away with some of those tackles at the college level as the athletes will be considerably better than his current competition.

DSA Odds: None

Savaiinaea committed to Stanford in March and loves everything about the school. He considered Stanford the favorite before his commitment and then pledged to them shortly thereafter. He had planned a possible unofficial to Auburn in the summer but that has been cancelled. At the moment his only summer plans are to attend "The Opening" here in the state of Oregon. He does, however, plan to take all 5 of his official visits. He has only set up one, to Texas A&M. Savaiinaea has said he is "98%" committed to Stanford.

Odds Savaiinaea becomes a Duck stand at less than 10%. If Oregon can secure one of those 5 visits and impress him during that trip, there is a chance, but at this point in time it looks like an extremely remote chance.

Larenz Bryant

Status: Not Offered, Medium Interest

Overview: Bryant hails from North Carolina. He is rated as the fourth best inside linebacker and 95th overall prospect in the nation by Rivals. Of his long list of offers and his list of schools he has said he has an interest in, only one of those schools is West of the Mississippi; Oregon. In a March interview Bryant listed his top five schools as Clemson, Virginia, Georgia, Oregon and Florida. That is pretty rare company and possibly long odds.

Strengths: The first thing that jumps out at you when watching film of Bryant is speed. He is not the player that is going to win a bunch of races at a track meet, but when he makes a decision, he gets to his intended spot in a hurry. Bryant looks very instinctual in his breaks and understands the angles of the game very well. No one beats him to a corner because he took a wrong angle. He has very good ball instincts and uses his leaping ability to make plays in pass defense very effectively. He is a good enough athlete that he could also play running back or wide receiver. He could also drop back into a rover safety position.

Weaknesses: At 6-1 and just 203 pounds he is undersized as a middle linebacker. He has great strength, though, so the size may come with time in the weight room. He does not have the break-away type speed, but is very quick in his breaks to the ball.

DSA Odds: Low Bryant has spent some time making unofficial visits close to home. In March, he listed Oregon in his top five, but one month later South Carolina had squeezed out Oregon in his top five. This could be related to the fact that of his professed favorites, only Oregon has yet to offer the talented athlete.

If the Ducks offer and can secure a visit, then the Ducks might have a small chance at securing his commitment. The odds at this point, though, are less than 10% that Bryant becomes a Duck.

Tanner Vallejo

Status: Not Offered, Medium Interest

Overview: There is no film yet on Vallejo to review. He is starting to get some interest and claims two Pac-12 offers (Arizona, Colorado) as well as offers from Fresno State, Colorado State and Nevada. He is listed at 6-2 and 210 pounds, but looks a little bigger than that in pictures.

Vallejo plays for Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, California. Grass Valley is a small town even by Oregon standards at just 12,600 residents which makes the competition level something to consider. Vallejo has not been to any camps of note, but has received a three star rating from Rivals.

Though there is no football film of Vallejo to review, he and his school did put out a humorous take on the old "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker" commercials coming up with the name "Tanner Vallejo, Campus Linebacker." In the video Vallejo is seen tackling different students around campus for violating school policy on things like not going top the bathroom when you are excused for that excuse, littering, etc. There is even a scene where he "motivates" a teacher to be more lively in his teaching. Pretty tame stuff, but a little humorous look at the school and the player.

DSA Odds: Good Given that Vallejo has only been offered by Arizona and Colorado in the Pac-12, an offer by Oregon could result in a very quick commitment for Vallejo. However, with no real video to look at and the fact that Vallejo's name appears to be getting out a little later than some of the other prospects around the nation, there is a chance that Duck coaches are going to want to see some senior season highlights before extending an offer. Given the relative little need to fill the position, the Duck coaches may also be waiting on prospects they have rated higher before considering Vallejo. If offered, though, there is a good chance that Vallejo would be very interested in becoming a Duck.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The original projection called for the Ducks to be looking at adding just one middle linebacker for the 2013 class. With just one offer to a player "98% committed elsewhere" leads us to believe that, at this point it looks like the original projection at this position is probably pretty accurate. The Ducks will be deep at the position even into 2013 and may feel their scholarships will be better placed at other positions. The Ducks may be using this as a shoot for the best-of-the-best situation knowing that they do not have a pressing need for this class.

Revised projection for this position is still 1 middle linebacker.

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