July 28, 2008

Paysinger is the X-factor

The Oregon linebacker corps was going to enter the 2008 season with question marks. With the indefinite suspension of Kevin Garrett, new questions were added to the old list. One of the answers will come in the form of Spencer Paysinger, who is ready to compete for a starting position now.

The learning curve has been steep for Paysinger. After redshirting in 2006, Paysinger played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman primarily on special teams. He tallied two tackles against University of South Florida in the Ducks' Sun Bowl romp. In the short time he has been a Duck, Paysinger has had to learn all three linebacker positions. Linebacker coach Don Pellum believes he can handle it.

"We've been very demanding of young Mr. Paysinger," Pellum began. "He comes from a football family, his dad is a coach, his uncles are coaches and so we put a lot of expectations on him. Last year we made Spencer play Mike backer. This year in spring we made him play Will as well as some Sam. He's played all three now. He's only been here a year and a half, and he's played all three. We're going to force Spencer to know them all. To his credit, I think he's matured to the level he can handle it."

One of the things that excites Pellum the most about Paysinger is his ability to cover in pass protection. In fact, Pellum believes this is the best group of pass protection linebackers he's had in many seasons.

"Next to Jerome Boyd, he's the best cover guy we've got. They're probably the best we've had in a long time," said Pellum. "You'd have to go back to Wesley (Mallard) to find a guy who could cover like the guys we have now. Like Jerome can, like Spencer can, like Eddie Pleasant can. It's nice because now when we go to nickel, dime or odd we have some guys, some good athletes who can run. By forcing Spencer to learn Mike already he can now play the Mike in most packages."

Learning three different positions has not helped the consistency of his play, but flashes of brilliance have caught Pellum's eye.

"Spencer is like the 'X-factor' guy," Pellum stated. "He's a tremendous athlete. He's matured to the point where he can handle playing a lot of different things. He's also very explosive, but he hasn't been as consistent as we need, although we've had him learning three different positions in a short amount of time. This defense is tough. He's been inconsistent. He's missed some plays, but he's made some big plays. Even this spring he made some plays that made you go 'Wow.'"

Because of his versatility, Paysinger has positioned himself to contribute heavily in 2008. Prior to the suspension, Paysinger was slated to battle with Garrett for the starting spot at Will while still seeing some action at Sam.

"We're very excited about Spencer," Pellum stated. "You're going to see him play a little Sam. Right now he's the number two Sam behind Jerome. You're going to see him play Will. He's going to start the fall camp at Will and is going to be battling Kevin over there."

With Garrett's suspension, Paysinger won't be battling him for anything on the field, but will still have competition from others such as Terrance Pritchett and DeWitt Stuckey, and Pellum would like to add another player to that mix. Still, nothing is going to be handed to Paysinger at the weakside linebacker position.

"There's no #1 Will," Pellum declared. "If we played a game today it would be based upon practice. That position is open. We're going to grade them every day."

Asked if he was concerned about the Will position going into fall camp, the coach expressed confidence.

"Not at all," replied Pellum. "I feel very good about Will because we have some athletic guys who I believe we can get coached up. We always do. You would have to go back to when Peter Sirmon was here to find the last time they said 'Oh, the linebackers are OK'. When Mitchell, Morretti and Mallard we going to be the starters, we were supposed to be down at linebacker, because none of those guys had played."

Fall camp will answer a lot of questions for the Ducks, and Coach Pellum was pragmatic about the perception that the Ducks were not going to be strong at linebacker this year.

"Linebacker has always been a mystery to people around here," Pellum mused. "We're going to be better than we've been the whole time."

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