Agyeman says `Sam I am'.
Beside the bed of Kwame Agyeman sits a piece of paper that has driven him for the past eight months.
On it are the 2005 statistics of Anthony Trucks, the former Oregon outside linebacker, a position referred to sometimes as the strong safety and sometimes as the "Sam," or strongside linebacker. Agyeman, a junior, is trying to replace the departed Trucks at the position, and that piece of paper is ample reminder of the task he faces.
As a senior last fall, Trucks tied for fifth in the Pac-10 with 99 tackles. He led the conference in tackles for loss with 15 1/2 . He was first in sacks with 11. He forced five fumbles and recovered three, numbers nobody else in the league exceeded.
So while that piece of paper contains mostly numbers, it also conveys a message: Oregon has lost possibly the top impact defender in the Pac-10 from last season, and it falls to Agyeman to replace him.
"That's the bar I've set for myself," said Agyeman, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound native of Itasca, Ill. "That's a personal goal for me, but all I know is, as long as I go every down as hard as I can and take care of my assignments, my stats are going to fall into place. So it's not a concern, but it's a constant reminder you're replacing somebody big."
Much is expected of Agyeman and the others at his position.
Like linebackers, they are asked to occupy fullbacks and tight ends at the line of scrimmage, and pressure the quarterback. Like safeties, they need to cover backs and tight ends in pass coverage, and if necessary run down plays on the opposite side of the field.
At the moment, Agyeman is playing with the first team at the position, ahead of converted defensive back Jerome Boyd and walk-on Jon Pope. But according to position coach Don Pellum, all three may see the field this fall, along with A.J. Tuitele, a weakside linebacker who also has experience at Sam.
"We've got a lot more flexibility," Pellum said. "I've got four guys that I think can play in games, and I think it's going to be situational. What type of team are we playing? If we're playing a spread team, we may go with one group, as opposed to a team like Stanford where you've got to be forcing - the Sam's going to be coming up taking on big fullbacks."
The Ducks will also occasionally use two outside linebackers, as they did last season when they switched from their base 4-3 alignment of four linemen and three linebackers to their "odd" formation with three linemen and four linebackers.
That was the situation last season when Agyeman got his most extensive playing time, as the Ducks used the "odd" formation for much of the fourth quarter against Arizona State. Having that experience gives merit to Agyeman's hopes that he's ready to step up and replace Trucks.
"I'm a junior now, I've been in the system, I know where I need to be in the defense," he said. "I just felt like, this is my opportunity, it's my turn to make a mark on this program. Once the (Holiday Bowl) was done, I felt like I needed to make this position mine. That's what I'm still working on."
And he's working on it with impressive diligence. Late in Monday's second practice during double days, Agyeman missed a tackle in team drills. It bothered him so much that he spent a few minutes alone after practice working with a sled, practicing getting his feet set quickly and driving his hips into the apparatus to prepare for all those big hits he will absorb from fullbacks and tight ends this season.
"I see this as a craft," Agyeman said when he had finished, "and I want to perfect my craft."
For Boyd and Pope, there is a bit more work to be done before perfection is attained. Pope is a converted middle linebacker who is still learning his new position, while Boyd is completing a crash course after moving from safety last fall.
Boyd is the fastest linebacker in school history and has added 30 pounds of muscle since last season, but he too is still learning how to read defenses as a linebacker, and to understand how his position fits within the rest of the defense.
"I have to know what the Will is doing every play, because they go hand in hand," Boyd said of the weakside linebacker position. "So it's basically learning two positions at one time."
Boyd thinks he has a solid grasp of the Sam position and will be ready to contribute once he is better aware of the Will's assignment on any given play. Pellum refers to that as "command of the defense," and Agyeman's command is what makes him the first-string outside linebacker at this point.
When the Ducks open the season Sept. 2 against Stanford, Agyeman can put that command to use, and go about trying to match the production Oregon got from Trucks.
"I've had the experience, and I know I can play at this level," Agyeman said. "Now it's just, you've got to go out there and make plays."
ON THE WEB
Coverage of the Oregon football team will be updated at www.registerguard.com.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; The junior is preparing to fill the key position occupied by Anthony Trucks in the Ducks' defense last season|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 23, 2006|
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