Linebackers Sewell and Flowe push each other, look to lift Oregon football
Given the aggressive way Georgia's linebackers set the tone for the Bulldogs defense last season under Dan Lanning, the linebackers at Oregon are looking forward to being game changers in 2022.
And, with Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe in the middle of it all, the Ducks have a unique one-two punch.
"If I make plays, (Flowe) is going to try to do better than me, and we're going to go back and forth," Sewell said. "This is going to be one sight to see."
It will certainly be a welcome sight for the Ducks if Flowe can finally make the impact that was projected when he arrived in Eugene in the fall of 2020 as one of the top recruits in the country.
Injuries have limited the Chino, California, native to two games, one in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and in the 2021 season opener against Fresno State — a game in which he was in on 14 tackles and forced a fumble.
Turned out, he did at least some of that on an injured foot — the second year in a row he suffered a season-ending injury in his first game.
Those injuries didn't dent Flowe's enthusiasm for football.
"I've grown tremendously as a young man. I thank God for giving me these hardships," Flowe said. "I'd rather go through them now than later in life."
The injuries haven't changed the high-energy approach Flowe brings to football. If anything, the recent injuries have stoked the notably intense fire of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Flowe.
"The thing that changed for me was the preparation outside of football," Flowe said. "I feel like I had to put more into my preparation outside of football. Once I started doing that, my body started feeling even stronger and I can do more."
Sewell is excited about the prospect of teaming with Flowe for a whole season.
"I can't wait. I just pray he stays healthy. He can do some crazy things that I've never seen before. His motor is top tier," Sewell said.
Sewell is soft spoken off the field. Flowe is the opposite, a bundle of energy Sewell describes as the team's "spirit animal."
"I love this game of football, and what I've been going through has really humbled me," Flowe said. "So I just try to bring as much passion as I can. Because this game is not guaranteed."
New Ducks' defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said he's often telling Flowe to ease up.
"I'm excited to have his presence. The thing I love about Justin is we've got to constantly tell him to slow down and I'd rather do that than have to demand someone every day to speed up," Lupoi said. "Sometimes a walkthrough looks like its fourth-and-1 with the game on the line, but I love his intensity, I love his mental focus."
In addition to being pushed by Lupoi, who coaches linebackers, and by Sewell, Flowe said he and brother Jonathan Flowe, a redshirt freshman defensive back, feed off of each other.
While Flowe prepares to finally show what he can do as a college linebacker, Sewell is preparing to take a significant step in his third season. The baby of the four Sewell kids to play Division I football, Noah chose to come to Oregon to join and learn from brother Penei, the 2019 Outland Trophy winner now with the Detroit Lions. Noah Sewell said he's motivated to outshine his successful older brothers, including Gabriel, who played at Nevada, and Nephi, who played at Utah.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 253 pounds, Sewell led the Ducks — and all FBS freshmen — last season with 114 tackles. A first-team all-conference selection in 2021, Sewell is on about every linebacker award list this preseason. And, yes, he's watched a lot of the great Georgia linebackers of last season and is motivated to emulate the leadership of 2021 Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean and the relentless effort of Channing Tindall.
"That's one thing I'm working on," Sewell said. "Just staying conditioned, staying in the best shape possible so I can run to the ball every down and every play. Not taking one snap off."
Lupoi and Lanning are expected to deploy an aggressive defense, but one that asks its players to fill multiple roles.
With that in mind, Sewell pointed to getting better in pass coverage — an assignment much different from the downhill run-stopping plays where inside linebackers usually get noticed.
"I feel like I've done an alright job in coverage," he said. "But I do need to work on getting my hips flipped more often. Get more fluid in my drops, be more comfortable in my drops, (playing) in space."
With Sewell and Flowe likely to be highlighted on every opponent's scouting report, Jeff Bassa, the third projected starter at inside linebacker, might also become a big-play guy.
In a defense that puts a premium on speed, Bassa, who converted from safety to play seven games at linebacker as a true freshman last season, is one of the fastest Ducks, period.
Listed at 6-2, 212, Bassa is excited to be a full-time linebacker, even if he still possesses the quickness and understanding it takes to play safety. He said he's blessed to be playing alongside Sewell and Flowe.
"You can put me in a lot of different packages. I'm a Swiss Army knife," Bassa said. "My best attribute in that (linebacker) room would be my man-to-man coverage.
"Everybody in the room is one of a kind. They each attack their days differently. We've gotten to the point where we know how to push each other, we know how to communicate with each other."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.