2007 Oregon Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 27, 2007

Preview 2007 Oregon Duck Defense

Oregon Ducks

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Oregon Preview | 2007 Oregon Offense Preview 
2007 Oregon Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Oregon Preview 

What you need to know: Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti isn’t shy about bringing pressure with his wave of good athletes, and now has a couple of quality corners to marginalize the risk of selling out.  Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond, Freshman All-Americans in 2006, join standout rover Patrick Chung to give the Ducks their feistiest secondary in years.  The front seven, however, is far less stable.  After finishing ninth in the Pac-10 in run defense, Oregon needs to shore up the middle of its defense and develop an end or two that can consistently create pressure.  Redshirt freshman Brandon Bair is one possibility that has the staff cautiously excited about the defensive end spot.  In a league filled with strong-armed hurlers, that promising secondary will pay the price if opposing passers are given too much time to throw.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Patrick Chung, 84
Sacks: Nick Reed, 3.5
Interceptions: Jairus Byrd, 5

Star of the defense: Junior Rover Patrick Chung
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB John Bacon
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Brandon Bair
Best pro prospect: Chung
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Chung 2) CB Jairus Byrd 3) CB Walter Thurmond
Strength of the defense: The secondary
Weakness of the defense: Stopping the run

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Duck D-line welcomes back four players that started games in 2006, including junior tackle Cole Linehan, who sat out the second half of the year with a broken foot.  At the time of the injury, he was playing well, displaying good quickness for a 6-4, 305-pound interior defender.  Linehan’s return helps bolster a run defense that finished ninth in the Pac-10 last season. 

The upside to the injury was that it allowed senior David Faaeteete to start six games in his place, preparing him for a full-time gig this year.  In 13 games, he contributed 17 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss to earn his third letter with the program.  A former blue-chip recruit, Faaeteete has one more season to approach the hype of being one of the nation’s highest rated tackles in 2004.

With Darius Sanders gone, junior Nick Reed is being asked to become the team’s best pass rusher.  In eight starts a year ago, he had 30 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, offering a hint of his sizable potential along the front.  Although just 6-2 and 255 pounds, Reed is developing a reputation for being one of the defense’s hardest workers and most fundamentally sound players. 

On the other side, there’s a battle brewing between sophomore Will Tukuafu and senior Victor Filipe, both of whom will get plenty of reps in 2007.  A high-profile transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, Tukuafu has the size and explosion to contribute in his first season in Eugene.  Filipe is similarly sized at 6-2 and 282 pounds, giving him the strength to also contribute as a run defender.  After earning letters in 2004 and 2005, he was forced to sit out last season to rehab an elbow injury.

Projected Top Reserves: Defensive end Brandon Bair is not your typical redshirt freshman.  His career delayed by a Mormon mission, he’s a mature 22, and at 6-7 and 250 pounds, is constructed for immediate playing time.  One of the stars of spring, he could mount a serious challenge for a starting job at some point this fall.  Also adding depth on the outside will be senior Dexter Manley, who conjured images of his former All-Pro dad with a three-sack game in September before disappearing for the balance of the year.  At tackle, senior Jeremy Gibbs started five games in his first year out of junior college, and held up surprisingly well against the run.  Although the 6-3, 290-pounder is not expected to start this season, he’ll continue to play a vital role on a line that needs more depth.   

Watch Out For… Bair. On an Oregon defense that’s frantically searching for consistent pass rushers, Bair has the look of a sleeping giant that’s about to make his presence felt on Pac-10 quarterbacks. 
Strength: Depth at end.  With the return of Filipe from injury, Tukuafu’s de-commit from Arizona and Bair’s breakout spring, the Ducks have a very solid rotation of five players, all capable of challenging for a starting job.           
Weakness: Run defense.  Four teams rolled up at least 190 yards rushing on the Ducks in 2006, when top tackle Matt Toeaina was still in Eugene.  Without their anchor, the defense will again be susceptible to quality running teams this year.             
Outlook: The return of Linehan helps, but unless Faaeteete starts channeling Haloti Ngata, Oregon is going to give up a lot yards on the ground in 2007.  While there’s depth at end, someone needs to step up and replace Sanders’ nine sacks and countless pocket pressures.           
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: One of the top priorities for the 2007 defense will be to replace middle linebacker Blair Phillips, last year’s emotional and physical leader of the unit.  Taking his place will be John Bacon, a 6-3, 227-pound junior that looked up to the task in April’s dress rehearsal.  Little more than a special teamer in 2006, he showed the quickness, instincts and vocal leadership to be one of the defensive surprises this fall. 

At weakside will be senior A.J. Tuitele, who started eight games last year and was fifth on the team with 59 tackles.  Although he lacks ideal size at only 5-11 and 225 pounds, he plays with good lateral quickness and packs a punch like an aggressive strong safety.        

Projected Top Reserves: The reserves this year are very young and untested, putting pressure on Bacon and Tuitele to not only stay healthy, but perform at a high level as well.  Behind Bacon is redshirt freshman Spencer Paysinger, a rangy 6-2, 220-pound player that came to the program in 2006 with a wide receiver’s resume.  Although his athleticism is outstanding, the Ducks would prefer that he not get forced into critical action until the 2008 season. 

Tuitele will be backed up by sophomore Kevin Garrett, a letterman in 2006 that spent most of his Saturdays on special teams.  Like Tuitele, he makes up for a lack of prototypical size with an aggressive and active style that fits the Oregon D.         

Watch Out For… Bacon to gradually become one of the leaders of the defense.  Yeah, he plays a position that’s tailor-made for the role, but he also has a magnetic personality that makes him a natural to fill the void left by Phillips’ graduation.                                     
Strength: Instincts. Bacon and Tuitele both have high football IQs, take good angles and have a habit of being around the ball, which means lots of tackles for both in 2007.                        
Weakness: Depth.  Although the Ducks can survive with Bacon and Tuitele in the starting lineup, if either suffers an injury, the defense will be forced to turn to unproven underclassmen that shouldn’t be logging major minutes at this stage of their careers.        
Outlook: While Bacon looks like he’ll have two productive years in Eugene and Tuitele is serviceable, the linebackers will be average in 2007, and even worse on the second and third units.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Oregon went with a pair of freshmen cornerbacks in 2006, and lived to tell about it.    They’ll also be a better pass defense for it in 2007, now that Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond are battle-tested sophomores.  Byrd burst on to the scene with 56 tackles and a team-high five picks, most of which came before opposing quarterbacks began avoiding his side in November.  While not a burner, he has good closing speed and ball skills, and at 5-11 and 208 pounds, can intimidate like a safety.

 Thurmond, on the other hand, is pure speed and a prominent member of the Oregon track and field squad.  A surprisingly good open field tackler at only 180 pounds, he was fourth on last year’s team with 44 solo stops and first with nine passes broken up.  Thurmond is an terrific athlete that’s only going to get better as a corner with more reps.

The Duck defense employs three safeties, all of whom are expected to cover like corners and hit like linebackers.  Once again, the leader of the trio is going to be junior Patrick Chung, Oregon’s rover and one of the more underrated defensive players in the Pac-10.  An outstanding blend of speed and strength, he had 84 tackles and four interceptions in 2006 while patrolling all areas of the secondary like a warden. 

While Chung is a third-year starter, there could be new faces at both strong and free safety.  Following a breakthrough spring, junior Jerome Boyd is making a strong push for the job that Kwame Agyeman held last season.  He’s 6-2 and 220 pounds with the 4.55 speed that’s conjuring up images of former Oregon hybrids Wesley Mallard and Anthony Trucks. 

Whether or not Boyd maintains the starting spot, he’s going to play a lot of football for the Ducks in 2007.  Although he’ll get pushed by sophomores Terrell Ward and Titus Jackson, for now, 6-0, 180-pound senior Matthew Harper is the leading candidate at fee safety.  The JUCO product made 16 tackles in 13 games last season, but needs to show that he can routinely cover Pac-10 receivers and provide help in run defense.               

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Kwame Agyeman started eight games at strong safety in 2006, so he brings a ton of experience to an area of the field that was thinned by senior Ryan DePalo’s ACL injury in the spring.  Agyeman had 43 tackles a year ago and is quick in the box, but lacks the size and explosiveness that Boyd gives the unit.  

Jackie Bates’ decision to transfer out of the program puts added pressure on sophomore Willie Glasper to be the type of corner that attracted offers from most Pac-10 schools.  He has lockdown speed and hips, but now needs to start playing like it.            

Watch Out For… the secondary to produce a ton of big plays and turnovers in 2007.  They’ll get burned for jumping the route at times, but the Duck defensive backs are a bunch of aggressive, hard-hitting ball hawks that make things happen.                                 
Strength: Athleticism.  Especially with Boyd in the lineup, the Ducks are extremely athletic, and as skilled at defensing the pass as they are at coming up and nailing an opposing back.  They’re also physical, with three members on the north side of 200 pounds.
Weakness: Depth.  It’s a bit of a nitpick because Agyeman and Glasper could start for numerous teams, but after those two, DePalo’s injury and Bates’ departure leaves the deeper recesses of the secondary thin and vulnerable.            
Outlook: It’s not often this gets uttered around Eugene, but the secondary should be the strength of the Oregon defense in 2007.  If, as expected, Byrd and Thurmond mature in their second seasons, opposing teams will break a sweat going up top on the Ducks.        
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: After two seasons without a coordinator, Oregon lured Tom Osborne back to Eugene to try and rebuild one of the Pac-10’s worst special teams units in 2006.  The return game was solid, but the coverage units were a mess, and now a new punter and placekicker must be developed.  Osborne is banking on junior Josh Syria, a Wofford College transfer, to be his punter.  At 6-3 and 232 pounds, he has a huge leg and good hang time, but needs to work on the finer points of the craft. 

The Ducks’ kickoff specialist, junior Matt Evensen, is the front-runner to replace Paul Martinez as the program’s kicker.  While he has decent leg strength, his accuracy is under scrutiny after hitting just 1-of-3 field goal attempts in 2006, a 22 yarder.    

In junior Jonathan Stewart and senior Patrick Chung, the Ducks boast one of the Pac-10’s best kick and punt returners, respectively.  Stewart’s averaging 30 yards for his career, and is threat to go long every time the ball is in his hands.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Tim Taylor is technically in the mix at punter, but don’t count out an upset when practices reconvene in August.  Evensen has plenty of competition from sophomore Morgan Flint and senior Luke Bellotti, the coach’s son.  However, things won’t get really interesting until freshman Daniel Padilla arrives on campus.  One of the nation’s premier prep kickers, he was 14-of-16 on field goals last year with a long of 52 yards, and converted all 44 of his extra point attempts.  There’s a clear path to the top of the depth chart, if he shows any consistency in the summer.     

Watch Out For… Syria. While still a work-in-progress, the staff has been gushing about his potential, even comparing him to former Oregon great Josh Bidwell.  Anything has to be better than last year, when the Ducks were last in the league in net punting.                   
Strength: The return game.  While Stewart has All-America potential and two touchdowns on his resume, Chung is a solid returner that averaged 12 yards a year ago and took one back for a score in the rout of Washington.  Now all he has to do is stop coughing up the ball.                
Weakness: The coverage teams.  The Oregon special teams allowed two touchdowns in 2006 and ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-10 in both punt and kickoff coverage.                  
Outlook: Osborne was brought in this year because he’s a difference-maker.  The Ducks will again be a disciplined group that gets a couple more touchdowns from its return game.  If a steady kicker can be mined, the unit actually has a chance to be better than average and substantially better than 2006.
Rating: 6



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