2007 Oregon Preview - Defense
Oregon Duck Defense
Preview 2007 - Defense
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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
Tackles: Patrick Chung, 84
Sacks: Nick Reed, 3.5
Interceptions: Jairus Byrd, 5
Star of the
Junior Rover Patrick Chung
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Brandon
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
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
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.
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
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’
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.
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
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.
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.