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2008 Oregon Preview - Defense
Oregon DE Nick Reed
Oregon DE Nick Reed
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Oregon Duck Defense

Oregon Ducks

Preview 2008 - Defense


- 2008 Oregon Preview | 2008 Oregon Offense
- 2008 Oregon Defense | 2008 Oregon Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Oregon Preview | 2006 CFN Oregon Preview 

What you need to know: For a change, most of Oregon’s stars this season will be on the defensive side of the ball. The Ducks lose little from Nick Aliotti’s ball-hawking unit, retaining all six of the players who earned all-conference recognition a year ago. Up front, ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu are talented pass rushers who can also defend the run. The Jerome Boyd-led linebackers have a chance to be the best group in Eugene in years. The secondary, featuring Patrick Chung, Jairus Byrd, and Walter Thurmond, will be among the best in the West. Offenses should have their best luck running the ball right at a line that’s understaffed at defensive tackle.     

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Patrick Chung, 117
Sacks: Nick Reed, 12
Interceptions: Jairus Byrd, 7

Star of the defense: Senior ROV Patrick Chung
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Justin Thompson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Tonio Celotto
Best pro prospect: Chung
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Chung 2) Senior DE Nick Reed 3) Junior CB Walter Thurmond
Strength of the defense: The secondary, creating pressure
Weakness of the defense: Stopping the run, the defensive tackles

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: With the returns of senior Nick Reed and junior Will Tukuafu, Oregon will be home to one of the nastiest defensive end tandems in the Pac-10. Reed erupted a year ago for 60 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, and a league-high 12 sacks, getting some All-America recognition and nearly winning the Ted Hendricks Award given to the nation’s best end. At 6-2 and 255 pounds, he’s fundamentally unmatched and a hard worker who doesn’t quit until he’s in the other team’s backfield.

Tukuafu had a solid debut in his first season out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, turning 37 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and three fumble recoveries into honorable mention recognition on the All-Pac-10 team. A very different player than Reed at 6-4 and 279 pounds, he has the size and strength of many tackles, which will give a boost to the questionable Duck run defense.

The situation on the inside, however, is far less stable after David Faaeteete and Jeremy Gibbs ran out of eligibility. Their replacements figure to be seniors Cole Linehan and Ra’Shon Harris, a couple of veterans coming off impressive spring performances. Harris is a 6-5, 321-pound beast with the space-eating size to attract attention from NFL scouts in his final year. One of the strongest players on the Oregon roster, he had 15 tackles and three tackles for loss a year ago, needing to finally become a force this season.

Linehan is a much quicker option on the inside, combining a 6-4 and 295-pound frame with a good burst and hot motor. He’s coming off the most productive season of his career, starting five games and making 18 tackles, a couple of tackles for loss, and a sack. 

Projected Top Reserves
: Senior Mike Speed had a breakthrough spring, making a statement that he plans to be the first defensive end off the bench this fall. The 6-4, 258-pounder played sparingly over the last three years, making just four tackles a year ago, but he always plays to the whistle and with sharp fundamentals.

Sophomore Brandon Bair also has a ton of potential on the outside, but first must rehab from surgery on his left shoulder. He’s a 6-7, 250-pound 23-year old with the wingspan and athleticism to be the successor to Reed in 2009.

Sophomore Tonio Celotto is making a strong push to be the Ducks’ top reserve at defensive tackle, a position that’s looking for more depth. At 6-3 and 278 pounds, he plays the game fast and is one of the defense’s strongest players. He made his way on to the field for a dozen games as a true freshman collecting 16 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss in a table-setting debut.

Watch Out For… junior college transfer Justin Thompson. At 6-5 and 290 pounds, he has all the tools to provide the solution for Oregon at defensive tackle. One of the most sought-after transfers in the country, he chose the Ducks over a who’s who of programs that included Oklahoma, Nebraska, LSU, Tennessee, and Cal.
Strength: The ends. Keeping Reed out of the backfield will be a 60-minute battle for every offensive tackle he faces. The development of Tukuafu on the other side means opposing teams will double Reed at their own peril. Both players are fierce pass rushers capable of making an already stingy secondary even tougher to navigate.
Weakness: Run defense. Rarely While solid last year, the Duck run defense won’t be a brick wall against the better running teams if the tackles don’t surprise. Harris and Linehan have primarily been backups during their college careers, but they could lead to a soft underbelly in the defense.
Outlook: While the ends should be fantastic for a second straight year, the fate of the line depends on how well the tackles play. Linehan and Harris are steady vets who’ll make plays, but Thompson is the one “X” factor capable of making an instant impact on the inside.
Rating: 8

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Senior Jerome Boyd enjoyed a breakout first season at strongside, making 79 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and three sacks while being named the program’s most improved player of the year. A 6-2, 220-pound former safety, he has outstanding range and can deliver the payload when he reaches his target. After playing in pain throughout much of last season, he had offseason surgery to correct a problem with his foot.

In the middle for a second straight season will be senior John Bacon, who started last year’s first nine games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. During that stretch he had 42 tackles, playing steady but unspectacular in his first season as a regular. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he’s the biggest of the linebackers and one of the more vocal leaders of the defense.

Replacing A.J. Tuitele at weakside will be last year’s backup, junior Kevin Garrett. The 5-11, 215-pounder performed well in an expanded role, earning his first career start and making 21 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. While not very big, he has terrific lateral quickness and is an asset in pass coverage and on blitzes.  

Projected Top Reserves: Bacon is receiving a challenge on the inside from 6-2, 223-pound sophomore Casey Matthews, who entered the lineup as a true freshman after the starter went down. He played well in the brief stint, collecting 18 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack, flashing sound instincts and a knack for making plays.

Sophomore Spencer Paysinger really helped his own cause in the spring, making enough big plays to mount a challenge on Garrett at weakside. In his first season of action, the 6-2, 222-pound former receiver mostly appeared on special teams, but has looked more comfortable in the defensive system and will get substantially more playing time in his second year. 

While not even listed on the two-deep coming out of spring, the Ducks will have to find a way to get sophomore Kenny Rowe on the field when quarterback pressure is needed. The end-turned-linebacker was a situational star as a rookie, making eight tackles, six tackles for loss, and five sacks in limited opportunities.

Watch Out For… Bacon to hold off Matthews in the middle. Yeah, Matthews has made up some ground and looked ready as a freshman, but Bacon brings intangibles to the defense that are difficult to quantify or replace. He’s a fiery leader who has the experience and respect of the other players, something the coaching staff covets.
Strength: Getting pressure. Coached to do so, the Oregon linebackers do a nice job of shedding blocks and creating up-field pressure. On the outside, Boyd and Garrett are a couple of disruptive athletes capable of wreaking havoc on the blitz.
Weakness: Inexperience on the second team. Although most of the backups got a taste of action last year, it’s still a very young group dominated by freshmen and sophomores. The reserves have upside, to be sure, but the hope is that it doesn’t have to be realized until 2009.
Outlook: While Oregon won’t be confused with USC at linebacker at any point this season, the program boasts a solid unit that’ll help stuff the run and create some pressure off the edge. To reach its full potential, Bacon and Matthews must be healthy for the entire year.
Rating: 7

Secondary

Projected Starters: Three-quarters of one of the Pac-10’s best secondaries is back with an eye on becoming the best unit in the conference. The Ducks are flush with talented defensive backs, led by senior rover Patrick Chung, a tremendous playmaker and a First Team All-Pac-10 performer a year ago.  At 6-0 and 210 pounds, he’s an explosive combination of speed, power, and instincts who put off the NFL for one more year in Eugene. Coming off his best season with the program, he delivered a team-high 117 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two picks, and a couple of blocked kicks.

The only newcomer in the defensive backfield will be junior T.J. Ward, who supplants Matthew Harper at free safety. A former walk-on who has excelled on special teams, he’s 5-11 and 191 pounds and has the cover skills of a cornerback. Even if Ward is slow to adapt to the promotion, he’s unlikely to get exposed when surrounded by so much talent in this secondary.

After just two seasons together, juniors Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond are on the brink of forming one of the best cornerback tandems in the country. The 6-0, 208-pound Byrd led the Pac-10 with seven interceptions, giving him a dozen over the past two seasons. He also had 64 tackles, four tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, and 15 pass breakups, showing good closing speed and even better ball skills.   

Thurmond is a pure burner with outstanding catch-up speed and the jets to go stride-for-stride with any receiver in the country. At 6-0 and 185 pounds, don’t be fooled by his slight frame, he’s an underrated tackler in the open field finishing with a team-high 75 solo stops, eight tackles for loss, five interceptions, and 18 broken up passes.  

Projected Top Reserves: The most experienced of the backup corners is junior Willie Glasper, a two-time letterwinner and veteran of 26 games. At 5-11 and 184 pounds, he has advanced corner skills and would be starting at a number of schools that didn’t already have players like Thurmond and Byrd.

Once Chung is through playing in Eugene, sophomore Marvin Johnson is going to take his place at rover.  A 5-10, 205-pound thumper out of the secondary, he had 10 tackles as a first-year, while earning high marks for his work on special teams.  A solid tackler and contributor in run defense, he’ll spend part of his second year trying to improve as a pass defender. 

Watch Out For…: Thurmond and Byrd to both give strong consideration to leaving early for the NFL Draft.  The juniors have been fantastic in all phases over the last two years, and if they continue to improve, it’s hard to imagine the NFL not dispensing positive feedback.  With that in mind, the Ducks would be wise to get the reserves as much training as possible this season.                                  
Strength: Playmaking.  Above all else, the secondary houses a slew of terrific athletes who break well on the ball and know what to do when it’s in their hands. Chung has a penchant for separating receivers from the ball, and Byrd and Thurmond combined for a dozen picks a year ago.
Weakness: Zone coverage. The Ducks tend to get somewhat soft in zone coverage, often allowing too much room for opposing receivers to roam. Oregon is chock full of talent in the secondary, but still allowed 20 touchdown passes and almost 250 yards a game through the air last season.
Outlook: With a least three of this year’s defensive back eventually headed to the NFL, Oregon will feature one its best secondaries in school history. Although they still need to tighten up a bit in coverage, these Ducks will make a ton of big plays and a ton of quarterbacks regret throwing in their direction.
Rating: 9

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The returns of seniors Matt Evensen at placekicker and Josh Syria at punter ensure that Oregon will be on solid footing once again this season. Evensen found the accuracy that had eluded him early in his career, nailing 16-of-20 field goal attempts and all 52 of his extra point tries. He can reach from 50 yards when given a chance and has one of the league’s stronger legs on kickoffs, adding almost four yards to his previous year’s average.

Syria earned honorable mention recognition from the Pac-10, turning all of his natural ability and great size into results on the field. He averaged almost 42 yards a punt and displayed good hang time, laying the foundation for what should be a strong finish to his brief career in Eugene.

The hardest hit area of the special teams will be the return game, which loses explosive kick returner Jonathan Stewart and top punt returner Andiel Brown. Junior Andre Crenshaw and sophomore Jeff Maehl will be counted on to replace the pair on kickoffs and punts, respectively.  Speedy sophomore Jamere Holland is expected to back up both players.     

Watch Out For… Holland. A transfer from USC and one of the fastest players on the roster, he has the potential to be a gamebreaker when given even a sliver of daylight to knife through.  Holland isn’t Stewart, but he has jets to ignite a return game in transition.
Strength: The legs. In a matter of one season, Evensen and Syria both made the trek from question marks to stable elements of the special teams. Both exhibit outstanding pop and improving technique as they near the end of their Duck careers.
Weakness: The coverage teams. For the second straight year, the Ducks were a little leaky in both punt and kickoff coverage, finishing in the Pac-10’s second tier in both categories.
Outlook: Under assistant Tom Osborne, the Ducks have come a long way in a short period of time, stabilizing a once-shaky unit. To take another stride, it must develop new return men and shore things up the coverage teams.
Rating: 7.5