2008 Oregon Preview - Defense
Oregon DE Nick Reed
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Oregon Duck Defense
Preview 2008 - Defense
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.