Oregon only returns five starters on defense. Don Pellum will have to rebuild and reenergize a defense that had trouble stopping people in 2014, particularly in big games at the end of the year.
Rushin' hospitality: DeForest Buckner and Torrodney Prevot apply pressure on Case McCoy in December's Alamo Bowl victory. Pressure and penetration are the two keys to a great defense, and the Ducks have to create a lot of it with a young lineup in 2014 (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports).
The defensive front seven struggled with the running game. Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Texas shredded them pounding the ball straight ahead. Marcus Mariota and the offense saved them with a big drive at the end of the Civil War.
Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli, Wade Keliikipi, Boseko Lokombo, Terrance Mitchell, Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson are all gone, and with them 407 tackles.
Oregon has to get more aggressive. Pellum says they have to tackle better and improve their fundamentals. The scheme has to simplified so promising young players can get on the field sooner. They have to execute and avoid costly penalties and lapses in coverage and missed tackles and missed assignments.
The 2014 defense has to be more disciplined and consistent, with less experience.
Fans lament a lack of beef in the front line, but Pellum, Ron Aiken and Erik Chinander have to work with what they have. That means turning an athletic and somewhat undersized rotation into an agile, attacking unit that wins the line of scrimmage.
In their best plays below, the 2013 Oregon defense did exactly that. This year they have to do it more often, with a better plan and a greater sense of purpose.
They'll be helped by the addition of Tua Talia and Austin Maloata for the front line. Two quick and physical players at 285 and 291, they may be able to contribute immediately up front. Rodney Hardrick showed signs of becoming an assertive middle linebacker through last season, and he could make a leap in his play in his second year as a starter. Danny Mattingly joins the rotation after a year on the scout team, and at 6-5, 230, he could be an impact player. Outside linebacker Torrodney Prevot played in 12 games as a true freshman, and he may be able to be a starter.
The secondary should succeed in reloading, given the talent back there and John Neal's track record. Redshirt freshman Tyree Robinson and junior college transfer Dominque Harrison could become very good players, and Dior Mathis has already played a lot through three seasons, now a senior. He had a weaving, 97-yard kickoff return against Virginia, blocked a field goal versus Nicholls State.
As a squad, a big part of their success or failure depends on the health and development of Alex Balducci, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Tony Washington. Pellum needs these four to become great players, and stay in the lineup for 14 games.
The other possibility is that the Oregon offense, with 10 of 11 starters returning, a dynamic quarterback and a veteran offensive line, could succeed in just outscoring people. It's unconventional. Championship teams are rarely built that way, but few teams have had the array of speed and talent the Quack Attack will line up with, starting the season ranked third in the country.
From Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup and Youtube channel MadMike1951, the defense and special teams highlights for last year's 10th-ranked, 11-2 Ducks:
Sorry but of coarse they dominated against a Division 2 opponent but against Stanford they got pushed around and this cannot be tolerated anymore, it's ridiculous because alll these front Line guys that are coming back need to be in the weight room getting BIGGER and stronger and Pellum needs to ATTACK the offense and NOT PLAY ALIOTTI D. This is getting old to watch and there's no reason why they cannot let their D LINE ATTACK rather than let the offense dictate what your D does and basically this is ABSURD to keep plaing this kind of D. They will never get BIG D Line boys to come and play here if they don't start letting the D Line attack and If Pellum was the b est Hire they could get then I would expect better D right out the Gate or otherwise this was another wasted chance for this Ducks Team.
Great article as always, exciting to see what pellum has in store for us, maybe he's the next defensive chip Kelly, alright one can wish :)
Oregon will have another good team and yes the defense could be better but the huge hurdle IMHO is getting the recruits to enroll in Eugene, Or. This is not Bright Lights, Big City and the only other Pac 12 team with this disadvantage is Washington State.
In general, a defense that has to see as many plays and possessions as ours does but still ranked second in the conference in points allowed is a heck of a job. The narrative should be more positive. But they did struggle in one aspect-- stopping the run for no gain or even loss. Hardrick and Malone didn't show the kind of instincts to find the hole that their predecessors did so well. I'd argue that it's not a lack of beef that was the issue, but inside backers who attack the play.
Right with you Dale, especially with the part about the Ducks have to deal with what they have. We’ve gone over the disadvantages Oregon faces when it comes to recruiting, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting the “skill” players. The biggest obstacle that Oregon has faced in getting the DT’s is, what will Oregon do for them?
Pellum is off to a great start in my opinion in simply stating that changes will be made. Alliotti hated the “Bend but don’t break” label. The theory behind it was; just don’t give up a big play and soon enough the offense will make a mistake. Maybe that wasn’t “BBDB” but it was far too passive and reactive to attract aggressive DT’s. The Ducks offense has attracted recruits because it’s uptempo and fast, it’s not as unique now, but next season looks like Oregon could be as explosive as ever, on offense, and the defense better get in step.
The argument was that Oregon plays so fast that the defense has to take its time because the opponent will run so many plays in comparison. Why does that have to be the case? Oregon sub’s a lot on defense now. How about they play defense with the same idea as the offense does? Attack them with speed and from all over the field; instead of the M-O being to hope the offense makes a mistake after a while, why not force the offense to make a mistake. Lately, DL’s at Oregon have been used to take up space. 5 star recruits don’t want to do that. Now more than ever recruiting is the most important element in a team’s success and the Ducks have to stop being their own biggest enemy when it comes to getting a player like Jacob Daniel to come there.
Boy, just got done watching Mike Wines' video on defense and special teams. It strikes me that we are losing almost all of the players highlighted in the video. If it weren't for Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Tony Washington returning, we'd have lost almost the entire video. Yikes.
"Pellum needs these four to become great players, and stay in the lineup for 14 games."
How about 15 games?
Yep, yep and yep. My thoughts exactly. Only put into words much better than I could ever dream of. The defense needs to stop being a disappointment. Do we have the pieces? We can only hope.
@Stevoduck There's only one Chip Kelly, but Pellum has coached under Brooks, Bellotti and Kelly, and has learned things from all three. So there is a substantial hope that he's ready to become a dynamic leader for this defense.
@SonomaDuck AND suburban Philomath, Beavers!
@SonomaDuck Corvallis and Tucson are not cultural hotbeds and entertainment meccas, but yeah, it's a challenge to be in a place that lacks a natural recruiting base and is a long way from both night life and family. Still, it didn't prevent Nebraska from dominating college football in the old days, and Tuscaloosa is not exactly Miami or L.A. either.
The Ducks will have to make the most out of their advantages and continue to find kids who love the area, the school, the offense, the coaches, the atmosphere of the team and the facilities. More Royce Freemans and Austin Maloatas. More Jalen Browns and Tyrell Crosbys.
A good season this year, with an entertaining offense and attacking defense, would be great for recruiting.
@atvinton Good point about the linebackers, although Malone did have 105 tackles last year, leading the team. I think the Ducks were forced to play him out of position in the middle. At 6-2, 220 he's an outside guy and could stay healthier at SAM or WILL. Hardrick's coming along, I believe, and will be much more effective this year. Prevot, Robinson, Mattingly and Swain add a lot of athletic ability to that group.
They'd see fewer plays if they stopped more third downs, but yes, playing the up-tempo style and a deep rotation makes it more of a challenge.
Defensive production by unit 2009-2013
@Ducko30 They are blessed with a lot of fast, athletic players, so it only makes sense to play a fast, athletic defense with a lot of aggression.
@goducks58 It is eye-opening to look at the tape and not the number of "lost highlights" from last season. There are some good plays by Buckner, Armstead and Hardrick, and those three guys have to be challenged to make more of them. They are the leaders now, the veteran playmakers.
@JonSousa That'd be even better. With the new playoff format, depth and health become even more critical.
@goducks58 They have to tweak the scheme to fit what they have. They can be athletic, aggressive and quick, play like the Miami Hurricanes only without a free-spending rapper taking the defensive tackles to strip clubs.
@atvinton That was a great article by Matt, and the stats on the lack of tackles for loss and decreased production by the linebackers were telling.