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Oregon Football

Top Questions Headed Into Spring Ball - Defense

February 24, 2020
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Max Torres & Justin Hopkins contributed to this article

Well as I said last week in the offensive questions breakdown, it’s hard to believe we are just weeks away from Spring ball. Maybe the most exciting Spring ball in the last few seasons. This is perhaps the first year Oregon enters with pretty high expectations but with a host of new players taking over spots. Specifically on offense.

The defense was lights out last year and best of all, they will return a major part of the starting 11 and key contributors. It also helps Oregon signed one of the best defensive classes in program history earlier this month.

Myself (Jhop) and Max offer up a few thoughts on the defense as we start ramping up our coverage of Pre-Spring camp.

Who takes over for Troy Dye?

It's no secret the senior linebacker was one of Oregon's best playmakers; after all, he led the team in tackles for four consecutive seasons. A converted safety, Dye was a little bit lighter than most backers, but what he lacked in weight he made up for with speed, great instincts and strong coverage skills.

The most likely candidates to fill the void include Sampson Niu, Dru Mathis or 5-star freshman Justin Flowe. Whoever it is will have some big shoes to fill and must serve as one of the focal points of the defense.

Unlike years' past, Oregon's dominance on the recruiting trail has provided the Ducks with depth and a lot of viable options.

Which freshman 5-star sees the most playing time?

For the first time in program history, Oregon signed three 5-star prospects on the defensive side of the ball: linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe, and cornerback Dontae Manning.

Sewell and Flowe both find themselves at positions with more playing time up for grabs. Flowe possesses tremendous instincts, while Sewell projects as the type of jumbo athlete at linebacker who carries his 270 pounds incredibly well.

From a pure depth standpoint, I'd say Sewell probably has the best chance for immediate playing time, because he is already on campus. However, Flowe doesn't strike me as the type of player you redshirt.

The Oregon secondary, on the other hand, boasts tremendous depth with the return of seniors Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham Jr. Depending on how conference play works out, I think Manning could find some reps late in games when the Ducks are up big.

But I also could see him in a Mykael Wright-esque role, part of the regular rotation in the secondary.

Who will be Oregon’s starting safeties?

No question we'll see Jevon Holland starting either at safety or at nickel. I consider all three spots a part of the ‘safety’ group. For much of the year though, the other two spots were a rotation between Verone McKinley, Brady Breeze and Nick Pickett. Oregon also brings in JUCO star Bennett Williams from this 2020 class, a guy with a chance to compete right away.

Brady Breeze elevated his game during the Winter months of the season. His play was a huge part of the Ducks success in the Pac-12 championship game and Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Does that lock him in for one of those spots as we enter Spring? Great question, which is why it’s listed.

How much better can Thibodeaux be?

I mean in all seriousness, he was a wrecking ball in his freshman season. He set what seemed like an incredibly unrealistic goal for himself at the start of the season with 10 sacks. He got 9.5. Which really sucks only because he’s half a second away from probably a dozen more.

Towards the end of the season you could see Thibodeaux really match his speed to strength. He was no longer a one-trick pony using only speed around the edge. When Oregon was able to move him around and even use that explosiveness in the interior, he became a different type of animal.

I don’t like to overhype guys but right now Oregon has a budding superstar in Thibodeaux and I can only imagine how good the follow up will be this year.

The Evolution of the Avalos D?

Towards the end of last season we saw Oregon’s front using a little more twisting and stunting pre-snap to confuse the offense. I would imagine we’ll see even more of this to start the season.

But what other elements will he bring to the table? There’s no doubt in my mind Avalos probably unloaded about 25-percent of his playbook in year one, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get much more exotic in all phases in year two. 

I really think we just scratched the surface of what Oregon will do defensively and with the upgrade in overall talent, this could be the scariest defense we’ve ever seen at Oregon. 

Tags: Football, Oregon
 
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