After attending Oregon’s annual spring game last weekend, there are many who were not overly impressed by our defense. Many of my friends, and almost every media publication that I followed after the game were busy praising the offense and questioning the defense. To all of these defensive worry warts, and any of you reading this article I say…DON’T WORRY.
While it is too early to make assumptions, forgive me for doing so. Our defense is not going to take a step back, and in fact it may even be stronger this year. While losing great players like John Boyett, Kiko Alonso, and Michael Clay may sound foreboding, Oregon’s next man up idea will take care of the hiccups. After All-Star safety Boyett opted for knee surgery after the first game of the season, everyone held their breath. Avery Patterson then came in and locked it down. Patterson proceeded to tear his ACL against Cal towards the end of the season. Everybody held their breath, and then Brian Jackson came in and locked it down.
Oregon’s defense suffered a rash of injuries last season. In hindsight, that was actually a blessing in disguise as so many backups and younger players saw valuable playing time. At one time Oregon had three true freshman playing on the d-line in Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Alex Balducci. Linebacker is a question mark this coming season, but the backups saw valuable playing time at that position too as Clay and Alonso got beaten up a little. Tyson Coleman played quite a bit, as did super athletic Boseko Lokombo.
Let me clear up your trepidation by listing some names for you. Avery Patterson, Brian Jackson, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Eric Dargan, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Alex Balducci, Taylor Hart, Boseko Lokombo, Terrance Mitchell, Tyson Coleman, Ricky Heimuli, Tony Washington Jr, and Wade Keliikipi. I could keep going but I will stop there. Oregon has a ridiculous amount of talent coming back with a lot of snaps under their belts. I expect each player to be better than they were last year, that does not bode well for opposing teams.
What some people don’t understand is that a spring game is really just the final spring practice. In this case, the scoring process was very poorly put together and favored the offense. For the defense to get the same amount of points that the offense received for a touchdown required more work than the offense. It would take two 3 and outs and an interception or fumble recovery for the defense to get as many points as the offense got for one score and an extra point. Matching a TD might require one forced fumble, one interception, and one 3 and out. It would take the defense practically an entire quarter to score what the offense could in 2 minutes.
Another reason not to fret is because this was a practice scrimmage. If you have ever played defense for a football team, then you know how frustrating practices can be. While the offense gets to go all out, do whatever they want, and then celebrate in the end zone like they actually beat you, the defensive players have to carefully hold themselves back from taking peoples heads off and injuring their own teammates.
Even in full contact practices, I can tell you there are hesitations from the defense. At the end of the day, these guys are your teammates and your friends, and you are not trying to hurt them. The defense was forced to hold back, plain and simple. Also, don’t forget that there were injuries that depleted the secondary and a lot of underclassmen were getting reps that they probably would not get in a game during the season.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking anything away from our offense and the players that performed well. I am just saying, don’t put too much weight on the performance of our defense with a flawed scoring system during a practice. The holes will be filled with the next man up philosophy and Oregon will see many benefits from the injuries that happened last season.