Oregon Football Recruiting: Dominating Defenses Win Recruiting Battles

The crowning moment

When the Oregon Ducks stifled the Top 20 offense of the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Conference Championship game, America saw a side of the Oregon defense that hasn’t been there all year. This was the focused, well-coached defense that played 59 minutes and 55 seconds (The last five seconds is when Arizona’s third-string quarterback ran into the end zone as time expired.) This defense also helped place the impression that the team belongs in the inaugural College Football Playoff. And that impression has translated to recruiting.

Despite the rain, Oregon made it easy for fans to smile at the Pac 12 championship game

Kevin Cline

Despite the rain, Oregon made it easy for fans to smile at the Pac 12 championship game

The performance may be that home run the Oregon recruiting staff has needed to gain momentum on top defensive prospects. It was timely to have this performance and then have the top defensive player come to Eugene for his official visit the very next day. Josh Sweat was a long shot for Oregon to claim and probably had his mind made up to go to Florida State, but this may have given him some serious thought of choosing Oregon.

Some might say that this type of defense is frequently seen in the SEC. For the SEC, it isn’t new because the diligent recruiting in that part of the country draws in so many high-caliber defensive players. Alabama has been one of the recipients of this skill for many years now, winning the recruiting battle each year four years straight.

But Oregon just made people notice, too. Blue chip defensive players that have had the Ducks in their top five choices, or have orally committed to schools but have second thoughts, should get on this roster before it’s too late. Rex Manu, defensive tackle from Hawaii, has been considered to be a bright student, and his commitment to Oregon after what he saw proves his brilliance.

For those who may be on the fence with Oregon, there is something to say. Oregon is new to football elitism. It is not a storied football program with championships and Heisman trophy winners lining the halls on campus. This is what the storied programs fear — a new team displacing them in the top of the ranks. The East Coast just wants to talk about championships in the past. Well, incoming players will have no effect on the past. They will influence the future, and Oregon has a future. The Ducks are not tanking after this season. The foundation is already there and immovable, like a 10-foot-thick slab of concrete for a building.

Under Don Pellum, the defense has gradually improved all season

Gary Breedlove

Under Don Pellum, the defense has gradually improved all season

The Oregon staff is not changing any time soon, with Coach Mark Helfrich only in his second year as head coach. Don Pellum, in his first year at defensive coordinator, has been a part of the program 21 years prior to this season. These leaders are committed to excellence and improvement.

Oregon now has 17 verbal commitments that seem solid. The offense is mostly complete and could take up to two more athletes with the likes of offensive linemen Semisi Uluave (another Hawaiian) and Kirk Merritt from Louisiana, who must be disappointed in his local team’s knack to underachieve.

With the offense taken care of, I have been focusing on ways the defensive side can end the recruiting cycle strong. There is some great talent on defense that has been considering Oregon and could contribute in the future.

In the defensive backfield, one potential recruit looking at Oregon seriously is safety Marvell Tell. The Ducks have safeties, but work remains to be done in recruiting cornerbacks. Coach Neal has proven the ability to put a great backfield together, and the cornerbacks I like most seem unlikely to quack, but may have taken notice recently. These include Iman Marshall from California and Kendall Sheffield from Texas. The recent surge of Octavius Spencer might be a hint that he would also work in nicely.

No Scooby snacks for Arizona thanks to the MVP and his healthy O-line

Gary Breedlove

No Scooby snacks for Arizona thanks to the MVP and his healthy O-line

The linebackers have no commitments yet, although Tevis Bartlett from Wyoming may be the surest bet. A talented prospect would be John Houston from California, but another good choice might be Davon Durant, a JUCO transfer who has committed to Arizona State. If the Ducks can flip Durant, this could be a huge boost to this unit. Even though Malik Jefferson is a long shot, he would be amazing as a part of the front seven in future seasons.

Defensive Line. Some of the most talented prospects that Oregon has targeted play on the D-line. Rex Manu, Gus Cumberlander and Canton Kaumatule are all great additions to this class; however, depth is a benefit of success at high levels of competition. The uncommitted players holding offers from Oregon include Rasheem Green and Neville Gallimore, listed at tackle. The ends include Byron Cowart, Terry Beckner Jr. and Benning Potoae.

Flipping a couple of defensive ends might also be an option. BYU commit Mika Tafua could be beneficial. UCLA commit Keisean Lucier-South, or the newly committed Sweat from Florida State would make my day if they reconsidered Oregon. If the Ducks beat the Seminoles, there may be a better chance to flip Sweat.

Fans love their Ducks and Marcus Mariota

Gary Breedlove

Fans love their Ducks and Marcus Mariota

With less than two months left in this recruiting cycle, Oregon has most of its spots filled and will have to wait for a few last-minute signees to complete its class. Oregon typically has one or two February surprises, and we can only speculate who he/they may be. It will be exciting to see how the playoff pans out. And Oregon fans can certainly hope that the Ducks take away two more victories … making commits from elite defensive athletes that much easier.

Top photo by Gary Breedlove

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Jason Fowler

Jason Fowler

Jason, born and raised in central Oregon, first noticed college football when his older brother attended the University of Oregon. Jason studied English at Southern Oregon University and enjoyed cheering for the school’s team, but longed for that major college game-day experience. That desire slowly blossomed into a fanatical passion for the national feel of college football, especially defending the Pac-12 while challenging conferences like the SEC to step up. He has spent five years expounding on the differences between the two conferences on his blog, buzzbrother2-pac10football.blogspot.com, set up solely for that purpose. Following the Ducks' recruiting progress in the off-season has made college football a year-round hobby for him. He now resides in Spokane, Washington with his incredibly patient, non-football-fan wife and three children, and works as an MRI Technologist. He can be reached at buzzbrother2@msn.com.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    I seriously think the sky’s the limit if Oregon win’s out and I hate to say that I believe now maybe Coach Pellum should of been given the job 3 years ago because he has this Defense playing better each game and that’s what’s important as in playing your best at the end and I seriously doubt if FSU gets down 2 to 3 scores against us they’ll be coming back. I need to get tickets to Jerryville?

    • Toto

      Yeah, I’d love for Oregon to pick up a few more recruits on defense. On Pellum… he got a lot of fire after that Arizona loss, and I thought he actually changed the defense after that with the simple concept of more pressure. He said that only around 35-40% of the defense is the same as Allioti’s but I don’t think too much has changed. Recently, it looks like he placed more pressure (yayy, wihoo! it works!), our defensive line was healthier, guys tackled better, and Pellum started using more efficient personnel ( especially Mattingly (yay!). I will give Pellum credit for making the adjustments to let us see what happened this past Friday :). I really wish we can get some linebackers this time around. I’m still not too big of a fan of the run and pass stop linebacker groups. If Walker can work on pass defense over the offseason like the UCLA guy, he’ll be a top 3 round pick (probably 2) if he can be the every down linebacker.

      • Anthony Joseph Gomes

        oregon rotates in and out on defense. they do not have every down linebackers.