Shrouded in Mystery: The New Oregon Defense

Coach Eric Boles Analysis

Is it a 3-4 front? Or is it a 4-3? There is a lot of discussion among the Duck fan base about the new defensive scheme being installed by recently hired coordinator Andy Avalos. In the interest of greater clarity, today I simply want to dive into the look and personnel of the defense. Once we understand the base alignment and key pieces, we can dig deeper in future articles.

Oregon in a Base 3-4 Defense

A lot of folks have called Avalos’ defense a base 3-4 front, a defense that Oregon was already using under previous defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. To me, you can label a defense two ways. The first is what I call a “shell,” or the alignment of the defense. The second is the actual personnel deployed on the field.

A 3-4 shell is the alignment pictured above. Personnel wise, the first number in a defense’s name is the number of defensive linemen on the field, and the second number is the number of linebackers. Everyone else is a defensive back.

4-2-5 Shell

Avalos’ defense is not a 3-4 in alignment, nor is it a 3-4 in personnel. The “shell” of the defense is much more akin to a 4-2-5, while the personnel is that of a 3-3-5. The position that really ties the two together and makes Avalos’ defense go is the Stud.

Stud End to the Boundary, and the Spur to the Field

The Stud plays as a stand up defensive end to the boundary (the short side of the field). He’s a versatile, multi-tooled player that can rush the passer, set the edge and drop into coverage. The Stud is the position that affords Avalos a certain level of flexibility within his defense.

The second hybrid player Avalos utilizes is the Spur. This is a position that plays a quasi-outside linebacker position in the slot. He’s much more a third safety than he is another linebacker, though sometimes a true linebacker can be put in the Spur’s place in a heavier or short-yardage package.

3-3-5 Shell

Because the Stud also possesses linebacker qualities, Avalos can switch to an odd front on the fly, giving more of a 3-3-5 look. Not only that, but the Ducks will be able to transform their front right before the snap by “stemming” (i.e., moving) between even and odd. This is very similar to what Washington State has done to Oregon in recent years with great success.

3-3-5 Okie. Stud Playing Outside Linebacker

The 3-3-5 that Avalos uses most often, when going to an odd front, is similar to an Okie defense. This is the alignment that most imagine when they think of a 3-4 defense. The only difference being that the “outside linebacker” positions are off of the line of scrimmage.

2-4-5 Nickel

One of the sub packages that Oregon’s new defensive coordinator uses on passing downs should be familiar to Ducks fans. It’s the same 2-4-5 Nickel that Coach Leavitt used during his time in Eugene.

Double Studs

The Stud and Spur positions will allow the Duck defense to become very exotic, as they mix a variety of coverages and blitzes from multiple fronts. I’m very interested to see what this scheme can do with the caliber of athlete at Oregon. It’s going to be an exciting 2019 season!

Coach Eric Boles
Newark, Ohio Top Photo

Spencer Thomas, the Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA.


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