The Oregon defense has, at times, been dominant in 2019. They’ve held seven opponents, including five conference teams, to 10 or fewer points. They have given up only 21 touchdowns on the season, good for ninth nationally. That level of dominance is unheard-of in Eugene, as the last decade has been the Era of Offense.
But next year the Ducks will field a better unit.
Troy Dye is graduating after leading the Ducks in tackles for a whopping four years. He recorded almost 400 tackles during his career, good for fourth in the conference since 2005.
Bryson Young emerged as the prototypical “Stud” in Andy Avalos’ defense. He is fifth in tackles for the Ducks this season, and he also recorded two sacks and an interception.
La’Mar Winston, Jr. didn’t have quite the statistical season he was expected to have heading into the year, but he was a vocal leader for the unit.
There are no other major defenders leaving the program. While the list may be short, the loss of these players will be felt, and returning players will have to make up for their absence in the locker room and on the field.
Kayvon Thibodeaux is returning after tallying nine sacks as a true freshman. The defensive end has a burst at the line of scrimmage not often, or arguably ever, seen on the Oregon roster.
Jordon Scott is a dominant nose tackle. While he doesn’t pop off the page statistically, tallying only 30 tackles and no sacks, Scott’s ability to eat multiple blocks and move opposing lineman is unmatched on the West Coast.
Thomas Graham, Jr., Deommodore Lenoir and Jevon Holland make up one of the most talented secondaries in school history already. The Oregon defense ranks second nationally in interceptions while giving up only 222 passing yards per game. The development of this unit will be key to the Ducks’ success in 2020.
Noah Sewell is replacing Mase Funa as the highest rated linebacker in school history only a year after Funa signed with the Ducks. At 6’2, 266 lbs., Sewell has the talent and athleticism to be one of the best linebackers to ever come through the program.
Luke Hill and Myles Slusher are two additional special talents at defensive back. This pair joins an already loaded secondary but will likely earn playing time immediately due to their abilities.
Justin Flowe and Kelee Ringo could also join the class, and if both commit, the Ducks would have three five-star commitments. Flowe would have the potential to take over for Dye at middle linebacker, and Ringo would find his way into the secondary in some capacity, as he would be one of the highest rated defensive backs in school history.
Player development has become a major point at the University of Oregon. Thibodeaux did not record his first sack until the Ducks played California, five weeks in to the year. The freshman started slow, but ended the season leading the team in sacks. Young had only three tackles in 2018, but he developed to the point at which he had 51 in 2019.
Holland made strides toward becoming one of the best Oregon defenders in 2019. And after another offseason of work, it isn’t unreasonable to think he might be one of the best defensive backs in the country in 2020.
The Ducks are in a strange position: many of their young players are more talented than their older players, and several starters could lose their jobs to underclassmen during the offseason. The staff has proven themselves capable of pushing players to their potential, and the potential of the Ducks’ young recruits would seem to be higher than that of the older ones.
What Does That Add up To?
The Ducks aren’t losing a ton of players on defense, with eight starters projected to return in 2020. Those numbers are impressive, and with several three- and four-year starters coming back, the unit looks poised to have a record year with familiar faces.
They only look that way, though. With several underclassmen like Funa and Adrian Jackson poised to break out, the existing starters will have to defend their spots from a talented group of younger players.
Even talented underclassmen will have to battle for playing time, with one of the most talented defensive classes in school history on its way. The class could easily get on campus and take reps away from entrenched starters, as well as young up-and-comers.
Put all of these elements together, and the Ducks’ defense could have one of the best seasons in program history in 2020. Given that many of these players will already have a full season of coaching under Avalos, this defense could also implement more complex schemes earlier in the season — an added, tantalizing factor to consider.
The 2020 Oregon defense may be the best in school history, and it might not be close.
Yuma, Arizona Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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