Does Oregon’s Andy Avalos Have a Mastermind Personnel Plan?

Mike West Analysis 30 Comments

From the angst-filled opener in Dallas, to the dramatic finish in Pasadena, Duck fans marveled over Andy Avalos‘ 2019 Oregon defense. No amount of glowing anticipation could match the outstanding improvement Avalos’ troops demonstrated in just one year.

With only two key additions, Oregon’s defense garnered 97 tackles for loss, 41 sacks, 20 interceptions, 42 quarterback hurries and yielded only 16.7 points per game. Given that Avalos had basically the same set of players as Jim Leavitt had in 2018, what made his defense that much more effective? Simple: Avalos is a master at maximizing his players’ strengths.

What’s in store for 2020?

The more I scour last year’s games, the more I enjoy the idea Avalos is only scratching the surface of the kind of defense he wants to establish. Let’s delve into why I feel that way.

We’ve seen the video above in numerous articles. What strikes me is not only how Kayvon Thibodeaux is used at nose tackle, but also how Mase Funa is placed at middle linebacker. My first inclination was to assume Funa was being groomed to play middle linebacker. This would assist Isaac Slade-Matautia and Sampson Niu inside while Avalos and company groom highly-touted stalwarts Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell. When I watched footage of the Utah game, I also believed Slade-Matautia and Niu were being groomed to play as outside linebackers once Sewell and Flowe take command inside.

But alas, the play in the video was just a blitz package Avalos designed to utilize Funa’s strengths (Funa netted 4 sacks, 4 quarterback hurries and 8 1/2 tackles for loss). But the idea still sticks in my mind: Funa can slay guards and tackles in the middle, while Slade-Matautia and Niu are effective at both spots. I believe all three will be used both inside and outside this year.

Avalos develops players like Picasso paints pictures

Did you know a stunning 27 players had tackles for losses (TFL) last year? (up from 18 in 2018) Production in the linebacker ranks shot up dramatically. Nearly every linebacker, including the back-ups, registered sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries (only Dru Mathis failed to net a quarterback hurry, but he got his TFLs and sacks).

Kevin Cline

Mase Funa: Silent but deadly.

This bodes well for heralded four-star linebacker Adrian Jackson because his body type allows him to play both inside and outside like Niu and Slade-Matautia. Furthermore, Andrew Faoliu has moved from tackle to outside linebacker. I doubt Faoliu only plays linebacker, though.

Say what? Well, Faoliu showed some good skills inside with his quickness at the tackle spot, but Avalos seems to want the flexibility of adding depth with another stout outside backer to join Funa and still be able to utilize smaller “missiles” such as Jackson, Niu and Slade-Matautia — unique to their individual strengths — for specific packages designed to wreak even more havoc this year.

And that’s only the beginning.

Speed vs. Speed

During Spring Practice, there was plenty of talk about Thomas Graham moving to safety as part of his duties. In my opinion, it makes total sense. (I also believe Mykael Wright should get more time at safety as well, in order to add firepower to counter the lethal offenses that field those NFL-caliber wide receivers we’ve seen so often over the last two to three years.)

Matt Zlaket

Preseason All-American Jevon Holland is about to maximize his greatest skills.

In Nickel packages (use of five defensive backs), Graham, Wright and Deommodore Lenoir can utilize their man-to-man coverage strengths on the three best wide receivers they’ll face, while ball hawks Jevon Holland and Brady Breeze use their strengths to suffocate tight ends. Furthermore, both Breeze and Holland are available for their awesome run defense skills.

The Next Chapter

Clearly I’m focusing on the back seven, and for good reason. I believe these personnel moves will bolster an already effective defensive tackle group against the run. In addition, the linebackers have proven their ability to blanket running backs. Imagine jet fuel coverage from the likes of Lenoir, Wright and Graham (when they start facing these awesome wide receivers), and the lock-down match-ups Breeze and Holland will win — oh my!

With Blitz packages galore (see the video above for an introduction to Blitzkrieg 101), we’re primed to witness Avalos’ expert use of his roster’s greatest strengths. Buckle up, Oregon fans — the best is yet to come!

Mike West
Las Vegas, Nevada
Top Photo by Kevin Cline

Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.

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David Marsh

Andy Avalos had an invterview this evening with Rob Mosely from

As today’s discussion was about Avalos it has some perfect timing. Well done Mike!

Jon Joseph

Thanks Mike, great and insightful take.

Are you sure that you Sir, is not the master-mind?

Jon Joseph

Thanks Brother and stay safe.

David Marsh

One of the players that I am super excited about watching next year is Breeze. In Leavitt’s system Breeze didn’t fit the scheme and was sidelined. In Avalos’ schemes Breeze has flourished in a handful of games.

I researched some of the pac-12 championship game the other night and I saw Breeze arm tackles Moss!

In both the pac-12 championship and the rosebowl breeze was everywhere on the field and was ultra physical.

It’s such a great example I feel of how scheme changes everything. A player who didn’t fit Leavitt’s scheme is a star is Avalos’. And if Breeze continues on the path he is on he will be an NFL draft pick. A ball Hawking safety that hits like a linebacker… Who doesn’t want that in their system?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Amen Duck Brothers!

(Click on it for full view)

Brady Breeze makes 4th down stop in Pac 12 Championship_Tom Corno.jpg
Jon Sousa

Breeze has filled the sleeves well.


I’ve been a long time Duck fan since 1960 and have suffered, as many of you graybeards have, through the highs and lows of watching our Ducks.

I must admit though that, until I discovered this site, my knowledge of the game was limited. In the past I only followed the football while watching the action. Since I began watching the many analyses on this site my vision has expanded along with enjoying the game so much more.

I, like all of you, am so excited for this year (hopefully) happening so i can enjoy the many improvements that Coach C has implemented.

Thank You, Mr. FishDuck, for all the time and effort you have committed to this site and for expanding my appreciation for watching Our Beloved Ducks!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I keep two files…“FishDuck…you SUCK,” and another…“FishDuck…you do NOT SUCK.” I am going to file yours in the latter to cheer me up on the tough days.

Your thoughts about how you enjoy the game more because of what writers/analysts like Mike provide…is precisely what our intent is. Our Opinion-Editorial articles are meant to help inform and to stimulate the pondering of Our Beloved Ducks, while analysis articles are truly targeted to teaching Oregon football, and I am pleased with what we have been able to provide.

Thank you duck4life.

Jon Sousa

Thank you Mike! Of all the articles I enjoy on Fishduck, I like the ones that break down plays and teach what to look for the most.

Santa Rosa Duck

Thanks Mike, this is really good stuff for the amateur fan that I am.


It’s been a long time since I played football but in high School our DC had an opinion of never let the Offense get comfortable with defensive play calling so while most schools ran a traditional 3-4 or 4-3 for 90% of the game we would run multiple fronts.

From the way avalos talked when he first came on campus plus the demonstration above I think this is exactly what Avalos wants. If you are a center going against Jordon Scott every play of a game say 60 to 80 snaps, You should be pretty accustomed to his patterns halfway through. But if one play you are against him, Next you have an OLB blitzing on the inside and then you have to defend a much Lankier DE in Thibodeaux It gets much harder to project what will happen.

Back to Highschool, We had a pretty Unique Blitz package in which they two ILB’s would line up on the a gaps forcing the center to pick one as the other comes rushing in. it usually was great at throwing off the opposing Olines because throughout the game the Center would call protections as they would approach the line only to drop off into coverage.

Arroyo Is putting players in great positions and obviously knows his players strengths but I also think he is actively trying to create pressure from every player on the field and from everywhere on the field.

With this I am excited to see what Noah Sewell can do in arroyo’s system. Noah is almost built like a DT/DE but has the speed and strength to play from strong Safety to all LB positions. He is like a bulky isaiah Simmons who clemson used throughout the entire field.

Jon Joseph

Good take. I can’t remember that far back!

These are great observations about the defense that so many of us did not notice. Thanks for sharing this Mike!


What he did with 3* talent was impressive. He now has multiple 5* players, who are game changers. It will fun to watch what he creates with all this talent. I have a feeling he may be more excited to see all this talent in action than we are, just maybe!

One item is somebody mentioned Oregon becoming Linebacker U. I think what we are seeing is Oregon definitely becoming Lineback U with the talent coming in. Flowe is the type of talent few programs ever see. Noah and Funa are also talents we haven’t ever seen at the position. In the past we have had a few 3* guys develop, but never elite talent like this at linebacker.

If you look at the Linebacker position in the NFL our players have made a negligible impact at the next level. Our guys have been a little too small, a little too slow to play at the next level. Kiko, a second round pick, is the lone impact player in a long time in the NFL. This is going to change with the group we have now.

The linebacker position is the position of change for our defense. We have had elite lineman, defensive backs who were elite, but now we have the qb of the defense who are elite. This will have a huge impact on what Avalos can do and will do. I also think this will keep him around or at least bring in another top defensive mind who wants to have this talent level to work with.


This will have a huge impact on what Avalos can do and will do. I also think this will keep him around” interesting thought, I like that.


Great article, Mike. It took me back to chalkboards of yore with X’s & O’s; this player goes here, that player goes there. Over time more and more sophistication and innovation, and here you provide us a glimpse of what Avalos is doing and yes, he’s probably just getting started!


Thanks Mike, it’s about time we had a nice talk about out lustrous defense and a look at its intricacy. The intricacies you mentioned are the things the come about over time and can make a good defense into a great defense. To get to a national title we need this thought process on both sides of the ball and it’s good to see it starting to take place on defense.

So often I hear the expression “he has the body type” and I understand you want your big guys up front and your fast guys on then ends but I’m sure there is more to it then just that. Maybe you could expand on this in another article sometime.


Interesting stuff Mike, thanks much.


Mike, thank you for a concise synopsis of the outlook for the Defense, including what to watch for from several players. I don’t before remember anticipating the Defense as much as the Offense.

The storm clouds are gathering at a rapid pace with the spike in Coronavirus positives. Fans as live spectators are in the cross hairs.

Jon Joseph

If that’s the case, cancel this season’s Ohio State game and play it in Autzen at a later date. Against a team like tOSU, the Ducks will need every bit of the home field advantage.

David Marsh

I think college football is going to happen, probably without fans. There is too much money in it and it keeps too many athletic programs afloat. Every program will take a hit without fans but they can survive with television…

(Yes, Jon Joseph even the Pac-12 will survive with tv rights … Not flourish but survive)

High school football I feel varies from state to state. I don’t think the state of Oregon will have much high school football this year… But Texas probably will as that is the lifeblood of so many communities that they’d probably all lose their collective minds without high school football.

Jon Joseph

First, hats off on that cool lid. Looking good my man.

$. Don’t know if you saw this but CAL and UCLA, both deep in the red, are now in a battle with Under Armor. UA wants to negotiate a significant cut in its current deal with these 2 schools. Jon Wilner who does a great job of covering the Pac-12, believes that almost every Pac school will be asked to take a ‘uniform’ hit.

Add on the $ problems of no ancillary game day profits to the CBB tourney being cancelled. I do not see how cuts in ‘Olympic’ sports will not have to happen?

As of today a number of teams due to player’s testing positive would not be able to field a team. This includes LSU and Clemson. Arizona with a week zero game, has pushed back its practice start date.

Add this pandemic to the cord-cutting ESPN is experiencing. How bounteous will the new media deal be?

And without some kind of ‘cover’ from the state legislature, will the administration of a given school want to take on the liability of fielding a team and having a player(s) seriously affected by the virus?

David Marsh

I saw some on the under armor problems with UCLA and cal. California as a state has problems with college sports and fans as they have 3 NFL teams (there has been a lot of movement on that front so it’s difficult to keep track of) and 4 NBA teams … So the professionals eat up a lot of people’s disposable income for recreational activities.

Not having a football season may sink those athletic programs. A football season without ticket revenue wouldn’t be pretty and there are probably some budget cuts and sport cuts on the table right now but UCLA and Cal would have a drastically different financial picture than no football and no tv revenue.

Any given Saturday last year if you look at UCLA’s statium it is a pretty sad sight. They are already dependant on TV revenue more than other programs. Cal has a very small statium.

In both cases it highlights the Pac-12’s utter failure as a conference at helping all their schools.

Matters are only made worse for both of those schools in particular because they are located in California. The real estate they MUST occupy is expensive along with everything around them. It’s not UCLA if it’s not in LA.

I know all coaches at Oregon are taking a 10% pay cut this year. Cuts will have to be made. Football and men’s basketball are the lifeblood of athletic programs. I think basketball is probably dead in the water as it takes place indoors where football may have some life as it is at least outdoors in a well ventilated environment.

Jon Joseph

Thanks for the great reply.

I really do feel that many programs across the country are at risk. How many UCLA and CAL fans would bemoan football going away. No one shows up at Stanford, but Stanford has all of its many varsity sports fully endowed.

Next media go round, is USC and Oregon going to accept getting the same slice as WA ST?

David Marsh

I was trying to find a list but this isn’t the sort of thing that really is compiled and preserved on the internet. Though last year Oregon had VERY few games on the Pac-12 network. Nevada and Montana were the only two games I can find (and recall) making it onto the Pac-12 Network.

Not that that fully determines who gets the money but a game on ABC, Fox, or ESPN gets far more eyes than on the Pac-12 network (regardless of how well received the network is as more people will watch a game more nationally televised).

Though I agree in thinking that Oregon and USC are not going to be so keen at doing all the heavy lifting and getting little payout when the contracts are renegotiated.