No, the title to this article is not a typo, and no, the sky is not falling. Chip Kelly’s Blur Offense was once the pinnacle of innovation, but that was so 15 years ago. There’s a limit to how fast an offense can be run, and offenses across the country have reached that limit. It is now the dawn of a new era, an era of defensive innovation, and Oregon finds itself once again at the forefront. In this article we will examine the how Oregon is changing its offensive identity in favor of defensive innovation.
Merriam-Webster defines “innovation” as “creating something that is new.” But as business author David Burkus says, “Great leaders don’t innovate the product, they innovate the factory.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t create social media, he changed the platform. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he revolutionized the industry by inventing the assembly line. So when it comes to innovation in the world of college football defense, don’t expect an entirely new defense product; expect a new way of delivering that product.
Innovation at Oregon: Beginnings
Let’s take a trip back to Oregon’s football’s pivotal moments where innovation propelled the program to new heights. What are the first things that come to mind? Offense? Uniforms? Nike? Phil Knight? Tempo? All of the above? Regardless, nobody thought of hiring an offensive coordinator from New Hampshire, chrome helmets, and the fastest offensive tempo in the history of football the day after the 38-8 loss to BYU in 2006.
When Oregon went to the Rose Bowl in 2009 there was little faith early on that Chip Kelly’s offense would revolutionize college football considering his week-one loss to Boise State when the Ducks scored only a single touchdown. What if in 2015 Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich proposed a five-year plan that included no more QB runs, a Pistol run-based offense, toned-down uniforms, and overhauled recruiting? That would have never have led to the 2019 Pac-12 title, Rose Bowl win, and the top recruiting classes from 2019-2021, would it? We have to embrace the fact that innovation is a process: it can initially fail, and we may only recognize it in hindsight.
Innovation Meets the Need
Oregon’s defense has been innovating for a few years, and if you are still skeptical then ask yourself: How did Oregon sign the No.1 (Kayvon Thibodeaux), No. 2 (Justin Flowe), No. 5 (Noah Sewell), and No.11 (Dontae Manning) ranked recruits in program history in a single calendar year? All of them…defensive players. Dynamic defensive players have become a hot commodity because they can cover multiple run and pass gaps that the modern spread offenses attack. Innovation is cyclical: the defensive innovation of today is a result of the offensive innovation of yesterday.
What makes Kayvon Thibodeaux special is his unique ability to play multiple gaps. In the video above, Thibodeaux shows his versatility to cover all of the run gaps and even the flat pass gaps. The final play above illustrates Thibodeaux’s generational talent as he covers the inside run, sheds a blocker, and then sacks a dual threat QB for a loss near the sideline…all in one play.
It’s Not Just About Recruiting Elite Athletes
Players like Kayvon Thibodeaux will always improve a football team. Innovation on the defensive side of the ball requires not only elite talent, but intimate knowledge of schematics, techniques, and players. Andy Avalos has shown promise in his first season as defensive coordinator in all three of those categories. The above video is a compilation of Oregon covering every run and pass gap over the entire field. The end zone view illustrates just how difficult it is to play against this defense from the quarterback’s and offensive lineman’s perspective.
“He’s (Avalos) very receptive, he’s not just trying to jump down your throat. He’s going to talk to you and try to communicate with you to figure out what you were thinking about and why you were thinking that way or did something,” senior linebacker Troy Dye explained.
Dye is attesting to the connection Coach Avalos has with his players, and fans of defensive play have some fun times ahead as the innovation at Oregon on defense continues!
Coach Jeremy Mosier
Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
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