A New Defensive Coordinator Brings New Opportunities

David Marsh Editorials

With change comes opportunity. As Andy Avalos leaves Oregon to take the head coaching job at Boise State, there is an opportunity for Mario Cristobal to evaluate the Oregon defense and elevate the defense to the next level.

Coach Eric Boles was kind enough to give us his most recent list of top five defensive coordinator candidates, which shows us how many options Cristobal has for this newly vacated position. By now, we all know that Cristobal is going to take his time and hire the best fit for the culture and coaching staff. Whoever is hired will need to be a great recruiter with a deep knowledge of their defensive scheme.

Oregon is not a stagnant program, having signed three of the best recruiting classes in program history in the past three consecutive years. There has never been so much raw defensive talent on Oregon’s roster. The talent is bigger, stronger, faster and oozing with more potential than any other defensive roster in Oregon’s history. So the real question is: Who can take Oregon’s defense to the next level?

Avalos’ Bend-Don’t-Break Scheme

Avalos’ 2020 defense had its coming out party at the Pac-12 Championship.

The excitement surrounding the new defensive coordinator should not diminish Avalos’ achievements. He oversaw perhaps Oregon’s best defense in 2019. Avalos took the players he inherited and created incredible on-field results. And with every passing year, it becomes clear that Oregon is establishing itself as a defensive powerhouse in the Pac-12, as the recruiting classes show. However, the quality of athletes Oregon is attracting may demand a different defensive scheme in order for them to meet their full potential.

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Avalos’ defense is an aggressive bend-but-don’t-break style of defense. Over the past two seasons, offenses could move the ball down the field but would stall out before, or inside, the red-zone. Avalos’ defense gets better as the field shortens which is what’s supposed to happen with a bend-but-don’t-break defense. The design is simple: Avoid big offensive plays by creating a pass-rush that allows a ball-hawking secondary to pick off errant throws by a distressed quarterback. We saw this on full display in the Pac-12 Championship Game, where Oregon’s three interceptions were a key component to the victory.

But is this the best defense for Oregon to be running?

Time for a Different Approach?

Is there a defensive scheme that can get even more out of Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell?

A new coordinator has an opportunity to elevate the program. Oregon has the talent, and just by looking at Coach Boles’ and other websites’ lists of potential candidates, it’s clear there are some seasoned coaches who can turn Oregon’s athletes loose in a more aggressive and dominating style of defense. Avalos was the perfect coordinator when he was hired. Oregon had signed some key recruits, like Kayvon Thibodeaux, but a majority of the players were carryovers from the Mark Helfrich and Willie Taggart years, both of whom employed a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Avalos adjusted his system to make use of some underutilized athletes, but with the new talent coming in, Oregon is primed for a harder-hitting defense.

Oregon has recruited enough quality defensive linemen and linebackers to fulfill Cristobal’s vision of a defense that dominates the line of scrimmage. Shouldn’t the defensive scheme reflect the available athletic talent?

There is always the chance that Cristobal opts to promote from within. In doing so, he is choosing continuity on defense and maintaining the same scheme. This wouldn’t be inherently a bad thing, as the Avalos scheme has proven to work. This year it wasn’t as effective due to the amount of youth on the roster, but that shouldn’t be a problem next year.

In the end, the defense Avalos built is a good defense, and Oregon fans should be happy to have had him for two years. Going forward, the question remains: Is this the type of defense we want to continue to have at Oregon, or are we ready for the Ducks’ next defensive evolution?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: Tom Corno

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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