Kayvon Thibodeaux Is On the Move

David Marsh Editorials

Spring football is finally here, and Oregon’s new Defensive Coordinator, Tim DeRuyter, is wasting no time adapting the roles of his players to fit his defense. Kayvon Thibodeaux is one of those players on the move within the defense, and he shared the news during Tuesday’s post-practice press conference. This spring, Thibodeaux is moving to more of an outside linebacker position, a role in which he can still rush the passer from the edge but is afforded far more freedom.

This is fantastic news for Oregon fans.

Thibodeaux is supremely athletic, and he uses that athleticism to beat his opponents. However, at 250 pounds, he simply isn’t big enough to beat a top-tier offensive lineman on strength alone. He beats top-tier offensive linemen because he uses a mixture of strength and speed. It also doesn’t hurt that, as a freshman, he practiced against perhaps the best lineman in Oregon history, Penei Sewell.

Thibodeaux’s 2020 Season

The Pac-12 Championship Game was Thibodeaux’s best game in 2020. Throughout the game, USC’s top offensive lineman, Alijah Vera-Tucker,  a highly touted offensive line prospect in the 2021 NFL draft, was consistently beaten off the edge by Thibodeaux’s speed and power. Thibodeaux was a constant presence in the USC backfield, and that pressure paid dividends, as USC quarterback Kedon Slovis threw three interceptions. Although Thibodeaux did not touch the ball on any of those turnovers, he played a significant role in making them happen.

University of Oregon Athletics

Kayvon Thibodeaux was constantly pressuring the quarterback against USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

That’s why DeRuyter opting to move Thibodeaux around is so exciting for the future of the Oregon defense. Thibodeaux is Oregon’s best player, and the goal of every coordinator should be to put their best player in the best position to have an impact on every single down.

Thibodeaux struggled for much of the 2020 season and he found himself being double-teamed frequently. The rest of Oregon’s defensive line couldn’t seem to create pressure on their own to force opposing offenses away from Thibodeaux. Moving Thibodeaux away from being a full-time defensive end will free him up to get into the backfield faster.

When Mario Cristobal was asked about Thibodeaux moving positions in his post-practice interview on Tuesday, his response was less definitive, as he stated, “I think what we’re talking about is a certain package as opposed to what he’s going to be doing full-time. There’s a lot of things he’s going to be doing.

Thibodeaux in Coverage?

Thibodeaux could be anywhere in the front seven. He may line up as an outside linebacker or he may line up as a defensive lineman. Either way, this is going to create a headache for all opposing offensive coordinators, because failing to prepare for Thibodeaux will spell disaster for Oregon’s competition.

University of Oregon Athletics

Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell before the snap against USC in the 2020 Pac-12 Championship Game.

Additionally, Thibodeaux said himself that there will be times he plays coverage, in particular against tight ends. Finding defenders who can cover big tight ends has long been a problem for Oregon. USC’s Drake London was a problem for every opposing team last year, including Oregon. Stanford has had a long history of large pass-catching tight ends who have bullied their way past safeties and linebackers.

What better way of shutting down those tight ends than putting an athletic defender on them? Depending on where Thibodeaux lines up pre-snap, it will be unclear to opposing offenses whether Thibodeaux will be rushing the quarterback or dropping back in coverage. This could be a nightmare for offensive coordinators.

Moving Thibodeaux around on the defensive side of the field will also open up more opportunities for Oregon’s other defensive players. With opposing offenses terrified of Thibodeaux, Noah Sewell, Mase Funa, Isaac Slade-Matautia, and Justin Flowe will have more opportunities to pressure the quarterback, stop the run, and make a difference in the game. Every minute spent practicing and scheming to stop Thibodeaux is a minute that opposing teams are not working on stopping the rest of Oregon’s mayhem makers.

Heisman Aspirations

This all sounds great for the team, but is this good for Thibodeaux himself?

Thibodeaux stated that one of his goals is to win the Heisman. Defensive players are rarely considered for the Heisman, and if Thibodeaux is going to be considered, he is going to need to put up some considerable stats. Will moving Thibodeaux around hurt his stats this upcoming year? Or does it give him the best opportunity to win the Heisman — or at least be invited to New York as a finalist?

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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