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Oregon’s 2023 Defense Rebuild: Look to the Portal!

DazeNconfused Editorials

Oregon coach Dan Lanning has an opportunity to address issues with the Ducks defense when the transfer portal opens December 5th.  Lanning must target players of need that fit the scheme he wants to run, but he also must address roster turnover. For the 2023 season he stands to lose up to seven starters who are the core of the unit, how can Lanning rebuild from that much high player turnover?

Cycle Peaks

This 2022 Oregon unit is much like Lanning’s defense last year in Georgia, both were at the peak of recruiting cycle talent and experience. Georgia had the depth of elite recruits they had developed in the program through in game experience in previous seasons. Georgia continued to field one of the best defenses in college football this year.

The Ducks do not have that depth of roster talent, and the players have seen three different defensive schemes in the last three years. Lanning is going to have to use a of blend of current Oregon players that are ready to move into a starting role, with players he brings in from the transfer portal.

Bradyn Swinson after three years as a Duck decided to move into the transfer portal.

Losses Will Be Devastating

Jordan Riley will be gone and possibly Brandon Dorlus, Popo Aumavae from the middle of the line along with DJ Johnson on the edge. Certainly, Noah Sewell will enter the draft and I expect starting corner Christian Gonzalez will as well. Also lost will be senior safety Bennett Williams, completing the gutting of the Ducks defense.

Lanning and company should already be prepared to look to the portal for key pieces. Oregon should be looking to the rosters of teams like Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, LSU, and Florida.

We should be factoring where those teams are on their cycle of recruiting talent and experience. If a team as at the peak of its talent cycle, then the elite players stashed down the depth chart will know they are next man up for playing time, and will stick it out.

Use The Bully Pulpit

Lanning, when talking about his defense plans for next year, should make the point that he intends to continue the tradition of fielding elite units like he did at Georgia, with an eye towards using the portal. He should highlight transfers Johnson, Williams, and Gonzalez as examples of players he will be getting into the NFL. Lanning should make it clear that he will be looking for elite transfers for the 2023 season who want to come to Oregon and prepare for the NFL in his system.

Texas A&M Has Too Much Talent

The Aggies are a great example of being at the start of a recruiting cycle and having too much talent to keep all the players happy with enough playing time. They signed six five-stars and a total of twelve blue-chip guys on across the defensive line in the last two years. Oregon’s Chief of Staff Marshall Malchow was the associate athletic director at Texas A&M in 2021 who was in charge of player personnel, and he was highly active in the recruiting of the Aggies No. 1 class in 2022.

Big Plays by Bennett Williams are going to be hard to replace.

To put that all together, and the Aggies have nine Top 100 dudes and three other four-stars signed in the last two years on the defensive line. They are projected to go with two deep with juniors at Nose tackle on the depth chart this year, the rest of the line positions two deep are held down by freshmen and sophomores.

That means only six players of the last two classes are in the two deep and next year it will be eight. There will literally be four blue-chips who will be stuck on the three deep across the Aggie defensive front in 2023. The Aggies are prime candidates to see some of these blue-chips transfer out to join teams they can be starters at.

The Oregon staff needs to be ready to target these Aggies the day they hit the portal. Furthermore, the Ducks should work to identify other teams who have such an excess of position talent that they will have kids looking to transfer out.

Did I say who the Ducks should target among any Aggies who hit the portal?

Well four-star Aggie edge rusher Elijah Jeudy, a redshirt freshman, just announced he will be entering the portal. The four-star on the 247 Composite listed Oregon and Georgia in his Top-5 schools before committing to Texas A&M. Lanning was his lead recruiter at Georgia and the relationship should give the Ducks a very good shot at the 6’3″ 245 pounder who was rated the No. 14 edge in the 2021 class.

In addition, the Aggies have seen Tunmise Adeleye leave, the No. 39 prospect on the 247 Composite for the 2021 class. The redshirt freshmen defensive end joins edge Donell Harris, a Top-60 player in the 2020 class. Denver Harris a five-star DB in the 2020 class has also left the Aggies for the portal.

Noah Whittington is a transfer who ran for so many of Oregon’s rushing touchdowns.

The currency of three Duck transfers entering the NFL draft this year, Lanning’s ties Elijah Judy and the logjam of Aggie talent going to the portal – is the formula the Ducks need to look to exploit. Lanning should also use his connections with Jeudy to enlist him to recruit his fellow former teammates to come as group to Oregon where they could all start together.

Lanning is an elite recruiter one year off from a National Title as a defensive coordinator. He landed five defensive players in the first round of the NFL draft last year. Can he sell this squad of Aggies? What will Malchow’s ties to these Aggies contribute? Can they sell them Oregon as the right program at the right time for them to all start, and that Lanning is the coach to get them to the NFL?

Defensive Line

The Ducks could return Taki Taimani and Casey Rogers, and low four stars Kenyon Hudson-Ware and Keanu Williams will be back. The rest of the depth are all three-stars, Oregon could certainly use an infusion of a couple game ready blue-chips.

Outside Backers

Mase Funa could head to the NFL, and Bradyn Swinson is a three-star who had developed for three years at Oregon is gone to the portal. Jaden Navarrette could be the only returning four-star player at the position, the rest are three-stars. Oregon has three edge commits led by four-star Blake Purchase. It’s crucial the Ducks shore up the edges with game experienced players for the 2023 season, preferably blue-chips. I think the Ducks can take two transfers to add to the room.

Inside Backers

Adrian Jackson and Jackson LaDuke has already left the team and with Sewell to the NFL draft we will have at least three losses. The Ducks have a solid three ready to step in with Justin Flowe, Jeffery Bassa and Keith Brown. We have two young blue-chips, but they will be lacking game experience going into next year. We could use a transfer here to add solid depth.

Jackson LaDuke’s time at Oregon appears to be coming to an end.

Elite Blue-Chips Compared to Solid Role Players

College football has changed for old school Duck fans. We want an elite team on the field, but we can’t do it the old Ducks way of developing three stars. To be at the top of college football it takes elite talent and the money for elite facilities.

Loyalty to your players only goes as far as providing them with a spot on the team, and quality coaching that gives them the chance to develop. A head coach owes it to his team and school to bring in the best talent he can to make the program better on the field.

That means if Lanning can poach a Top 100 DL guy away from the Aggies to make the team better, but it costs a current player playing time, so be it! If we can land elite blue-chips at edge, and an inside ‘backer who will be immediate impact players, we take them. You need the best talent you can put on the field, but you also will take solid players who slot in on your two deep.

By putting in an early plan on how to attack the Portal, Lanning can get a jump on replacing the massive losses after this 2022 season is over. Lanning should also be hammering home the fact the Ducks will be aggressive in the portal, and elite defensive players can find starting spots for 2023 with the Ducks.

Duck fans what do you think about all the holes on the Ducks defense that need to be filled for the 2023 season? Should Lanning be aggressive in the Portal? Share your thoughts in the OBD FORUM!

Portland, Oregon
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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