Has the Portal Solved Oregon’s FREAK Problems?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

Oregon does have a freak problem with their football team. It is not a bizarre problem, but one that is unusual because of what Dan Lanning is trying to achieve at Oregon, and soon. As you may have guessed, this problem has nothing to do with using crypto in US gambling but if you have a desire, you can study this topic as well.

I identified the issue late last season, and wondered aloud if it would be solved through high school and portal recruiting, and I believe we have an answer. Let’s take a look at the problem, how it was addressed last year and how Coach Lanning and DC Tosh Lupoi have solved it with freaks in the Duck flock.

Lanning’s 4-2-5 MINT Defense Requires Freaks…

About 10 months ago, I published an article about the three unusual positions that Coach Lanning has in his defense, and about how, for this 4-2-5 MINT defense to work correctly, these three positions must be filled with players who have specific attributes. If they don’t have them, then the defense will not operate successfully — and unfortunately, we saw that occur last fall. It is important to note that in Lanning’s defensive scheme, the Edge Rusher is the most important position — even over talented linebackers and cover-corners.

Why? When the Edge Rusher puts adequate pressure on the quarterback, that creates turnovers. And that makes life easier for the rest of the defense. Also, on second or third down and long, Coach Lanning does not want just one Edge Rusher, but two in the game.

Hence we saw an astounding 12 Edge Rushers on the roster going into Spring Football. Oregon needed a couple to emerge, and among 12 candidates, many have. It is evident that Jordan Burch will be complemented by Matayo Uiagalelei on the line of scrimmage as these two former 5-Star recruits satisfy the needs of what Lanning and Lupoi want in Edge Rushers.

Watch for an ongoing emphasis in recruiting for this first “freak” of the three on the MINT defense, because Burch/Uiagalelei will fill the role of the JACK Linebacker on the LOS. This freak athlete is an Edge Rusher, but also must have the speed to cover running backs out of the backfield, and be able to set the edge in the running game. Oregon rotated three players at the JACK LB spot last year, but none of them could fulfill all three objectives of the JACK. It truly takes a freak athlete to play this unique position.

Jeffrey Bassa has the speed, and now the size for the Money Linebacker. (Photo by Nancy Paiva)

Burch and Uiagalelei were not at Oregon last year, so between the two of them and other newbies such as Blake Purchase or Johnny Bowens, the Ducks are on the path to filling the JACK linebacker, the first and most difficult/unique freak position of the three.

This Freak Linebacker Has to be MONEY…

There are only two inside linebacker positions in the Lanning 4-2-5 MINT defense, with the traditional run-stuffer role filled by the Mac linebacker position. I see that slot manned by Iowa transfer Justin Jacobs, a faster athlete who can also stop opposing running attacks in a way we have not had before.  Many thought he might fill the second freak position on this defense, the MONEY linebacker, but I believe that Jeffrey Bassa has bulked up to nearly 230 pounds, can now address the run-stopping element of the MONEY linebacker position. As a former safety, he already has the speed to cover running backs in the flat, as well as being a surprise Blitzer in Oregon’s pass rush.

To be certain this important freak position is filled, Lanning/Lupoi moved Jamal Hill from defensive back to MONEY linebacker. Hill is already an accomplished coverage defender, and has bulked up to nearly 230 pounds for the run-stopping responsibilities. Between body changes for the position profile and adding another veteran to push for the starting role, I feel we will see an upgrade at this position this year. An emerging candidate to help is Devon Jackson, who was the No. 12 linebacker in the nation in 2021, and has run a 10.54 100 meters. Lanning is loading up on speed!

The Third Freak Needs to be a STAR…

The luxury of moving Jamal Hill to linebacker was the result of superb portal recruiting at defensive back. Last year we had Bennett Williams filling the third freak position, the STAR, and while he was a good player, he was not quite as fast as this fifth defensive back needs to be — he ran a 4.60 forty-yard-dash. In addition, this STAR defender must be as physical in run defense as a linebacker, and yet have the speed for pass defense as well as surprise blitzes off the edge. Again, it is another freak-athlete profile that requires more than what Oregon had on its squad in 2022.

So Coach Lanning and his staff went to work in the portal and attracted Tysheem Johnson from Ole Miss,  who fills the run-stuffing physical requirements, while offering fast-twitch speed in pass coverage and simulated pressure packages. Johnson appears to be a perfect match for the STAR position, and his performance in the Spring Game reinforced that projection for this fall.

I could also see Trikweze Bridges alternating from corner and playing at this spot, as he has grown in pass coverage and has the height and bulk to take on blockers in run defense.

Tysheem Johnson is a superb defensive back. (Photo from Ole Miss Athletics)

The potential movement of Bridges to STAR comes from the portal recruiting at corner with Khyree Jackson, a corner from Alabama, and Nikko Reed, a proven cover-corner transfer from Colorado. Superb portal recruiting has filled needs, created quality depth, and allowed movement of current Ducks to positions where they might be better suited.

In short, Oregon hasn’t solved its freak problem for certain over the long term, but this was unbelievable recruiting to solve a short-term challenge like I’ve never witnessed before. I believe the Ducks will improve their defensive performance in 2023 immeasurably, due to filling these three freak profiles. I look for more portal and high school recruiting for 2024 to match these freak position profiles, as it takes a unique coach and recruiter to bring in such exceptional talent. We are fortunate to have Dan Lanning at Oregon. We can break it all down in the OBD forum because….

“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer    (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
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