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Position Previews: The Defense

  Pac 10 Rank Nat'l Rank
Scoring Defense 17.4/g 2 12
Rushing Defense 128.08/g 3 27
Rushing Yard/Att 3.51 2 23
Passing Defense 217.9/g 6 56
Passing Yard/Att 5.8 1 5
Total Defense 346/g 4 34
Total Def Yards/Play 4.7 1 11
Turnover Margin 13 1 8

Oregon's defense had a spectacular 2010 campaign. Experience, leadership, speed, size, versatility and depth all describe what we saw. While there might be player turnover in each of the defensive units this year, one of the great things about the defense on a whole has been the consistency of the coaches.

At the helm, Aliotti is entering his 19th year as the Ducks defensive coordinator. While a constant thorn in many Duck fan's side, Aliotti was able to adapt his scheme when Kelly took over as head coach, and his attacking hybrid 3-4 defense is now one of the best in the Pac 12.

Don Pellum is the veteran of the group with 21 years and his recruiting and talent depth have increased dramatically lately giving the Ducks another strong linebacking corp for 2011. John Neal in his 7 years has become a NFL production machine for the number of defensive backs he's helped get to the league and prosper. Finally, Jerry Azzinaro may be the newest position coach, but don't expect him to be the quietest. If you think he looks like a Bulldog, you may be right, because he's definitely got a bark to go with his bite. On top of that, he's built one of the best front 4's the Ducks have seen in a while in just 2 short years.

With so much experience in the coaches, you might think that they are prone to stagnation in their scheme. Hard to teach an old Duck new tricks right? Not so with these guys. In 2009 the defense went away from their constant 4-2-5 bend-don't-break style and adopted an attaching 3-4 hybrid that dropped lineman into coverage and brought linebackers and safeties on blitzes. This is difficult to do unless you have the personnel. And even tougher to do when that personnel changes every 3-4 years. On top of that, it takes time for guys to learn and understand the nuances of this type of system.

Oregon is entering its third season with this scheme. This should produce a more consistent and tougher defense because of the player's understanding. The linebackers like Michael Clay and Josh Kaddu have played in and attacked in this scheme for 3 years now. Guys like Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi were brought in specifically to run this type of system.  Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett have a synergy that allows for more and different types of formations in the secondary. Even though Oregon has had to replace 5 of their starters on defense, don't expect the scheme to get more plain, or for Oregon to back off on its attacking style. As a matter of fact, Oregon will most likely double down and bring even more confusing packages and alignments to try and get after the offense.

Depth will most likely be Oregon's biggest problem this up coming season. Last year Oregon played as many as 25 guys on defense in a single game. That bodes well for this year because a number of the new starters will already have game experience, but the depth behind the starters will unfortunately include some true freshman or a shifting of players to different positions. On top of that, with Oregon's high tempo and fast paced offense, Oregon is going to need to call upon reserves to help keep guys fresh. With the looming suspension of two starters (Kiko Alonso and Cliff Harris) this depth is going to be tested early.

All in all, I expect Oregon to try and continue their attacking scheme to try and confuse the offense and get after the QB. While Oregon definitely has depth issues, especially early in the year, the experienced coaching staff, and the fact this is the third year of players playing in this scheme Oregon's defense should be ready to compete for its third consecutive conference crown.

Go Ducks!