For better or worse: Defensive Line
In 2018 the Oregon run defense was good, despite often playing with a three-man front. They gave up 144.3 yards per game for 41st in the NCAA. They gave up a respectable 3.73 yards per carry and just 13 rushing touchdowns against. The defensive line played the key role in this.
The transition from 2018 to 2019 should be smooth in the trenches for new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ defense. Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a had his unit playing well last season and the mountain of a coach will be back. This is the guy whose unit graded out as one of the best in the nation per our partners at Pro Football Focus, as well as being one of the nation’s Top 25 recruiters per Rivals.
One way to evaluate the front of the defense in 2019 is to look at what we learned from last season and extrapolating forward, leading us to this edition of For Better or Worse: DL.
Losses: Jalen Jelks
Replacing Jalen Jelks will not be easy. He was highly productive; Number five on the team in tackles with 57, third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss, and tied with Justin Hollins for leading the team in quarterback hurries with five each. He showed leadership both on and off the field.
Testimony to his skills, the 6-foot-5, 256-pound athlete emerged from the NFL combine in March projected to be a solid mid-round draft pick rated and having the potential to start.
Gains: Kayvon Thibodeaux
If somebody could step into this type of shoe as a true freshman, it would be Kayvon Thibodeaux. The 2019 five-star Oaks Christian defensive end prospect signed with the Ducks and enrolled early. He has been participating in the Ducks’ 2019 spring camp. At 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, KT already has the size to play immediately.
The positions the players are lumped into above are not set in stone. Several of them could be moved around by the coaches as needed, and the Ducks deploy a variety of fronts. But for the purposes of this analysis that is where they are.
In the middle, the Ducks were very stout last year. Jordon Scott graded out as the No. 32 of 427 DT/NT’s included in the Pro Football Focus analysis. He will be back along with another guy who could spell him, 6-foot-3, 305-pound Popo Aumavae who graded well against the run in his 40 game snaps last season.
Austin Faoliu (286 snaps) graded out No. 5 and Gary Baker (398 snaps) No. 8 out of the 80 3-4 defensive ends included in the PFF season analysis. Drayton Carlberg (348 snaps) was no slouch when called upon grading out at No. 34. Those three are not small guys weight 290, 310 and 285 respectively.
With just one player subtracted from last season’s three-deep, the overall experience factor of the big fellas up front goes up significantly. The 2019 three-deep will be laden with upper classmen, a year wiser and stronger, with a year more learned under an excellent position coach.
The Ducks let media watch for about 30 minutes or so at the beginning of practices, something I have taken advantage of this spring. Having already scouted Kayvon Thibodeaux against elite competition at two camps last year, coupled with this spring, I’ve seen enough.
They can’t sit KT.
He will help the team in 2019, the only question is whose minutes does he take. All of Jelks’? Not too likely. If that turns out to be the case though, Thibodeaux will be an NFL first rounder before too long.
He will be in the two-deep and starting is not out of the question.
The bottom line here is that talent-wise they will be about equal, but the strength, conditioning, experience and technique will all be substantially elevated as a unit. Given all that the call for the defensive line group is not tough to make.