The name Willie Taggart brings a cringe to most Duck fans after his quick and hasty departure to Florida State after just one season in Eugene. But there was one good thing Taggart did during his short stint at Oregon and that was to hire defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to fix a much beleaguered defense.
Fortunately the Oregon administrators had enough smarts to retain Leavitt even after Taggart left. They wanted to see Leavitt’s vision of the Duck defense come to fruition and already in Year 2, Oregon might see it.
Every defense begins at the line and the Ducks have the talent to potentially dominate and make opposing quarterbacks run for their proverbial lives.
As with most positions, defensive line holds a lot of depth with talent and experience, but the front four of Justin Hollins, Jalen Jelks, Jordon Scott Austin Faoliu could be as talented as any in the Pac-12.
Jelks, Scott and Faoliu are all true defensive linemen, but Hollins is more like a linebacker but can be used on the defensive line. Oregon has the ability to go from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense and Hollins can play at the line of scrimmage or play in coverage.
It was Jelks, a 6-6, 245-pounder from Phoenix, that led the Ducks last season with 6.5 sacks. The 2017 season was a true breakout for Jelks. He had a nice sophomore season with 31 tackles in eight games, but then he exploded for a monster junior season. Not only did he lead the team with sacks, Jelks also managed 59 tackles, including a team-leading 15 tackles for loss. Fourteen of those TFLs came in conference action, which happened to lead the league.
Scott almost literally busted onto the scene as a freshman such as a 6-1, 329-pounder would do. The sophomore from Largo, Flor. played in all 13 games last season, including the final 11 contests. As a true freshman, Scott proved to be one of the best run stoppers in the Pac-12 with 34 tackles, 4.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. He’s up for numerous awards this season, including the Bronko Nagurski Award. If Scott has the kind of season the Ducks hope and think he might have, the Oregon defense is going to be one of the best in the Pac-12 and the country.
Again Hollins is a hybrid player that can be on the line or in coverage. He proved to be a menace for opposing quarterbacks last season. The Arlington. Texas native had a solid sophomore season and backed that up with another really good junior year. Hollins started in 12 of 13 games played and finished with 59 total tackles, including 11.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. He was also tied for the team lead and second in the Pac-12 with three forced fumbles.
Faoliu was one of the first linemen to sub in last season and is expected to contend for a starting spot in 2018. The sophomore from Santa Ana, Calif. played in 12 games as a freshman and started two where he managed 22 tackles, 2.5 for a loss and a sack.
Coming off the bench and sure to see significant playing time will be likes of Gus Cumberlander, Gary Baker, Bryson Young and Sione Kava.
Cumberlander is 6-7 and weighs 251 pounds and will be battling for a starting spot this fall. The Ellenwood, GA. native played in five games last season after competing in eight games as a freshman.
Baker is from Upland, Calif. were he stands 6-3 and weighs 318 pounds. He played in all 13 games last season and managed five tackles.
Young is 6-5, 244-pounder from Clovis, Calif. He’s been on special teams for his first two season, but is poised to play some meaningful snaps in 2018.
As for Kava, the junior college transfer is 6-6 and weighs 270 pounds. He’s from Honolulu and played at East Los Angeles College for the last two years. He signed during the December early signing period and is a consensus three-star junior college prospect, according to ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports.
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