Spring practice is nearly halfway over, which means that it’s pretty much almost football season again. And with the season approaching with each passing day, the Oregon football team is preparing to defend its Pac-12 title and possibly make another...
Jordan Ingram interviewed Oregon Football defensive lineman Alex Balducci yesterday for FishDuck.com at the University of Oregon Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. It’s not often that linemen make the headlines, especially for the Oregon football team. With such a potent offense, the Ducks’...
Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out Lost in the excitement of the returning stars and the hope of stars to come is the quiet backbone of any football team. For the most part, these are the guys who didn’t grab the headlines their...
Oregon’s defensive performance against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship ranks as one of the best ever at Oregon for a game of such importance. The majority of the credit goes to the Duck defensive line which shut down the inside...
Having a Heisman-hopeful, such as quarterback Marcus Mariota, is always exciting for a team. However, the timeless saying “Defense wins Championships” has been proven correct time and time again. With that being said, the Duck defense — which is arguably the best it has been since the departure of Defensive Coordinator Nick Alliotti – is possibly what could finally land …
There is a reason why defensive line guru Jerry Azzinaro was the one Oregon position coach who joined Chip Kelly on the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff. The 3-4 defensive scheme and two-gap technique are just as important to Kelly as the fast-tempo, zone-blocking, and packaged plays. Azzinaro was Kelly’s right-hand man in installing the 3-4 as the base defense at …
By Charles Fischer and the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” Mike Morris
We have ALL been fooled by Spring Games of the past, as players who starred in these May games would not ever see the light of day on the football field in the fall – or they transferred out. Yet other times they have shown us glimpses of the potential some of the young Ducks possess and it gives us a valuable heads up for study in the summer.
As a fan, you try not to place too much importance on them, yet we watch them by the boatloads of people! Why? Because we fans are starved for football and it is the only tidbit of football nourishment before fall camp due to the restrictions on fans.
The 2014 edition of the Spring Game had it’s share of yawners, but there were a couple of lessons to take away from the tape as the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” and I were excited with our updated view of a couple of players AND plays! Let’s dive in!
I was surprised to see something new actually presented in the Spring Game … and the game had several. One was the “Naked Sweep” play that we have not run since 2011, but for an occasional appearance. Oregon blocks the Outside Zone Read to the right (above) with every intention of going that direction. Because of the “bucket-steps” at the beginning by the offensive line — it is very convincing to all the defenders who then work to defeat the blocks along that outside wall.
What is most unusual is how Marcus Mariota is Zone Reading the Middle Linebacker to determine his gap commitment; is the MLB going to plug the gap he is responsible for against the OZR, or is he going to move outside to the left to stop the running back who could be taking the handoff for a sweep without lead blockers? The linebacker has clearly taken a step toward the inside gaps of the OZR, thus Marcus hands off to Thomas Tyner.
The defenders above are clearly sold on an Outside Zone Read coming their direction and are tied up below on that. Tyner sets up his TE block nicely by cutting inside to allow the TE to get angle on the defensive back, and then he pops outside for the a nice gain. It is great to see this play dusted off and brought out of the playbook again!
This play above combines all the components we love about the Oregon offense; it employs the Zone Read, it allows our most skilled offensive players to have open field one-on-one running opportunities, and it puts the defense in the difficult spot of defending TWO plays at once.
You see, the QB can keep the ball and follow the OZR blocking, which he did later in the game! Or … the Ducks can still throw the Bubble to the top of the screen, and can run play-action passes off this entire set of movements within this play. It is very-very difficult to defend! (Thanks to Coach Morris for pointing it out to me)
There are some notes we need to take concerning our defensive line, as that area to me was the most pleasant surprise. The Grizzled Ol’ Coach has been concerned about the Nose Tackle position as to whether we have enough push and space-taking capacities from our Nose Tackles. He and I were both impressed with what we saw of the improvement by Alex Balducci.
A discussion for another analysis is the “Bear” look the Oregon defense employed a number of times, where they lined the NT head up on the center and had defensive tackles lined up to plug the “B” gaps, which is the space between the guard and tackle of the offense. The linebackers are threatening run-blitz at the same time
The screenshot above was especially exciting to the Coach and I as we watch Alex employ PERFECT defensive line technique by standing up our starting center, and then slipping his head to the side of the center’s head to check where the play was going. Note how the other defensive linemen are in the process of doing the same thing! This entire process and technique was best demonstrated by Taylor Hart in the Alamo Bowl, and the coach and I detailed it in this Fish Report.
Above we see Alex begin to discard the offensive lineman and begin to move to stop the Inside Zone Read that is coming at him. I’ll let the GIF show the rest of the play.
This play above took tremendous strength, leverage, and technique to make this tackle, and it brought big smiles from Coach Morris as he described the action for us Oregon fans.
It is kinda hard to see above, but No. 44, DeForest Buckner, is showing us WHY many believe he will be up for All-Conference and possibly even national honors next year. The red arrow points him out as he is finishing a Swim Move for run defense. Normally you see this strategy on the pass rush, as we saw in the UCLA game Fish Report detailing Arik Armstead employing this move.
Buckner is not satisfied (above) with just making a tackle-for-loss as he punches the ball out of the running back’s hands and creates a fumble!
So let’s get this right; he beats his man at the snap of the ball, creates a fumble in the backfield, and then recovers the fumble (above) as well? Wow — Coach and I were hopping a little in our seats watching the technique in slow motion showing the desire by DeForest to make a big play for the defense! It has been so exciting to see such refined defensive line technique by our veterans, as the repetition that takes place in practice is manifesting itself on the field of play.
I have been searching my mental data-base for a comparison to DeForest’s agility, strength, and speed at our defensive tackle position and I’m drawing a blank. The combination you see above is rare, and the closest I can think of is Marcus Woods of 1989-90, but he was at Nose Tackle. The simple reply is “Haloti Ngata,” but he primarily used the Bull Rush, (which was incredibly successful, BTW) and he plays NT now in the NFL. Any help here?
OK … it’s official. I am completely distracted in this Fish Report by the defensive line improvements the Coach and I are seeing. I can hardly believe my eyes as I see T.J. Daniel (above) use PERFECT technique to get his arms and hands inside the offensive tackle and slide his head over to the side of the offensive lineman’s to check the gap he is responsible for and the play. Look how ALL of the defensive linemen are doing that! I think the “Coach Aiken” effect is beginning to show from his years of experience coaching both in college and the NFL.
Is this process becoming familiar? Daniel (above) is using the same process we saw from the veteran Balducci earlier and now he is discarding the blocker to make the tackle of the play coming right at him!
Not only did we see superb technique from the sophomore (above) but it appears that T.J has grown further and put on some very solid weight; frankly, he looks pretty studly (a technical term).
As you can tell — I have not uncovered all the gems of the Spring Game, as the Grizzled Ol’ Coach and I were thrilled with the progress of the Oregon defensive line. I will be doing another analysis in the near future to finish our observations, but as we leave the defensive line discussion — I am struck by the words of Coach Mike Morris as we watched Daniel and new JC transfer/monster Tui Talia (above):
“Charles … our second team defensive line might be every bit as good as the first team!” Whoa! I could not disagree, as we saw Tui plug gaps and block the passes of the opposing QBs as well as chase them out of the pocket. The delightful surprise of the Oregon Spring Game? The amazing improvement and depth of the Oregon Defensive Line, and I suspect they are going to create some big plays for us to cheer this fall.
“Oh how we love to learn about our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com
The Oregon Ducks football team is scheduled to play its annual Spring Game on what should be a picturesque Saturday inside Autzen Stadium. And with it, the 2014 season will be officially under way.
And, like every season, another batch of seniors have graduated, which leads to a bunch of question marks heading into the Spring Game coming up on Saturday. Some of the biggest (literally and figuratively) holes on the roster appear to be along the defensive line. With guys such as Wade Killiikipi, Taylor Hart, and Ricky Heimuli now out, who will be in?
The front line seems all but set with the group of Deforest Buckner, Tony Washington, Alex Balducci, and Arik Armstead. But beyond those four, things appear to be muddled at best. The Ducks are arguably still without a prototypical gap-eating defensive tackle, but they definitely have a bunch of huge and talented football players, and most already have a few years of experience in the system.
Here are six “Other” defensive lineman to watch for during the Spring Game.
No. 84 – Stetzon Bair, RS Junior 6’9, 281
Ok, so probably the first thing that stands out with Stetzon is his 6-foot-9, frame which is unusually tall for a football player. Like his brother Brandon, who played at 6-foot-8, you would think basketball or volleyball would be a more likely sport to play at that height. But if you watched Brandon play, you might remember how his long arms helped him engage and gain leverage against would-be blockers, and bat down passes and kicks at the line. After a religious mission, a season at a junior college and then a redshirt year in 2012, Stetzon found the field last season in four games and seems poised to take another step forward this season.
No. 99 – Sam Kamp, RS Junior 6’4, 287
Kamp made news last week when a video of the player seemed to show drastic weight gain since the Alamo Bowl, and Kamp mentioned adding over 35 pounds in the offseason. Adding that kind of weight would seem to indicate the Ducks intend to use Kamp inside, perhaps as a primary back-up to 305-pound nose tackle Alex Balducci.
Gaining THIRTY-FIVE pounds, though, seems like a lot for anyone, and it will be interesting to see where the coaches line him up, and how effective he is against the experienced and increasingly physical bunch along the Oregon offensive line.
No. 55 — Tui Talia, Junior (JC transfer) 6’5, 270
One of the more intriguing prospects on the roster, Talia is a rare (for Oregon to recruit) upperclassman JC-transfer that the Ducks and roughly half of the other top-level teams in the country were salivating over, given his rare blend of size and athleticism. Tui’s name has been frequently appearing — and for good reasons — in the spring practice reports, and there appears to be a great opportunity for him to play his way into the rotation this fall. For a stadium full of fans, Saturday will be the first up close look at the player who was ranked as the No. 1 defensive end prospect by ESPN.
No. 42 — Cody Carriger, RS Sophomore 6’6, 245
You don’t get much further under the radar than Cody Carriger. But when playing small school football in his home town of Butte, Montana, the former tight end and outside linebacker made his presence felt.
His bio reads like many of the Ducks players, voted to various all-star and high school all-American teams, but one thing in particular stands out: He ran an 11.4-second 100-meter dash as a senior in high school. While that time is not considered fast among Olympic sprinters, and may not be enough to run stride for stride with many division one wide receivers, it is scary fast at 6-6, 245. Like Bair, Carriger got his first taste of the field during six games last season, and his size and speed could make it hard to keep him on the sidelines in 2014.
No. 96 — Christian French, RS Junior 6’5, 244
Another player with scary speed for his size is Christian French.
Originally a tight end prospect, French moved to defense and has been lighting up position drills ever since.
In high school, French posted a ridiculous 10.68 (De’Anthony Thomas ran a 10.57) 100 meter dash time.
In 2012, French posted a 4.98, 40 time and a 32.5″ vertical jump, both tops for the position on the Duck squad. Over the past two seasons, French has already appeared in 20 games during his U of O career – so suddenly, French is among the most experienced along the D-line. If the best is yet to be for the player rated by Rivals, Scout, and ESPN as the No. 5 overall athlete and consensus top 100 player nationally, Duck fans might have a new reason to break out that old No. 96 (Dion Jordan’s) jersey again this fall.
No. 45 — T.J. Daniel, RS Sophomore 6’6, 275
T.J. Daniel redshirted last season after playing in 9 games as a true freshman. Now up, way up, to 275, the one time tight end has the size and athleticism to be effective at any position along the line. Daniel has been mentioned as a standout player in practice since 2012, and tomorrow, he can show the fans why. A versatile player like T.J. could be exactly what the Ducks need to fill the shoes left by Taylor Hart – a player who is big enough, strong enough, and smart enough to handle any role along the defensive line.
So, who will step up for Don Pellum’s defense in the fall? The performances from this group on Saturday will be the fans’ first chance to look for any separation.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck
Gone from the 2013 Duck D-Line are such stalwarts as Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart and Ricky Havili-Heimuli. All very good players who will be missed, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Though some fans panicked at Oregon’s inability to close on a couple of highly regarded D-Lineman on LOI day, there remains much to look forward to from the Duck’s DL in 2014. Here are some reasons to believe Oregon’s D-Line will deliver:
Arik Armstead hangs up his Nike Hyperdunks.
Or at least they’re now strictly really cool campus kicks. When last seen on the hardwood, he was taking a pass from Jalil Abdul-Bassit and deftly kissing the ball off the glass for two. He showed soft hands, great feet and amazing quickness in a tight space to make an athletic play few college lineman could pull off.
Now he’s all in for football, which can only mean he’s determined to make his 2014 season special. Heaven knows, at 6-8 and a chipotle burrito under three bills, he doesn’t need to get any bigger. Yet apparently he’s taking his game from the hardwood of the Matthew Knight Arena to the even harder Brazilian Ipe wood of the weight room in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. If you’re a Pac-12 offensive lineman, this is not good news.
DeForest DeStroys offenses.
No player’s continued progression is any more tantalizing than DeForest Buckner’s. Few and far between are the players who are ready to step on the field as true freshmen and play significant snaps. Buckner did that in 2012, which is why in just his third year in the program, it feels like he’s been around forever.
He’s 6-7 and 286 pounds. He’s a Hawaiian hoss. Buckner is tough against the run, explosive at the snap (thanks Jimmy Rad!) and fast enough to run down a play from behind. With his towering frame, might he add even more muscle and not lose any quickness? Either way, he’s got All Pac-12 potential.
Washington hates Washington.
Okay, maybe not really. How much rancor can one’s heart muster for a team routinely trampled? All Tony Washington was tasked to do in 2013 was step in and make everyone forget the departure of Dion Jordan, the third player chosen in the 2013 NFL Draft. All he did was make plays with 60 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. And, to go with his Pac-12 Academic All-Conference honors, he’s studying right now for a big senior finish to his Oregon career.
We just like saying “Balducci.”
Great football name, Alex Balducci. Right? It’s a moniker that would have been at home in the classic movie The Godfather. Balducci would have been the hit man Luca Brasi. You can just see DL coach Ron Aiken glancing at the beefy Portland native a bit off-handedly and saying, “Balducci, take care of it.” Look for the defensive tackle out of Central Catholic to continue to make Oregonians proud in 2014. And look for running backs and quarterbacks to be the ones “sleeping with the fishes” (fans under 40, Google it).
Christian French? Oui.
Of the players mentioned so far, big Christian French is the biggest unknown. But the upside is undeniable. Flash back to the 2011 Army All-American game, the first and still most renowned of the growing number of national high school All-Star tilts. French runs about forty yards to catch and tackle a running back from behind.
We’re talking about a running back that probably runs a 4.4 forty! Army All-American running backs are not Budweiser Clydesdales, but French is a big, very fast defensive end. Time will tell whether or not the physically gifted athlete will take his game to the next level in 2014. He certainly wouldn’t be the first player to shine in his third year in the program.
The Poly Pipeline continues.
New defensive coordinator Don Pellum and defensive line coach Ron Aiken are hopeful they’re getting immediate help in the form of J.C. All-American Tui Talia out of the Bay Area’s Diablo Valley College. After all, the 6-5, 270-pound Tulia was ranked the No. 1 Junior College DE by ESPN.com. While the jump from J.C. to Pac-12 football is considerable, Talia will be one to watch during Spring ball.
Then there’s the captivating prospect of Austin Maloata. Originally a USC commit coveted by the erstwhile Trojan defensive line guru, Ed Oregeron, Maloata figures to be more of a project. He has only one year of American football under his belt, but he was a force at one of Southern California’s top prep programs, Centennial High School in Corona. He’s also 291 pounds of “relentless motor,” as noted by goducks.com. Time will tell, but we can dream, right?
Waiting in the wings.
Inevitably each season sees a newcomer rise from obscurity to assert himself and become part of the rotation. This is especially true at Oregon, where the modus operandi is to play a lot of bodies in order to keep everyone fresh enough to play fast.
On signing day, coach Helfrich dismissed concerns about his D-Line and offered up the name T.J. Daniel, a sophomore from Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, as one whose scout team exploits had coaches dreaming big. Others poised to assert themselves include returnies Sam Kamp, Stetzon Bair, Cody Carriger and Ryan Hagen, along with incoming freshmen Jalen Jelks and Henry Mondeaux.
The upshot is this: when the 2014 season kicks off, Oregon will be ready with a fast, well-conditioned and deep D-Line. Don’t sweat it, Duck fans. Leave the sweating to the summer workouts and the guys who can’t wait to get after it all over again in September. What say you? I invite your comments below.
Top photo: Kevin Cline
Oregon defensive lineman Alex Balducci, a sophomore from Central Catholic High School (Portland, Oregon), enters his second season in the Oregon program.
Before joining the Ducks, Balducci lettered three seasons of varsity high school football under head coach Steve Pyne playing on both the offensive and defensive line. As a senior he recorded 68 tackles (40 unassisted, 28 assisted), seven sacks with two forced fumbles and one recovery. Balducci earned first-team all-state honors on both sides of the ball and was named Mt. Hood Conference and OSAA 6A Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
With his strong prep career, he earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-American game where he played on the d-line.
In 2012, Balducci played in four games for the Ducks as a true freshman including one start. He saw action in wins over Colorado, Cal and Oregon State when recorded his first collegiate tackle. He finished the year with just the one assisted tackle. His lone start came against Stanford in the team’s only loss of the season.
Going into the 2013 season, Balducci will be one of the team’s primary reserve d-linemen along with fellow sophomores DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. Balducci will be the second-team nose guard behind senior starter Wade Keliikipi.
Balducci was active in the team’s 2013 Spring Game, recording two unassisted tackles for the Green team with one being a one-yard tackle for loss.
CBS Sports has Balducci as the No. 24 DT prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft. Of course, with three remaining seasons of eligibility he’ll have plenty of time to climb up draft boards. In fact, he’s so talented he may not even use all four seasons of eligibility. There’s a good chance he leaves a year early for the 2015 NFL Draft.