Q&A: Oregon coordinator Nick Aliotti

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
11:00
AM ET
While Oregon has played brilliant offensively under coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks three consecutive Pac-12 titles wouldn't have happened without good defense.

Of course, the defense doesn't get as much credit as the high-flying offense. And it's not known for producing a bunch of future NFL stars.

That might change, though. The 2012 Ducks defense has some legitimate stars. And a couple of guys who are going to be playing on Sundays.

Ducks' fans, though they are typically shy about expressing their feelings on most topics, seem to be juiced about the prospects next fall.

So, with Oregon concluding spring practices with a spring game on Saturday, which will be televised Saturday at 2 p.m. ET -- 11 a.m. PT -- on ESPN3, it seemed like a good time to check in with defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

If I promise not to tell anyone, will you tell me who's going to win the QB competition?

Nick Aliotti: No, I cannot do that. Coach would kill me. I don't know who's going to win it anyway. I just know it's close.

OK, I'll leave the offense alone. I've been hearing good things about DE Dion Jordan this spring. Is he poised to be a pass rushing force?

Nick Aliotti: I really hope so. I think Dion has had a great spring for us. He's one of those guys, with continued growth, who can be a difference-maker. I think the guy is very talented. He can be disruptive. He might be our best defensive player. He has just really been great this spring. I think this fall is going to be an exciting year for him.

How about the development of LB Kiko Alonso? How has his spring gone?

Nick Aliotti: That's another guy who is easy to go over. You hit Kiko on the nose. I think Kiko has continued to grow off of his success in the Rose Bowl at the end of the year. Kiko has had a great spring. Those two guys have probably been our most dominant players on defense.

Had an interesting chat with safety John Boyett a few weeks back. He talked about wanting to be the best safety in the nation. How good can he be and where does he need to get better?

Nick Aliotti: Well, best in the nation... that wins the Jim Thorpe Award last time I checked. Boyett is a smart kid who has started for us for three years. Speed is always going to be something he -- everybody -- has to work on. It's not that John doesn't have good speed, but I'd say his speed -- his knowledge is really good -- and just his overall change of direction and body position in space. That's what DBs do. But John is really close to being everything we want a guy to be.

How about some other spring standouts. Who's impressed you?

Nick Aliotti: [Defensive lineman] Taylor Hart, LB Michael Clay, CB Ifo [Ekpre-Olomu], safety Avery Patterson -- those guys have jumped out at me.

Two spots stand out as question marks. Replacing Terrell Turner at one defensive end and Eddie Pleasant at rover. Where do things stand there?

Nick Aliotti: Good question, no offense to Terrell Turner but that position will be easier to replace than the rover position. I'm not knocking Terrell but we have some candidates there who have played some football who will play that position. I think Eddie Pleasant in his second year at rover was very, very good for us. That's a battle between Patterson, Brian Jackson and Erick Dargan. And it's still a battle.

It seems like you guys are pretty good all over the depth chart. Is there a concern?

Nick Aliotti: In my opinion -- you hit the rover position -- I think that position and our overall depth and experience at linebacker [are issues]. Linebacker going to be a key position for us next year. I think we can put a potential first group out on the field that is as good as last year, but you know how many bodies we like to play. I just think there are some guys who really have to develop. They have developed this spring but they have to continue to grow and develop over the summer and then come back in the fall and be bigger, strong and faster and just smarter in the scheme.

Your fans are excited about this defense. How good can this defense be and how would you compare it to the defenses you've had the past couple of years?

Nick Aliotti: That's a good question, but I'm going to be a little bit evasive on that. I'll answer to a certain degree. We can be as good as last year, as I mentioned earlier, with a couple guys coming through and if we stay healthy. But to be as good as we want to be, we're going to need those backup guys and that rover position to step up and give us more bodies. We're playing 23-25 guys. I think we have some, so-called -- how do I say it? -- marquee names on defense, which we haven't had before on defense. Like Dion and Kiko and John Boyett. There's three guys who are probably as good as anybody -- one of the better secondary guys in the league, one of the better 'backers in the league, one of the better D-linemen in the league. You know what I'm saying? We've got some marquee guys. And then with Michael Clay and Taylor Hart, who were awesome for us last year. And Boseko Lokombo coming back. There are some names where people say, 'Wow.' And we had some freshmen playing corner last year who did well. But in my mind, and maybe coaches always feel this way, but just in terms of maturity and improvement, scheme-wise and guys getting better this summer and not feeling entitled, is going to be very important. I didn't really answer your question because I don't like to compare, but they can be as good as last year. But they've got to do it.

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