Pac-12: Bryson Littlejohn

Q&A: Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti

April, 30, 2010
4/30/10
3:00
PM ET
Part II of a Q&A with Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

Read Part I here.

Let's take it through the three levels: How does the defensive line stack up? Obviously, we know about end Kenny Rowe and tackle Brandon Bair. Who steps in for end Will Tukuafu and tackle Blake Ferras?

NA: It's a little bit too early to tell but I think that Zac Clark, in my mind, cemented himself as one of the top tackles, probably a starter at this point. And the combination of Dion Jordan and Terrell Turner will take Tukuafu's place. Who will end up starting there? It may be series by series. We'll just have to see what happens when we get back here in the fall. The D-line I feel very good about. I have no worries about where our D-line is, even though we lost some very good football players. I like what we've done. I like how we've progressed. We're on track to be as good as we were last year.

Heard a lot about Dion Jordan as just a pure physical specimen. Tell me what he's done transitioning from a tight end to a defensive end.

NA: The guy is just relentless. He chases the ball. For a smaller guy -- in that he doesn't weigh a whole lot [listed at 223 though he's likely closer to 240] -- he knows how to use leverage and his body very well and can run like the wind. He can really, really move. He's going to be a surprise. A lot of people are going to say, 'Wow, where did this guy come from?' I think he's the surprise of spring camp. I'm very pleased with him. He's an excellent pass rusher. He's really doing more than I thought he'd do, physically, at the line of scrimmage. So that's exciting.

You guys seem wealthy at linebacker -- a lot of speed -- what's going on there? Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews are established guys, what about at strongside linebacker?

NA: We're still going to have to figure that thing out, but it's not something I don't feel comfortable with. I like where we are there, too. What will happen is, when we get Josh Kaddu back, he and Boseko Lokombo and Bryson Littlejohn will fight that one out. But I feel good about those guys. You're catching me off of spring and not mid-way through the season, but I really like the way our defense played and practiced and I think we've got a chance to be pretty darn good.

I've read a couple of things about linebacker Michael Clay, too. Sounds like he'll see a lot of actions.

NA: No question. Michael Clay will get a lot of action. He played a lot for us last year, too. That's no surprise really. He came in here not acting like a freshman. He came in acting like he's been doing this all along. He'll help us with a lot of valuable downs next year.

The secondary: You guys had a whole bunch of injuries last year, but it seems like that's going to pay off now because a lot of young guys got playing time.

NA: Right. You know when I look at our defense, cutting to the chase, I think we are going to be just as talented on the D-line, if not more talented. We'll be faster. You never like to compare one team to the other, but I think we can be just as good and probably faster and obviously more experienced than what we were. The linebacker crew, with Kaddu and Bo at SAM, that gave us an opportunity to move Eddie Pleasant back into the secondary [from starting linebacker]. We'll be just as strong at linebacker, though [backup middle linebacker] Kiko Alonso will be out for the year after tearing his knee. That hurts the two-deep on the inside a little bit. That's a bad injury for us. But we should be just as good there. And with [safety] John Boyett playing a lot of downs last year and [safeties] Javes Lewis and Marvin Johnson all playing because of T.J. Ward going down early that should help. With Pleasant back there, I feel real good about the safeties. When we get a healthy [cornerback] Talmadge Jackson back, he's a guy who's played a lot of football for us, and then we're looking at Cliff Harris, Anthony Gildon, Scott Grady and Terrance Mitchell who are going to be the other corner. We have a chance to be as good if not better than we were last year.

Oregon defense expects to be better this fall

April, 12, 2010
4/12/10
7:49
PM ET
EUGENE, Ore. -- Quick: Who had the best defense in the Pac-10 last year?

Wrong. It was Oregon.

At least the Ducks had the best defense if you compare only Pac-10 games, which seems reasonable because of the broad range of relative difficulty with the nonconference schedules.

Oregon ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 vs. conference foes in rushing defense (118.6 yards per game), No. 1 in total defense (316 yards per game), No. 1 in sacks (3.1 per game) and No. 2 in scoring defense (22.7 points per game).

(Some snarky sorts might point out that these numbers are skewed for a significant reason: Oregon's defense didn't have to play its offense, which was No. 1 vs. conference foes with 41.7 ppg).

Therefore, it's understandable that some Ducks might be affronted when pundits wonder whether Oregon, once viewed as the consensus conference favorite and a potential national title contender, will go south in 2010 because of the season-long suspension of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

"We took it as an insult because we're not just the quarterback position," linebacker Spencer Paysinger said.

Coach Chip Kelly has this to say about his defense: "We're going to be better than last year."

In one sense, the Ducks must replace four starters: end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Walter Thurmond. But Ward and Thurmond missed significant action due to injury, so their backups actually qualify as returning starters.

Kelly believes he's two-deep at every spot on the depth chart. The loss of a pair of defensive linemen? He ticks off 10 guys he believes can contribute in 2010 and is particularly high on a guy who was a reserve tight end last year: sophomore Dion Jordan, who's moved to defensive end.

Jordan is 6-foot-7, 240 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, according to Kelly.

"I think he's going to be a special, special player," Kelly said. "He's going to be the next really good football player here. He's shown it in just five practices. There are times he's unblockable."

Unblockable is good.

Moving speedy Eddie Pleasant from strongside linebacker to rover gives the Ducks secondary another physical presence -- as the hard-hitting Ward was -- while also opening up opportunities for Bryson Littlejohn, Bo Lokombo, Josh Kaddu and Michael Clay to get on the field at linebacker.

So how does Paysinger anticipate the Ducks defense will be different in 2010?

"We have a lot more speed," he said. "And hunger."

Oregon spring wrap-up

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Oregon Ducks
2008 overall record: 10-3

2008 conference record: 7-2

Returning starters

Offense 5, defense 5, kicker/punter 0

Top returners

QB Jeremiah Masoli, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Ed Dickson, CB Walter Thurmond III, DE Will Tukuafu, FS T.J. Ward

Key losses

C Max Unger, LT Fenuki Tupou, RB Jeremiah Johnson, WR Terence Scott, DE Nick Reed, CB Jairus Byrd, ROV Patrick Chung, DT Ra'Shone Harris

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Jeremiah Johnson (1,201)
Passing: Jeremiah Masoli* (1,744)
Receiving: Terence Scott (751)
Tackles: T.J. Ward* (101)
Sacks: Nick Reed (13)
Interceptions: Walter Thurmond*, Jairus Byrd (5)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sep. 3 at Boise State
Sep. 12 Purdue
Sep. 19 Utah
Sep. 26 California
Oct. 3 Washington State
Oct. 10 at UCLA
Oct. 24 at Washington
Oct. 31 USC
Nov. 7 at Stanford
Nov. 14 Arizona State
Nov. 21 at Arizona
Dec. 3 Oregon State

1. Passing the test: The Ducks passing game was only OK last year -- ranking fifth in the Pac-10 -- and with two of the top three receivers leaving, it was a question mark entering spring. It's less so now. Both quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli and Justin Roper threw well, particularly in the spring game, while Jamere Holland led a receiving corps that appears capable and deep. No longer does it seem essential that JC transfer Tyrece Gaines and freshman Diante Jackson contribute from game one.

2. Linebacking up: Oregon's linebackers have been mostly mediocre in recent years, but this crew has a chance to tip the scales from middling to good. Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and Eddie Pleasant give the Ducks a solid troika of experienced starters, with JC transfer Bryson Littlejohn, Dewitt Stuckey and Josh Kaddu providing depth.

3. DL hope: Oregon lost three starters from its 2008 defensive line, and projected 2009 starter Tonio Celotto quit football. All that raised eyebrows, but the D-line controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the spring. Will Tukuafu, the lone returning stater, tackles Brandon Bair, Blake Ferras and Simi Toeaina and end Kenny Rowe showed promise up front. The question, though, is whether much of their success was a function of the banged-up offensive line's struggles.

Fall questions

1. O-line woes: With returning starters C.E. Kaiser and Bo Thran sitting out due to injuries, the offensive line was green and it looked the part during spring practices. Run and pass blocking were problems. Moreover, when the injured players return, there's still a question of who will be the fifth starter and whether there will be some reshuffling of positions in the fall.

2. Thurmond sidekick? Cornerback Walter Thurmond, who was banged up much of last year, was healthy during spring practices and he looked like the NFL prospect he is. But who will play opposite him and fill the void left by the early departure of Jairus Byrd to the NFL? Will it be Talmadge Jackson or Willie Glasper, who were both injured, or will someone else step up?

3. Nothing special: A lot is expected of incoming punter Jackson Rice and kicker Mike Bowlin, particularly after the inconsistency -- and downright awfulness (see the spring game) -- of the kicking and punting. If those guys aren't ready, special teams may be an adventure next fall, though it's worth noting the kicker Morgan Flint, who was mostly solid last year, may have just had an off couple of weeks.

Spring football Q&A: Oregon coach Chip Kelly

April, 29, 2009
4/29/09
10:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

There are a lot of reasons to like Oregon's chances next season.

The Ducks are coming off a 10-3, top-10 finish, which includes a massacre of Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl.

They've got more certainty at quarterback with Jeremiah Masoli than just about any other team in the Pac-10. They've also got a 1,000-yard rusher returning in LeGarrette Blount, a marquee tight end in Ed Dickson and two of the best defensive backs in the conference in corner Walter Thurmond and safety T.J. Ward.

 
  Geoff Thurner/Oregon Media Services
  Chip Kelly takes over an Oregon team that finished 10-3 last season.

On the other hand, both lines need to be rebuilt. Not to get too technical about football, but lines are important in this game.

Chip Kelly will finish up his first spring as Oregon's head coach with the spring game on Saturday, so it seemed like a good time to check in.

So any thoughts on firing your quarterbacks coach [former head coach and incoming athletic director Mike Bellotti] this spring?

Chip Kelly: No, I actually gave him an incentive package to stay, but I don't think that's going to work out.

Any surprises in the process of going from offensive coordinator to head coach?

CK: No. It was exactly what I thought it would be. A lot more time needed for things outside of football. Trying to manage your day and your schedule and whatnot -- you don't get to just go off to practice or lock yourself away in a film room and watch tape all day. There are other things you have to attend to. But I knew that going in. It's just trying to get a set schedule and stick to it. You've got to learn to say no to some things. But it's what I expected.

Can you give me a couple of examples of changes you've made on how things might have been done in the past?

CK: I think we're practicing -- trying to get as much as we can out of practice. Our attention to detail and focus on the individual practices. I think that's a hard thing, no matter where you are during the spring. Obviously, your first couple of practices in the spring, you're flying around. On your scrimmage days, you're flying around. We've tried to increase the intensity in every practice and tried not to waste a day. I think that's kind of our philosophy. Our goal as a team is to win the day, and I think our kids have really adopted that, knowing that no matter if it's practice nine or practice 14, we've got to maximize it because we only get X amount of chances during the spring to be together as a group. So it's about not just going through the motions but to actually invest yourself. And our players have done that. It's really just changing the mindset a little bit. They've really done that and it's really a credit to our kids and the coaches here. Same thing as a coach. You can think, 'Ah, it's only spring ball.' But we need to get better every day and our players have bought into that.

We've joked about how Mike Bellotti is a West Coast guy and you're an East Coast guy. Have there been moments when some of the players saw some of that edgy East Coast come out and it was a little shock to their systems?

CK: I don't know if it's a shock to their system because I've been here for two years. But I think maybe because I will talk to defensive players now and special teams players -- things that weren't in my realm as offensive coordinator. During special teams [the previous two years], I'd take the quarterbacks off to the side and it was an individual period. Now, I'm trying to help Tom Osborne, our special teams coordinator, get the best looks we can possibly get. That's a little different. But because I've been here I think our players understand my personality.

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