Part II of a Q&A with Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.
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.