Following the disastrous loss in the Alamo Bowl, the first thing Mark Helfrich did was to replace Don Pellum as the defensive coordinator and bring in Brady Hoke. Pellum resumed his duties as linebacker coach, and Hoke made a defensive scheme change – going from a base 3-4 defense, meaning three down linemen and four linebackers, to a 4-3 scheme to better utilize the team’s talent and to create a more aggressive defense.
One other thing Hoke insisted on was change in conditioning. This was somewhat surprising considering the Ducks had prided themselves on being the team in the best condition in college football.
What was also puzzling about the 2015 squad was that while the defense struggled to keep teams from scoring, there were still outstanding players on the defense, notably DeForest Buckner, a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers and at times like in the USC game, the Duck defense while not great, was more than adequate to get the job done.
THE DEFENSE FRONT
The year’s defensive line is somewhat nameless although redshirt senior T.J. Daniel, 6-6, 275, juniors Henry Mondeaux, 6-5, 280, and Austin Maloata, 6-1, 305 have seen significant minutes during their careers. Redshirt sophomore Jalen Jelks, 6-6, 268 showed flashes of brilliance last year and could be the star of the group. Sophomore Rex Manu, 6-3, 315 is a huge body that also saw playing time as a true freshman and could really blossom in the attack defense Hoke has in mind.
Sophomore Canton Kaumatule, 6-7, 295 battled injuries last year but many felt he was the best high school player entering college last year. How much Kaumatule can add to this squad is dependent on his condition when he enters camp.
There will be some new faces on the defensive side as redshirt junior Elijah George, 6-5, 295 has battled injuries during his career but the Oregon coaches always felt he was a hard worker. He was moved from the offensive line which should help both the team and him if he can stay healthy.
Another potential star who missed last season is redshirt sophomoreJustin Hollins, 6-6, 230 who seemed to be ready to breakout before the injury bug struck him down. He’ll be in camp and if he can pick up where he left off, that is a big plus for the Ducks.
Redshirt freshmen Gus Cumberlander, 6-6, 260, Gary Baker, 6-4, 298 and Drayton Carlberg, 6-5, 290 add size and depth. Freshmen Hunter Kampmoyer, 6-4, 245 was in school for the spring while Bryson Young, 6-5, 230 and Wayne Tei-Kirby, 6-3, 320 enrolled in June for summer session.
Redshirt senior Cody Carriger, 6-6, 240 is a good athlete but has not seen a lot of game action in his career.
Redshirt sophomore Jordan Kurahara, 6-8, 250 is the sole walk-on among the defensive front group.
The only senior scholarship linebacker on the squad is Johnny Ragin III, 6-3, 225, and the well-spoken Oregonian will likely do a lot of the talking for the defense this year as evidenced by his appearance at Pac-12 Media Day. Junior Jimmie Swain, 6-2, 235 has the most playing experience (besides Ragin) at Oregon. (story updated to reflect Paris Bostick is no longer listed on Oregon's official roster. No official media release has been issued to explain why Bostick is no longer listed.) Another redshirt junior, Danny Mattingly, 6-5, 245 has the size and strength to be something very special and had a good season last year in a unit that struggled all year long.
Another gem that was held out for some reason last year is redshirt junior Jonah Moi, 6-4 and 250. The Oregon coaches have been very complimentary of Moi’s practice habit and play in the spring game, so the big question remains, why didn’t they play him last year when they needed production at linebacker?
We’ll never know the answer to that question but Moi is no doubt in the plans this year.
There is a lot of speculation about junior A.J. Hotchkins, 5-11, 230, who is somewhat of a heat-seeking missile.
There are a bunch of freshmen linebackers: Keith Simms, 6-3, 235, La'Mar Winston, Jr., 6-3, 220, Troy Dye, 6-4, 210, Eric Briscoe Jr.., 6-3, 215 and Darrian Franklin, 6-1, 200. Dye, Brisco and Franklin were in school for spring workouts and will have a leg up on the others who enrolled in June.
There are six walk-ons, with several used on special teams including senior De'Quan McDowell, 6-1, 203, redshirt junior Ivan Faulhaber, 6-2, 224, sophomore Kaulana Apelu, 5-11, 196, redshirt freshmen Matt Mariota, 6-2, 248, Jake Froehlich, 6-220 and Blake Rugraff, 6-2, 215.
Defensive backs coach John Neal thought last year’s group might be some of the most talented that he has ever coached but for some reason that talent had trouble being realized in many games. Communication was cited by the coaching staff as part of the problem, but by all accounts Neal has renewed enthusiasm and given his past history, this unit is probably going to make a big leap forward.
Returning veterans include redshirt senior Reggie Daniels, 6-1, 205, redhirt juniors Ty Griffin, 6-0, 200, Tyree Robinson, 6-4, 205, Chris Seisay and Juwaan Williams, 6-0, 195, Junior Arrion Springs, 5-11, 205 could be the vocal leader of the secondary while sophomores Ugo Amadi, 5-10, 185 and Fotu Leiato, 6-1, 200 bring experience to the squad as does redshirt sophomore Khalil Oliver, 6-0, 200. Another redshirt, Mattrell McGraw, 5-10, 185, did not see any game time last year and will be fighting for time this year.
The lone true scholarship freshman is Brady Breeze, 6-1 and 200 pounds.