Hoke describes his charges as "rather young" but he and the rest of the defensive staff are encouraged about what they are hearing and seeing from the players on the practice field.
Coming to Oregon after the Ducks’ disastrous appearance in the Alamo Bowl, in which Oregon blew a 31-point halftime lead before finally losing to TCU 47-41. That game is now a bitter memory for Duck fans, but for the players and coaches it is strictly in the rearview mirror and fading fast.
The first order of business for Hoke was to change the defensive scheme from a 3-4 or two gap defense to a 4-3 or one-gap scheme. That means the Ducks will line up two defensive tackles and two defensive ends on the front line, and instead of having to defend the two gaps on either side of a the offensive player on the other line of scrimmage, now they simply can focus on one gap. This should help the players that the Ducks have on the roster. Generally, in a 3-4 scheme, a very large human being, say the size of a Haloti Ngata, makes the 3-4 work well. Unfortunately, Ngata's days at Oregon are over and many Duck fans pine away wondering why the coaches can’t recruit another Haloti?
Good question, and is probably the same question every coach in America would love to answer, where can we find the next Haloti Ngata?
The truth of course is that the Haloti Ngatas of the world just don't come along very often.
That's not disparaging to this current group that will make up the Oregon defensive front, because while the scheme will help out in manhandling the opposition it also causes the opposing team to come up with different blocking schemes that affects what happens in the secondary.
Hoke's first task was to start breaking the squad into his scheme and philosophy during spring workouts last April. The experienced coach says that he is pleased with the progress the players have made and is also encouraged by the attitude of this team.
That's good news for fans and maybe not so good news for opponents. The Ducks finished last in the Pac-12 defensive statistics last season; they gave up 43 points per game last year and dismal 485.3 ypg. An improved defense, even if the defense turns out to be an average defense, will significantly improve on those statistics.
Oregon does not allow media into scrimmages or practice sessions, so it is hard to report on exactly who is doing what making those improvements, but it is apparent by talking to players and coaches that discipline and morale is up on this squad and for an old coach like Hoke, that's good news.