Defense Keeps It On The Ground

Oregon's defense flexed its muscles today, and kept the aerial assault under wraps. While they did give up some yards running, there is a definite silver lining to today's spring game.

Today's spring game was a great chance for coaches to give a final evaluation of their squad. For defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, today's action gave certain players the opportunity to show they deserve playing time.

"We found some guys that will give us some solid back-up play and could push for some starting positions," stated Aliotti.

On defense today, sophomore middle linebacker Casey Matthews embodied his defensive coordinator's comments. He led all defenders in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks. Matthews racked up five solo and five assisted tackles, with three of them being for a loss. He also recorded two sacks today.

Casey Matthews' fine play didn't go unnoticed by his defensive coordinator. Nick Aliotti noted after the game, "Casey made a lot of plays…There is a lot of room to improve, he needs to keep getting stronger and faster, and better in space. But he is a good football player, and I think there will be some good years ahead for Casey Matthews."

Senior defensive end Nick Reed showed he is more than just a pass rushing extraordinaire. Reed was constantly seen scraping down the line of scrimmage, bringing down running backs or starting piles on running plays. He finished the day with a solo tackle and four assisted tackles.

The defense did have some troubles stopping the run. Both the green and white team defenses combined to give up 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. Yet with the exception of two long passing plays, the defense kept the passing game grounded for the most part. Oregon defenders stymied the passing game, and the offense completed 16 of 46 passes. That 34.8% completion percentage was partnered with two interceptions and eight sacks.

Nick Aliotti was in a reflective mood as he talked to the media after the game. However he made one thing clear with some of the first words out of his mouth.

"I'm the one that planned the half back pass that thing was wide open. We didn't execute, but it was wide open, said Aliotti referring to the green team's trick play in the first half. The designed play saw Darron Thomas miss a wide open Aaron Pflugrad on a pass after he had received a pitch from fellow quarterback Chris Harper.

Aliotti became more serious as he gave his thoughts and opinions regarding the various aspects and areas of his defense.

"I think after spring ball, I am very pleased… I think that at defensive tackle we're going to be okay, we need to get a little bit tougher mentally. I think at free safety and rover, we're going to be ok. Jury is still out on whose going to be our three top linebackers."

Injuries have contributed to the jury being out on linebackers as both Jerome Boyd and John Bacon missed the entire spring because of injuries. As he continued to discuss his linebackers he did comment about the progress made by some of his younger guys.

"I think when you think about Paysinger and Pleasant, the strides they made, and Riley Showalter, and when they are all on the same team, that's four pretty good guys…We gotta sure up the Will backer position, and make sure that we are solid at tackle, but overall I think we're going to be ok."

Aliotti gave some intrigue when it came to his analysis of the secondary. He mentioned that his plan is to get the four best guys on the field in the secondary. He would be in favor of moving Walter Thurmond or Jairus Byrd to safety if the third cornerback proved to be a better player than whoever the starting free safety would be. However Aliotti seems to be confident in the guys currently battling for that open free safety spot.

"I think TJ Ward is a solid player, I like Javes (Lewis) and Marvin (Johnson), I think that one of those three will be end up being our free safety, probably. Unless we don't feel good about that, and at this point I think we do feel good about it."

The Ducks are set to return seven starters, and have back-up guys with plenty of experience. This defense is also still awaiting the arrival of some of their biggest catches from this past recruiting class, including five star defensive tackle Justin Thompson.

After a month of spring practice, all Ducks fans should feel confident about their defense. As Nick Aliotti repeated several times when asked about his defense this spring, "I've been very pleased."

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