Will the Ducks Get Defensive in 2009?

Heading out of the spring and into the summer, most fans believe that, barring injuries, the Oregon offense will be its usual self come fall. The real question, which has always been the question, is whether Oregon's defense will show up for every game.

Posted with permission from Bleacher Report

The Ducks have shown that they can compete for the ultimate goal when the defense holds up its end of the bargain. The Ducks lost five starters off of last year's defense, including four who were chosen in the NFL Draft two weekends ago.

Many would argue that the biggest issue facing the defense next fall is the secondary, but I would disagree. Nick Aliotti's defense may be dependent on a strong secondary, but the defensive line is very important for the overall play of the defense.

Defensive Line- It starts and ends in the trenches, and when the Ducks have been successful in the past, they have had great defensive lineman. In 2007, it was All-American Nick Reed and Cole Linehan. In 2001, it was Igor Olshansky and Chris Tetterton. Way back in 1994, the Ducks had Silila Malepeai.

This year, the Ducks have two junior college transfers, Terrance Montgomery and Zac Clark, coming in. They are expected to make a contribution immediately. If they do, it immediately makes the defensive line very deep.

If I have a concern with the defense, it is in this group. I just don't know if they will be able to put enough pressure on the opposing offense to help out the linebackers and secondary.

Will Tukuafu needs to fill the gap Nick Reed left behind as the leader with a never-ending motor.

Brandon Blair and Blake Ferras might start at the beginning of the year, but if they don't make an impact immediately, expect to see Montgomery and Clark.

If this unit can do their job, it could be a very successful year for the Ducks. The X-factor will be Terrence Montgomery. If he can take up a couple of linemen inside, that will free up Tukuafu and the other ends to put some pressure on the quarterback.

Linebackers- For the first time since 2001, the linebacking crew looks solid and very deep. Coaches have been pleased with the play of the linebackers this spring, which gives Duck fans hope for the fall.

Ever since the death of Oregon linebacker recruit Terrence Kelly before the 2004 season, there seems to have been a cloud over the linebackers, but this could be the year they break out. That 2004 linebacker class was expected to be one of the best ever, but when Kelly died, things didn't come together as the Ducks thought they would.

Speed and depth at the linebacker position have been the main problems in the past five years. The Ducks have had good tacklers and serviceable players, but they have missed the big-time linebackers like Peter Sirmon and Jeremy Asher that fans had become accustomed too.

The X-factor this year will be Casey Matthews. As a freshman last year, he was not in control of making calls and could fly around. He needs to learn to maintain focus and lead by example. Solid tackling is a must for him as his speed is not overwhelming. He is one of the most experienced returning linebackers, so he also needs to be a mentor.

Secondary- With Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd gone, there are two big holes to fill. Cornerback Walter Thurmond III will lock up one side of the field while another year should help free safety T.J. Ward add coverage skills to his hard-hitting, run-stopping résumé.

This season's X-factor will be T.J. Ward. He struggled in coverage last year but made up for it with the other aspects of his game. If he stays at free safety, he has to make the right reads and put his teammates in the right spots.

The Ducks' secondary has constantly been criticized for the yards they have given up, but they have always done what they have needed to do to get a win. Looking back at the Holiday Bowl victory against Oklahoma State last year, the Ducks' defense wore down the Cowboy offense in the second half and beat up a team that was very competitive in the fierce Big 12 South.

If the Ducks can stop the run consistently in 2009, I like their chances. They are structured to give up yards but not points. If they can continue that, they should have a successful year. They have enough returning starters and players who played significant minutes that they should play smart and fast. They will get a stiff test out of the gate against an intelligent and fast Boise State team on national television. If they play well, expect that to springboard the team onto a serious National Championship run similar to 2007 when the Ducks beat Michigan.

Check back next week for a complete breakdown of the bread-and-butter play for Oregon: the zone read.

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