May 16, 2016
By Rob Moseley
Photo: Eric Evans
A look back at Oregon’s month of practices that culminated in the Spring Game on April 30.
Where things stood: An era ended in 2015, when end DeForest Buckner and tackle Alex Balducci were seniors. Playing without their fellow 2012 recruit Arik Armstead, who left for the NFL as a junior, Buckner and Balducci capped their careers last fall in what also ended up being the final season for the 3-4 defense the Ducks installed in 2009. Buckner probably will go down as the best defensive end Oregon has ever produced, and as they turned to the 2016 offseason, the Ducks faced life with the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year.
The new leader of the unit is Henry Mondeaux, who developed into a part-time starter as a sophomore in 2015. The Ducks also returned tackles Rex Manu and Austin Maloata, who played productive snaps behind Balducci last season, plus some intriguing young talents in Jalen Jelks and Canton Kaumatule. But things were in flux entering the first spring in new coordinator Brady Hoke’s 4-3 scheme, which necessitated a change from outside linebacker to defensive end for Torrodney Prevot, Justin Hollins, Cody Carriger and Eddie Heard.
What happened in April: The theme of April was “aggressive.” Along with moving to the 4-3, the Ducks ditched a largely two-gap approach for one-gap defense. Simply put, the linemen no longer had to diagnose which gap to fill after the snap, reading and reacting; rather, they knew where to go from the jump, and could attack at the outset. Mondeaux was still lining up between a guard and a tackle, and Manu between the center and a guard, but they were playing a more explosive style to penetrate the line and harass the quarterback or bring down ballcarriers. The change was even more pronounced for guys like Prevot and Hollins; they were tasked less often with dropping into coverage, instead rushing the passer from a three-point stance.
A first unit of Mondeaux, Manu, Maloata and Prevot generally stayed consistent throughout April. T.J. Daniel provided another very experienced option at end, but the backups elsewhere didn’t have a ton of experience upon which to draw. Kaumatule missed some time during the spring, with redshirts Gary Baker and Drayton Carlberg and converted offensive lineman Elijah George providing depth at the tackles. In his return from an injury that sidelined him for 2015, Hollins had a relatively quiet 14 practices before breaking out in the Spring Game. He had eight tackles to lead both teams, including a stop on the potential “game-winning” two-point attempt in the final minute.
Who to watch in August: The month of spring drills provided a jumping off point for Hoke’s evaluation of his new personnel in the new scheme. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see significant movement come fall, as he makes adjustments based on the film from April. In particular, there are some intriguing, highly athletic prospects in Kaumatule, Jelks and George who could prove useful as situational players, if they don’t win starting jobs outright. Also worth watching will be Hoke’s duties come August. He’s professed a desire to coach a position group once he settles in with the Ducks, and taking over the ends or tackles seems like a potential fit.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
WDE: Torrodney Prevot, Sr.; Justin Hollins, So.; Jalen Jelks, So.; Cody Carriger, Sr.; Bryson Young, Fr.
DT: Austin Maloata, Jr.; Canton Kaumatule, So.; Drayton Carlberg, RFr.; Elijah George, Jr.; Jordan Kurahara, So.
NT: Rex Manu, So.; Gary Baker, RFr.; Wayne Kirby, Fr.; Spencer Stark, So.
SDE: Henry Mondeaux, Jr.; T.J. Daniel, Sr.; Eddie Heard, Sr.; Gus Cumberlander, RFr.; Hunter Kampmoyer, Fr.