Oregon Ducks Football 2022 Spring Preview: Defensive Line
Heading into the 2021 season, the defensive front was a big question mark apart Kayvon Thibodeaux. There were unproven rookies lined up in the middle who were to replace the long careers of Jordan Scott and Austin Faoliu.
It wasn’t always consistent, but the defensive line showed flashes of dominance, even outside of Thibodeaux. The Ducks will have plenty of returning starters in the fold, as well as a pair of experienced transfers and talented rookies that will make the competition for reps very intriguing this spring.
Brandon Dorlus was a popular choice to break out in 2021, and its impact exceeded expectations. His contributions went way beyond the stat sheet, which includes seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He’s been one of the most consistent forward rushers the Ducks have had all season.
His versatility should surely suit the needs of Dan Lanning’s defense. Last season at Georgia, Lanning liked to conceal where the pressures of a three-man run were coming from as well as the angles the defensive linemen were taking as the blitzes pressed down the opposite side. Dorlus’ versatility to line up in the middle or outside will be a tool to deceive offenses and should set him up for another improved year.
With another stellar season, Dorlus may well be setting up an NFL Draft buzz.
The return of Popo Aumavae was a massive win for the Ducks as he was one of the biggest bloomers in 2021, making a name for himself as one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12.
Aumavae was PFF’s highest-rated inside defensive lineman last season with an 81.3 rating. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after his breakout year and considered entering the NFL Draft.
Nose tackles are unsung heroes in defense as they often don’t feature crazy stats, but Lanning and Tosh Lupoi know how to make the most of the beasts in the middle. Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis won the Outland Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award and propelled his draft stock with an impressive performance in the scouting combine.
Although Aumavae doesn’t have the size of Davis (frankly, who does?), he still showed huge improvements in both pass rush and run defense year after year. .
Keyon Ware-Hudson was another popular candidate to enjoy a breakout season for the Ducks in 2021, but was hampered by injuries late in the year. He appeared in 10 games (three starts), recording 14 total tackles (three for a loss), 0.5 sacks, four quarterback rushes and one pass breakup.
At the start of the season, he showed his potential, collecting at least half a tackle for a loss in four consecutive games. Listed at 288 pounds, it will be interesting to see with his speed and athleticism whether he will bulk up closer to 300 pounds to play in the middle, or slim down to give the Ducks another body on the edge.
Jackson Powers Johnson
It’s one of the biggest wildcards on the roster right now. Jackson Powers Johnson was one of the first guys to come off the bench along the offensive line in his true first season and even started multiple games up front – one at each guard spot.
But before the Alamo Bowl, the Corner Canyon product was seen practicing on the other side of the ball and ended up starting on defense against Oklahoma, given injuries to Aumavae and Ware-Hudson. Powers-Johnson held firm on defense against Oklahoma, who distanced himself from Lanning, who said the rising sophomore will start on the defensive side of the ball in the spring.
Powers-Johnson won’t be completely new to the defensive end, as he played defense in high school. He probably won’t start on top in Week 1, but he’ll be a good rotational player.
Ducks also have Kristian Williams back, who has played a decent amount of snaps since joining Eugene in 2019. Su’ava Poti Also expecting a piece of the action and played well in limited action.
The Ducks brought in an impressive amount of defensive tackles through the transfer portal and on the recruiting track.
The headliner is Sam “Taki” Taimani, a two-year-old starter from Washington. At 6-foot-2 and 330 pounds, he’s a candidate to steal a starting offer from one of the returning, or at least split, reps. He was often double-teamed, especially against Oregon in 2021, because of his power. He’ll bolster the Ducks’ run defense, an area where Oregon improved last year but still has plenty of room to grow.
The ducks also added Jordan Riley, a transfer from Nebraska. While not as experienced as Taimani, he brings a taller frame at 6’6″, 310 lbs. He will definitely help the Ducks replace Jayson Joneswho had a similar frame and was expected to play a bigger role in 2022 before moving to Auburn.
Mister Mells and Ben Robert complete the Ducks’ forward additions this offseason, but none are expected on campus for Spring Ball at this time. The two ex-Washington clerks may not be immediate contributors given the experience they have ahead of them, but they certainly add depth to a position that hasn’t been the deepest for the Oregon in recent years.
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