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Projecting Oregon Ducks’ defensive depth chart heading into spring football

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February 27, 2023 5:57 am PT

We are currently in the midst of one of the slowest periods of the college football calendar. Signing day is behind us, a recruiting dead period is soon to come to a close, and the transfer portal is on hold until the start of May.

Fortunately, spring football is only a few weeks away for the Oregon Ducks.

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It’s been announced that the annual Oregon Spring Game will take place on April 29. Dan Lanning said that the team expects to have a couple of practices before spring break starts for the students on March 25, so it’s likely that within the next few weeks, we start to see some players take the field in Eugene.

Earlier in the week, we went through our offensive depth chart projections, looking at who will be working alongside Bo Nix and filling out the remade offensive line. Now we want to go to the other side of the ball and look at the defense.

Who fills out the defensive line alongside Brandon Dorlus and Jordan Burch? Which cornerbacks do we expect to step up and fill out the starting lineup? How many of the incoming transfers will be able to come in and crack the starting lineup?

Welcome to spring football season. Yes, it’s a bit early, but we were too excited not to get started.

Here is our defensive two-deep projection ahead of spring ball:

Defensive End

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Projected Starter: Brandon Dorlus

Projected Back-Up: Treven Ma’ae

There should be no debate here. With Brandon Dorlus making the somewhat surprising announcement that he was returning for another season with the Ducks, it instantly upped the level of talent on Oregon’s defensive line. Behind him, Treven Ma’ae could really turn into a solid piece this season as well.

Defensive Tackle

Projected Starter: Casey Rogers

Projected Back-Up: Keyon Ware-Hudson

The defensive line stays strong in the middle with the return of Casey Rogers as well. Rogers really came on late in the season and showed how good he can be, particularly in the Oregon State game and the Holiday Bowl against North Carolina. Behind Rogers, you have an experienced player in Keyon Ware-Hudson who can also contribute great minutes as well.

Nose Tackle

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Projected Starter: Popo Aumavae

Projected Back-Up: Taki Taimani

On the defensive line, this is the prediction that I feel least confident in. Popo Aumavae missed the entirety of the 2022 season, so assuming that he will come back and immediately be the starting nose tackle may be a bit ambitious. However, the Ducks also have Sam ‘Taki’ Taimani on the roster, and he should be much improved after a year in the system.

EDGE Rusher

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Projected Starter: Jordan Burch

Projected Back-Up: Mase Funa

Quite possibly the biggest area of need for the Ducks this offseason, they certainly went out and got an upgrade. Oregon landed Jordan Burch in the transfer portal, a former 5-star recruit from South Carolina. He should be able to elevate the Ducks’ pass rush. Oregon also has Mase Funa behind him, fresh off of a Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP performance.

MAC Linebacker

Projected Starter: Jestin Jacobs

Projected Back-Up: Keith Brown

Linebacker is an interesting position for Oregon and one where they likely need to add another player this offseason. I expect Iowa transfer Jestin Jacobs to come in and take a starting spot, assuming that he is back to full health after a torn ACL last season. Behind him, the Ducks should feel very confident in what they have with Keith Brown.

MONEY Linebacker

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Projected Starter: Jeffrey Bassa

Projected Back-Up: Devon Jackson // Harrison Taggart

Jeffrey Bassa has proved at this point that he can be trusted in a starting role on the defense. What I am curious to see is who plays behind him. I mentioned that Oregon could stand to add another LB, but we also need to see what we get from Devon Jackson and Harrison Taggart, both of whom redshirted last year. I will be watching them closely in spring ball.

Field Cornerback

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Projected Starter: Trikweze Bridges

Projected Back-Up: Jahlil Florence

Opposite Christian Gonzalez, Trikweze Bridges was the guy for Oregon last year, and he got better as the season went on. I think that the Ducks should be able to rely on him to be one of their better defenders this season. Behind him, you also have Jahlil Florence, who had a solid season as a true freshman and definitely proved that he can play at this level.

Boundary Cornerback

Projected Starter: Dontae Manning

Projected Back-Up: Khyree Jackson

It’s wild that my picking the former 5-star cornerback and highest-rated CB to ever sign with the Ducks as the starter feels like going out on a limb, but that’s where we are. Through three seasons, we haven’t seen a ton from Dontae Manning just yet, but I think that a breakout is on the way after a year of working with Demetrice Martin. Behind him, you have Alabama transfer Khyree Jackson, who will absolutely push hard for that starting spot.

Field Safety

Projected Starter: Bryan Addison

Projected Back-Up: Evan Williams

I struggled to pick this one, because I really think that Fresno State transfer Evan Williams has a great shot to take over as the starting FS. However, I’m not ready to move Bryan Addison out of that position just yet. He’s gotten consistently better every year, and could have an outstanding final season in Eugene.

Boundary Safety

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Projected Starter: Jamal Hill

Projected Back-Up: Steve Stephens IV

This one feels pretty interchangeable for me. Both Jamal Hill and Steve Stephens played quite a bit last year, and I think they will be rotating a lot this year as well.

Star/Nickel Safety

(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)

Projected Starter: Tysheem Johnson

Projected Back-Up: JJ Greenfield

One of the other big-time additions that Oregon made via the transfer portal this offseason came at the STAR safety position where they added Tysheem Johnson. The Ducks didn’t really have a true nickel safety last year, so adding someone with Johnson’s skill set could be a huge bonus for the defense.

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