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Ducks improve their mindset on defense

EUGENE — Jim Leavitt won’t judge Oregon’s defense based upon improvements from last season when it ranked among the worst in the nation.

The new defensive coordinator will grade his unit primarily based on one statistic.

“Wins,” Leavitt said before practice Wednesday. “If we play good enough to win and get the ball back to our offense and let them perform their magic. I’ve been seeing our offense every day, and they are tough to slow down, I promise you. We have a lot of weapons over there.”

That was the case the past two seasons as well when Oregon scored 984 points, an average of 39.4 per game. However, Oregon also gave up 985 points during that span.

New coach Willie Taggart heard about Oregon’s defensive deficiencies the day he was hired and quickly brought in Leavitt to solve the problems.

“I told him we need a big-time defense,” Taggart recalled. “I told him at my press conference that our school president said he doesn’t know anything about football, but he knows we need a defensive coordinator. There is nowhere to go but up.”

Leavitt, Oregon’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons, has been complimentary of his defense throughout the spring and fall, and veteran players have identified plenty of improvements.

“The atmosphere and the mindset is different from last year,” sophomore linebacker Troy Dye said. “We are going in more prepared and have better goals set for ourselves. We are all on the same page and ready to go.”

The calendar shows nearly two weeks until Oregon opens against Southern Utah on Sept. 2.

“Are we ready to play a game today?” Leavitt asked. “No. We need this time, but I hope we will be ready in a few weeks because we are going to play, ready or not.”

With no scoreboard to show results, Taggart has been watching and listening for progress in practice.

“I want a defense that is fundamentally sound and technically sound and plays with a lot of passion,” he said. “That’s what (Leavitt) is all about. I feel like those are the things that win and allow you to play good defense. It is not necessarily schemes, because if you are not technically or fundamentally sound, the scheme doesn’t matter.”

As fall camp reached its midway point this week, Taggart closely monitored the attitude of his players.

“You want guys that it is important to and you see the passion when they are out there,” he said. “You see guys who get frustrated when they don’t have success, and those are guys you can build something around. Passionate, highly competitive, smart kids. We are trying to find enough to be able to do that because that is what it will take.”

Leavitt’s passion is never in doubt, but he doesn’t want to have to inspire his players as the season draws closer.

“You want the guys to get themselves going,” he said. “It’s normal. I’ve done this for a while, and you get to this time of year and guys don’t want to keep hitting on each other. They want to go play games, and it is the same with me. I don’t want to practice all the time; I want to play.”

Oregon will soon shift the focus in practice to game preparations for the Thunderbirds as the opener approaches.

“When it is time to play, we will be ready,” Leavitt said. “I believe that. I’d be surprised if we are not.”

Leavitt