Ducks have heavy D-line decision
EUGENE — The combined weight of the three players competing at nose tackle for Oregon is roughly the equivalent of a grand piano.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is anxious to see if a rotation of Jordon Scott, Gary Baker and Austin Faoliu can perform in concert together with the simplicity of chopsticks and as melodiously as Chopin.
“I think there’s a real battle between Austin and Jordon and Gary,” Leavitt said after reviewing Tuesday’s scrimmage. “Those three guys are all playing at nose and are really battling. It’s tight now, it really is.”
Scott has received rave reviews from his coaches and peers since setting foot on campus. The 6-foot-1, 333-pound true freshman has been running with the first team since Leavitt began installing his 3-4 defense in the spring.
The Ducks’ interior offensive linemen have said battling Scott during fall camp is good preparation for the type of players they will have to block when Oregon faces teams like Stanford, Utah and Washington.
“Jordon is obviously a load. He’s a big, big guy,” left guard Shane Lemieux said. “Jordon is still young, but he’s shown he can play with the big boys.”
Baker, who is listed at 6-3, 325 pounds, made four starts on last season’s defensive line, which was ravaged by injuries and suspensions.
During Oregon’s loss at USC, the Upland, Calif., native finished with a career-high five tackles.
“I learned a lot, especially from Henry Mondeaux,” Baker said of playing in seven games as a redshirt freshman. “He’s one of the guys that I’ve looked up to and he’s taught me the ropes.”
Baker has taken first-team reps at nose tackle when Scott has sat out to heal from the effects of physical fall camp practices.
“I’ve been happy with Gary,” Leavitt said. “I think Gary’s done some really good things.”
Faoliu, a 6-3, 289-pound true freshman, will also be given an opportunity to make an immediate impact when Oregon opens the season on Sept. 2 against Southern Utah at Autzen Stadium (5:15 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“Austin is different,” Lemieux said. “He’s a stout guy like Jordon, but at the same time he’s finesse and he’s got speed. He’s never going to one-on-one let you block him. He’s always going to use a move, he’s always going to try to slip out of a double team. He’s stout, but at the same time he’s pretty slippery.”
Mondeaux and Elijah George are the senior leaders on the defensive line after combining for 50 tackles in 2016. Leavitt also needs Jalen Jelks, a talented but oft-injured junior, to have a breakout season.
“If the arrow keeps going up then we have a chance,” Leavitt said. “And guys are working hard.”
The Ducks ranked 126th out of 128 FBS teams in points allowed (41.4 ppg) and yards allowed (518.4 ypg) last season.
The Ducks are still waiting for Clemson graduate transfer Scott Pagano to get medically cleared to practice.
“Even though we’re small in numbers on the D-line, we’re still fairly good,” Baker said. “We’re all just looking ahead. We’re not worrying about last year anymore, just pushing forward.”
Redshirt sophomore Drayton Carlberg and redshirt freshman Hunter Kampmoyer add some depth on the defensive line, and Popo Aumavae, another true freshman, has missed the majority of fall camp with an arm injury.