In much the same way the Oregon Ducks offense relies on supreme conditioning and a breakneck pace, the Duck defense thrives because of a torrid style. Central to coordinator Nick Aliotti's 3-4 scheme are versatile athletes and aggressive pursuit, both of which Oregon has in bulk despite high profile departures in the offseason.
Defensive end Dion Jordan is gone, but the Ducks reload with a potent one-two punch sure to make life miserable for Pac-12 quarterbacks. Outside linebacker Boseko Lokombo is an otherworldly athletic talent in the same vein as Jordan.
Lokombo runs the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds, per NFL Draft Scout. At 6'3" and 230 pounds, such speed should make Lokombo a handful for opposing tackles to contain when blitzing off the edge.
"[Lokombo] is almost limitless from a potential standpoint," first-year UO head coach Mark Helfrich said during his weekly press conference.
Jordan's ascent up NFL draft boards last spring garnered the Duck defense a new level of national attention. UO's performance on this side of the ball may very well be the ticket back to Pasadena for a third time in the last five years—and not for the Rose Bowl Game, but rather the final BCS championship.
As a fifth-year senior, Lokombo takes over as the veteran leader of a Duck linebacker corps undergoing high turnover. Gone is standout Michael Clay, as well as second round NFL draft pick Kiko Alonso.
Replacing the soul of the Ducks' 21.6 points-per-game defense is no simple task, but Lokombo is settling into his more prominent role nicely. His play in January's Fiesta Bowl carried over into preseason practices, as chronicled at FishDuck.com.
Likewise, defensive end Tony Washington laid a foundation for 2013 against Kansas State. While Washington's play did not translate to the box score, he gained invaluable reps against top-tier competition, filling the void an injured Jordan left.
Washington told Gary Horowitz of The Statesman Journal he's patterning his style after his predecessor. The No. 3 overall pick sets a high bar for any successor, particularly given the multifaceted role Jordan's versatility allowed him to fill a season ago.
Washington may not dabble as a hybrid lineman/linebacker/safety, but he will help key a tenacious pass rush pursuit that has been a hallmark of recent UO teams.
That translates to one thing for Duck opponents: turnovers, and a lot of them. Last season, UO gained more takeaways than any team in the nation with 40.
Lokombo was personally responsible for three, grabbing a pair of interceptions and forcing a fumble, and the pass rush of which he and Washington will be responsible is also a catalyst for the secondary. UO finished ranked no lower than No. 17 nationally in passes intercepted each of the last three seasons, and last year was tops.
Those who closely follow Pac-12 Conference football were already well aware of UO's defensive prowess. Aliotti has crafted the perfect complement to the revolutionary variation on the spread Chip Kelly introduced and Helfrich now commands.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!