EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Brady Hoke hasn’t exactly been chipper this summer when discussing his defense and its transition from a 3-4 under Don Pellum to a 4-3 now.
And last Thursday, following the Ducks’ final scrimmage of camp, it was more of the same.
“I think as a whole we weren’t very good,” he said about the scrimmage.
“We’ve got a long way to go to be a defense that’s going to be effective in this league,” he said about his defense’s chances in the Pac-12.
Hoke explained that there were breakdowns in every level of the defense, breakdowns he thought the coaching staff had fixed going into that day. He was wrong.
When Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was asked about the issue, he chalked it up to the defense not putting forth its best effort because several key offensive players sat out the final scrimmage. He questioned the defense's mentality but pointed out its issues weren't "irreparable."
However reparable it might be according to Helfrich, there’s certainly something to worry about when a defense is a week out from its season opener and the defensive coordinator can’t think of a good thing to say about the group and the head coach is pretending to be a psychologist to diagnose a team’s issues.
When players were brought in to help with the diagnosis of the defense, it only got cloudier.
“I think that we just had a couple off days last week and the confidence comes from the new system, guys not knowing exactly what they’re doing,” defensive end Henry Mondeaux said. “If you know what you’re doing, you’re more confident. I think we just have to study up a little bit more on the playbook.”
Studying up on the playbook? That’s not a good sign with an actual opponent coming into town in less than a week.
“As a unit, we’re not confident enough yet because there are still areas [to work on],” defensive back Ugo Amadi said. “Some positions are not on the same page at times. At this critical time everyone has to be on the same page.”
Miscommunications on the defensive side of the ball? That sounds familiar.
But, with practices closed, everyone is in a wait-and-see mode with this revamped unit.
Hoke is known for having a surly nature when it comes to his defenses. If it’s not perfect, he’s not happy and players have recognized that.
“Everything has to be 100 percent in [Hoke’s] eyes,” Amadi said.
Perhaps it is a group that has incredibly high expectations for itself and it refuses to rest. Or perhaps it’s a group that just hasn’t reached the bar, a group that’s going to take a while to really find itself.
Neither one of the offenses visiting Autzen Stadium during the first two weekends of the season was prolific last season. UC Davis ranked 11th in the Big Sky in scoring offense (22.3 points per game) a season ago; Virginia ranked 89th in FBS in scoring offense (25.8 points per game) in 2015. But it would be unwise for a team whose defense is undergoing a schematic transition to overlook any opponent. and would get back to the idea that the mentality of this unit leaves something to be desired.
If the Oregon defense doesn’t get it together during these first two games as it preps for the rest of its grinding schedule, the Ducks could be dealt a result that's -- to use Helfrich’s terminology -- irreparable for its playoff hopes.