Oregon defense gets new reading material -- Brady Hoke's 'Harry Potter'-sized playbook

EUGENE, Ore. -- When Brady Hoke arrived in Eugene, it wasn’t just the 4-3 defense that he brought with him. He brought with him a physical playbook, a feature that really hasn’t been used by many defensive players on this Oregon team during their college careers.

Under former defensive coordinator Don Pellum the Ducks have mostly used hudl -- a video analysis tool -- and journals or notes from defensive meetings. That’s not uncommon for coaches and assistants as they adapt to the technologically-inclined players today.

But on the day before spring ball started for Oregon, defensive players picked up their new playbooks and had a pretty big revelation. Not only did they have a new playbook, but that playbook was very, very big.

“It was like a Harry Potter book it was so thick,” defensive lineman Jalen Jelks said.

“It’s probably heavier than my textbooks I have this term,” defensive lineman T.J. Daniel added.

There’s a good reason why it’s so thick. Few are expecting the shift from the 3-4 defense the Ducks have used since the Chip Kelly era to the 4-3 defense that Hoke has always used to be an easy transition.

He’s asking players to learn new aspects of positions and the defensive-minded Hoke likes to lay out his expectations for each position very clearly so there’s no misunderstanding for what any given player should be doing in any given situation.

There’s also another reason why Hoke has chosen the old paper and photocopier method as opposed to hudl or other online options.

“Well, number one, my skills in technology aren’t very good,” Hoke said. “I need paper and I need to see things that way.”

Some players have actually found that to be quite helpful.

Defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule said that he actually prefers to have the physical playbook in front of him because it allows him to unplug. Before, when he was watching plays on hudl, there might’ve been an appeal to turn on Facebook or Twitter, but that’s no longer an option with the binder-paper method.

And, for the millennial players who struggle to keep their phones and computers fully charged, Hoke knows that one of the biggest benefits of a paper playbook is that it never runs out of juice and it never needs to be connected to an outlet. It merely needs to be opened.

It only took half of the spring practices for Hoke and his old-school playbook to get most of the Ducks’ new base package installed. He’d like to get more in for the subpackages as well as the red zone, but as of now he feels OK about where the Ducks are at when it comes to installations.

Meanwhile, the defensive players are still learning that the heavy lifting goes beyond getting those packages installed. Carrying the playbook is an exercise in heavy lifting. And for that, some players have taken different measures.

Defensive back Tyree Robinson said he now has to bring his backpack to the football facility because it’s too heavy of a book to just carry around. Meanwhile, linebacker Johnny Ragin III has employed a two-backpack-system approach.

“I definitely started bringing two different backpacks -- one for school and one for the playbook,” Ragin said.

For a football program that’s typically looking forward to new innovations in every aspect of the game, it’s certainly of change of pace to have a coach come in and present his game plan in a three-ring binder, the way coaches did 50 years ago.

“It’s probably the biggest playbook I’ve ever seen,” Kaumatule said. “It’s like a dictionary, like a big Merriam Webster edition.”

With that kind of a comparison, perhaps Kaumatule should be calling the Ducks’ playbook capacious, voluminous or fastidious.

Whatever players might call it, Hoke just hopes it’s two things -- physical and effective.