EUGENE — Jim Leavitt’s job is to fix an Oregon defense that has ranked among the nation’s worst the past two seasons.
It’s a tough task, and if he succeeds, it might have little to do with his system, which is returning the Ducks to a base 3-4 after spending one season at a 4-3.
“I think coach Leavitt has done a great job of just getting all the guys on the same page,” sophomore linebacker Troy Dye said. “There’s minor changes from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Your down linemen are just different. You have different fronts, you play the run game differently.
"But I just think the difference from last year to this year is the energy.”
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Leavitt is Oregon’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons — following Brady Hoke last season and Don Pellum in 2015 — and he brings a wealth of experience.
Before arriving in Eugene, Leavitt’s Colorado unit led the Pac-12 in total defense last season. Before that, he helped the San Francisco 49ers reach Super Bowl XLVII as linebackers coach, and he spent 14 seasons as head coach at South Florida from 1996 to 2009.
In his short time at Oregon, the Pepsi-obsessed Leavitt, 60, is becoming known for his intense energy, both on and off the field.
“The energy and the enthusiasm that coach Leavitt brings out, and it just brings out more enthusiasm and energy from the players as well,” Dye said. “You see a guy like him, at his age, every morning running around yelling, you have no other choice but to match that energy and go out there and play for the man, who is really excited to be out there.”
Energy is one thing, but one of the glaring problems with Oregon’s defense last season was a lack of leadership on the field.
“I think our defense definitely needs a vocal leader, just like on the offensive side of the ball, and I do think that we have guys who can do that," Oregon head coach Willie Taggart said. "I think Troy Dye can be one of those guys, I think (senior linebacker) A.J. Hotchkins can be one of those guys, and I think (junior defensive lineman) Jalen Jelks (can be one of those guys).
“You don’t have to be a senior or junior to lead, or be vocal or to be passionate about the game of football. If you’re passionate about your defense, it’s OK to step up and say what you have to say.”
The Ducks’ defense ranked 126th out of 128 FBS teams nationally last season when they allowed 41.4 points per game.
One of the few bright spots was Dye, who as a true freshman earned a Pac-12 honorable mention and finished with a team-high 91 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
“There’s a bunch of guys on this defense that can step up and be a leader, it doesn’t have to be just me,” Dye said. “There are a bunch of seniors on this team that are passionate about this game. We’re all trying to follow each other and make each other better.”
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