Preseason Camp Preview: DL
Who's back: Leading the returners up front for Oregon on defense in 2021 is arguably the best player in the country regardless of position, sophomore end Kayvon Thibodeaux. The returning Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman – as voted on by the conference's offensive linemen – Thibodeaux has his sights set on even bigger things for the Ducks this fall. That begins with leading Oregon to a third straight Pac-12 title and into the playoff, but also includes the Heisman Trophy. Given Thibodeaux's ability to both dominate in the trenches and also stand up to harass quarterbacks or drop into coverage, he just might be able to compile the stats to break into the conversation for college football's most illustrious individual award. Regardless, he'll command the respect of coaches, teammates and opponents.
At the interior positions, it's a changing of the guard this fall. After four years with Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu plugging the middle of the line, they're off pursuing NFL roster spots and the Ducks will look to new faces. Popo Aumavae emerged over the course of 2019 as a reliable rotation guy, and teammates this offseason made it sound like he's poised to take another big jump into full-time contributor. Brandon Dorlus also has shown flashes of being a big-time disruptor when given the chance, and he'll look to do that on a consistent basis this fall. His classmates Keyon Ware-Hudson and Kristian Williams used the abbreviated 2020 season to break into the regular rotation, and Bradyn Swinson debuted his athleticism off the edge. Sua'ava Poti has been a swing player who can step in for game reps while also providing a spark to the developmental squad along with Louie Cresto and Miguel Nevarez.
Who's new: The Ducks welcomed one newcomer on the line in the spring, Keanu Williams. He's now in the same class as last season's newcomers, who got acclimated to college football during the abbreviated season and were led by Swinson. Jayson Jones has spent the last year reshaping his huge frame, Jake Shipley flashed as a versatile edge guy and Maceal Afaese was a load on the developmental squad last year. Jaylen Smith helped out the depth on the offensive line in practice last fall and spent winter rehabbing an injury, so he's in line to get his first extended work on the defensive front this preseason.
Projected depth chart
DE: Kayvon Thibodeaux, So.; Bradyn Swinson, Fr.; Jake Shipley, Fr.; Jaylen Smith, Fr.
DT: Popo Aumavae, Jr.; Kristian Williams, RFr.; Jayson Jones, Fr.; Maceal Afaese, Fr.; Miguel Nevarez, So.
DT: Brandon Dorlus, So.; Keyon Ware-Hudson, RFr.; Sua'ava Poti, RFr.; Keanu Williams, Fr.; Louie Cresto, Fr.
What to watch: With solid year-over-year development, this has the potential to be a very stout position group led by the superstar Thibodeaux. The biggest point of intrigue might be the second-year freshmen who were on the developmental squad last season – Jones, Smith, Shipley and Afaese. They all pass the eyeball test, and had moments last fall where they flashed significant potential. If any or all of them can harness that, they can challenge the likes of Williams and Ware-Hudson for reps in the rotation. Then again, those third-year linemen now have a significant edge in experience, which they'll no doubt put to use.