This story was originally published April 3, 2018.
The Oregon Ducks have a new defense, and it’s not as good as the old one.
The Ducks will play without their leading tackler in the secondary, a player they’ve used in the past to help shut down receivers and give the secondary a chance to compete with the nation’s best.
The defense also is not as strong at safety, where the Ducks have had to rely on the play of defensive back Brandon Gaddy, who was injured and lost two games in 2017.
That means the Ducks are now relying on a rookie cornerback, Jalen Taylor, to make plays on the outside.
Taylor, a sophomore, will replace Chris Cook, who transferred from Arizona State.
He’s a solid player with good athleticism, and he should be able to cover a lot of ground, particularly with Gaddy out of the picture.
Taylor will also need to improve on his tackling.
The defensive backs have to be more physical, which has been an issue in recent years.
The Ducks’ defense ranked sixth nationally in total defense, giving up just 438 yards.
The secondary was third, allowing a combined 3,849 yards.
They had only five interceptions.
This year, they’ll play without five players, and with five of them returning.
Defensive tackle Jordan Bell, defensive end Chris Williams, defensive tackle Tyron Johnson and safety Josh Reynolds will be eligible to return, and they’ll replace former starters J.J. Wilcox and Justin Davis.
Williams is a senior, Reynolds is a freshman.
All five have played well in recent weeks.
Williams has been one of the best pass rushers in the Pac-12.
He has five sacks, three forced fumbles and three interceptions, including the game-winning pick on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota against Utah in the Holiday Bowl.
Williams had five tackles and an interception in Oregon’s loss to Oregon State.
Taylor had one tackle and an INT.
Williams has been a very effective pass-rusher, as well, with seven sacks and two forced fumings in the last two games against Stanford and Arizona.
The four-year starter has a knack for getting into the backfield, which is a weakness of the Oregon defense this year.
He was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 class, and Taylor was the top safety in the class by 247 Sports’ composite ranking of all the nation-ranked safety prospects.
He had the No., 2, and 3 overall picks, and the Ducks selected him with the fifth pick.
Taylor has struggled this season with a knee injury.
He missed the first three games of the season, but has played in all but one of Oregon’s last six games.
Taylor was suspended three games by the NCAA last fall for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but he returned to play in five games last season and has two sacks and three forced turnovers.
He has been in the NFL for five seasons, and has played with the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears.
Taylor’s stock has been on the rise since the bowl game against Utah, but that has not translated into a consistent role with the Ducks.
Taylor was expected to play more, but it has not been the case.
The sophomore has only played in seven games and played fewer than one percent of the defensive snaps, including all of Oregon State’s last two.
Taylor will not have a chance at making a strong impression in this defense.
Taylor has been great against the run, but his biggest impact was as a pass rusher.
He rushed for two sacks against Utah.
Taylor also was a big part of a safety group that held Oregon State to just 13 total points.
Taylor played in 12 games last year, but missed two games due to injury.
Taylor played in nine games for the Vikings last season, and three games for Arizona, and was a member of the Rams’ defense last season.