Oregon Ducks football defensive players to watch in the 2022 spring game
On the eve of the Oregon Ducks 2022 spring football game, questions are swirling around the fan base about the potential of this new defense and how soon it can be achieved.
While the spring game won’t be close to answering those questions, it will provide a great glimpse into the future of the Ducks defense as it builds its third system in three years.
Let’s break down five of the most intriguing players to watch when the Spring Game kicks off at 1 p.m. PST on Saturday.
Christian Gonzalez – Defensive back
The cornerback room needed a veteran to help lead the way after the starts of Mykael Wright and DJ James. Colorado transfer Christian Gonzalez is a budding star in the Pac-12 and will get the attention he deserves with the opportunity to continue working with Demetrice Martin in a program like Oregon.
Gonzalez’s skills speak for themselves on the pitch, but how he leads the younger guys will be key to watch. With security Verona McKinley III Leaving for the NFL, Gonzalez, while playing in a different position, has perhaps the best chance of leading the team in interceptions and pass breakups.
Something to watch out for is that Gonzalez has been limited to one practice this week. Lanning said he was fine and the decision was merely “preventative.”
Jahlil Florence – Defensive back
Jahlil Florence is one of those promising young cornerbacks who will lay the groundwork for a potentially elite group in the near future. Arriving at the start of the spring school term, Florence worked hard to prove her 4-star worth in high school.
Where Florence can differentiate herself from other young corners is her physique, especially in support of the race. He can bounce all over the field and make plays in various places. The spring game will give him the opportunity to announce himself to the Oregon football community and pitch his case to the coaching staff for an increase in reps at fall camp.
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DJ Johnson – Outside Linebacker
One of the biggest question marks of the offseason when it comes to defense is how in the world Kayvon Thibodeaux will be replaced. Don’t expect this to be answered by the Spring Ball conclusion, but DJ Johnson returning to a full-time defensive role is an interesting potential solution.
Johnson got a few reps at the defensive end last season, and the new defensive coaching staff was confident he could help fill the void. The intrigue in letting Johnson loose on defense is that he hasn’t played exclusively on that side of the ball in three years. From what we saw in the spring, Johnson’s athleticism and physique should remind fans of what Thibodeaux brought to the table.
Sam Taimani – Defensive Lineman
The Ducks wanted to add experienced bodies to their defensive line, and Sam “Taki” Taimani has enough to go around. Washington’s transfer has made the trip down I-5 South to the rival school, and his presence on the field right now will be a relief for Dan Lanning and Tosh Lupoi.
Popo Aumavae, Keyon Ware-Hudsonand Brandon Dorlus have been limited all spring, and Kristian Williams was not included in the list of spring games. Taimani, though new to the program, can bring knowledge and experience to the depth behind missing starters. Plus, his frame (listed at 6-foot-2 and 330 pounds last year) sure won’t hurt in the running game.
Jackson Powers-Johnson – Defensive Lineman/Offensive Lineman
Oregon OL/DL Jackson Powers-Johnson Snapping
It’s funny. Dan Lanning, and Jackson Powers Johnson himself, said the second would line up at quarterback if asked. Although he probably won’t be backing down on Saturday, he could have a special role in the spring game as he featured on both the offensive and defensive lines for Team Green.
Powers-Johnson started the spring on the defensive line with a green defensive jersey, but he traded it a few weeks later for the white jersey and offensive line, and has remained there ever since. Both lines need depth, so it wouldn’t be strange to see him line up on both sides on Saturday.
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