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Oregon’s defensive line is the strength not only of the defense, but possibly the entire roster, and the veteran group got even stronger this offseason.
Casey Rogers added 20 pounds over the last year — clean weight, he emphasizes — the most of any of UO’s returning scholarship players. The sixth-year senior, who had 34 tackles with 3.5 for loss last season, is one of five Ducks interior defensive linemen who gained at least 11 points over the last year.
“He’s certainly pushed himself and almost threw himself in the fire almost as far as escalating his treatment and aggressive rehab,” defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said. “I think Casey’s now doing his best to try to recognize his health and his power. He’s someone that’s really powerful in the weight room. That’s what I’m really challenging Casey at, is to try to translate that power onto the field.”
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No. 15 Oregon enters Saturday’s season opener against Portland State with a defensive line whose projected two-deep is 80 points heavier compared to last season, when most of the same group of players combined to drop 25 pounds compared to 2021.
“The goal is to get bigger, faster, and stronger,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “So if we can maintain and carry weight at a higher weight but still maintain our speed and be able to prevent injuries in the process, we want to do that.”
Not surprisingly, Rogers said the added size, weight and strength was the biggest change for him this year compared to a year ago, when he transferred to UO from Nebraska and was coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“This offseason I was actually able to get a full spring ball and winter workout where last year with transferring and that process I missed spring ball and only had five weeks to really prepare for the season,” Rogers said. “Being able to get a full offseason of strength and conditioning, that was the biggest change for me.”
Keyon Ware-Hudson (19 pounds), Taki Taimani (15), Jordan Burch (15) and Popo Aumavae (11) all also added significant weight over the last year, while Brandon Dorlus was unchanged and some of the true freshmen had large increases relative to their listed weights as recruits, though those are notoriously unreliable measures.
Aumavae missed last season due to injury and Burch is one of Oregon’s most significant offseason transfers. Adding their talent and boosting the power of a line that helped produce a run defense that ranked in the top 15 for most of last season before finishing No. 30 (124.8 rushing yards allowed per game) could lead to improvement this fall.
“Popo is a great addition for us that offers a size-speed combination,” Lupoi said. “The additions of Jordan Burch along with some quality young players. It starts up front and so we got to we made big strides last season, obviously, until the last rival game having a real poor performance on defeating the run. Building up to that point, being a top 20 rush defense and ending, I think we ended up as the 30th best rush defense in the country.
“(That’s) not to our standard, but it’s a place where we grew. And that’s a place that we want to continue to grow on. For us to be successful or to be able to compete at the level we want to, we’ve got to stop that run.”
The defensive line began fall camp markedly healthier than the year before, when Dorlus, Ware-Hudson and Aumavae were all coming off injuries, with the latter getting hurt again.
Some of the same players have been limited over the last two weeks, specifically Ware-Hudson, so it’s not as optimal a situation as a month ago. But the Ducks also have more time before their biggest nonconference test and by then, other contributors could emerge from the influx of freshmen.
“It’s been really good,” defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said. “We’ve been able to get some quality reps with two spot (practices), gives a chance for the young guys to develop and get reps as well. So it’s been awesome, especially to have the veteran leadership back has been really good.”