After losing to Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl, inside linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia said the Ducks are as competitive as ever in spring practice.
“A lot of guys who returned were part of that, and we have a chip on our shoulder because we knew we should’ve had that game,” he said.
The Honolulu native is one of the leaders of the young defense, as he tied with Noah Sewell for the team lead in tackles (45) last season. In his fifth season at Oregon, Slade-Matautia looks to “perfect every aspect of my game and be the best player I know I can be.”
He added that another goal is to not just contend for a national championship but “make it and take it.”
Slade-Matautia said that learning Tim DeRuyter’s defense has been rather easy. DeRuyter will be Slade-Matautia’s third defensive coordinator since arriving on campus in 2017 (Leavitt, Avalos, DeRuyter).
“It’s actually been way easier,” Slade-Matautia said. “It’s easier focusing on what you got to do when you have guys that you know you can depend on.”
The Oregon defense will return many starters in the front seven, like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Noah Sewell, Brandon Dorlus, and Mase Funa. Slade-Matautia will be one of the biggest mentors for the young players, especially inside linebackers like Justin Flowe, Jackson LaDuke, Keith Brown, and TJ Gilbert.
“[We need to] make sure that they’re comfortable playing,” Slade-Matautia said of his role with the young defensive players. “The main thing is just to be confident in your play and know that once you’re confident and comfortable, you’re not thinking too much.”
Flowe is one of many highly-touted players that has the fan base buzzing. Rated a consensus 5-star coming out of high school, he has yet to be turned loose after missing most of last season with a torn meniscus. Slade-Matautia said that Flowe has done a great job of learning the playbook and asking questions.
“He’s still a work in progress,” Slade-Matautia said. “I’m excited because he’s gonna show a lot of people that he’s still here.”
In the first year under DeRuyter, the Ducks have room to improve from last season. They struggled to stop the run for most of the season, finishing seventh in the conference in run defense (169.6 rushing yards allowed per game) after finishing 13th nationally (108.9 rushing yards allowed per game) in 2019.
Slade-Matautia said that he expects the defense to take a big step this season.
“I’m proud of where we are right now with the new defense and overall as a team,” he said. “I feel like we’re gonna do better things this year.”
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