Outside linebacker Mase Funa enters his third season with a new defensive coordinator and a more substantial role on and off the field given the youth in the linebacker room. Last season under Andy Avalos, Funa played the STUD position — a combination of defensive end and linebacker — but under DeRuyter, he is playing more of what he called a "true outside linebacker position," playing on the boundary while also occasionally dropping into coverage.
"My first impression of the defense is I love it," said Funa, who recorded a career-high 31 tackles last season despite only playing half as many games as he did in 2019. "There’s some similarities to Avalos’ defense, but with all the new installs and everything else, I love it."
There's been some carry over in DeRuyter's defense from the previous scheme, and Funa is one of many players that have echoed a smooth transition.
"If you were to come and watch it, you would probably say that this doesn’t look like we just got a new defensive coordinator," Funa said. "Everything is so fluid like water; everyone is moving fast and physical on both sides of the ball."
The Ducks are about halfway through spring practice, but for Funa, this is his first true taste of spring ball at Oregon. He arrived on campus the summer before his freshman season, and the Ducks only had four spring practices in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.
"I had to make up a whole new routine,” he said. “I’ve just been studying so much at home and making sure that I know what I gotta do so that when I get to practice it, there’s no flaws or anything and just play.”
Funa has found his role on defense as a versatile veteran linebacker who can blow plays up at the line and make open-field tackles. Off the field, he is mentoring other linebackers like Treven Ma’ae and Jaden Navarrette, who Funa said have both picked up the new defense “pretty easily” and looked consistent throughout spring practice.
"That’s the main thing that we’re building on with this spring practice-- just building up the consistency and just making sure that when we go out there and get the calls from the sideline, even though it’s a new defense, that we just play without thinking too much,” Funa said. “With the outside linebacker group, everyone is doing a great job with it.”
Funa added that Adrian Jackson is looking “explosive as ever” and “fast off the edge.” Kayvon Thibodeaux has also been taking reps at outside linebacker and adding new dimensions to his game.
“He’s gotten way better at his coverages,” Funa said.
One of the talks of the offseason from the coaching staff and the players has been the growth of the offensive line. Funa said the maulers up front have taken a “huge jump” from last season.
“They’re just dominant,” he said. “They’re dogs. I know that it’s gonna be a fun season for our quarterback.”
The battle of the trenches will be fun to watch, especially with Funa lining up on the boundary while still dropping back into coverage. Funa figures to be one of the most versatile players on the defensive side of the ball this season.
“I know I look like a big guy, but I can move pretty well in space, and (DeRuyter)’s been utilizing that pretty well with me,” Funa said.
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