Kayvon Thibodeaux shocked the country when he arrived at Oregon in 2019 as the highest-rated recruit in program history (0.9987 on 247 Sports composite). He quickly established himself as a premier pass rusher and elevated the Ducks' defense to a new level.
He enters his third year at Oregon having only played one complete season and will be under the direction of a new defensive coordinator in Tim DeRuyter. DeRuyter has worked with freakish edge talents like Von Miller, and it sounds like he's already getting creative with his top defensive talent.
"I think I've transitioned more into an outside linebacker--I'm not so much a D-end," Thibodeaux said.
DeRuyter's defense is creating a new role for him, going from the STUD position in Andy Avalos' defense to the new Joker position, which allows him to play both inside and outside.
"It's more about getting the job done," he said. "We get a little bit more freedom on how we can play certain techniques, but still lining up in the same position and making it look different."
KT's new position has him learning more of the skills that come with the linebacker position, including lining up in a two-point stance and honing additional skills to compliment his pass rushing repertoire.
"I've kind of just been transitioning into actually learning the whole skill of the coverage," he said of his new area of study. "I've been working on standing up, working on my get-offs."
Thibodeaux noted open field tackling is an area he's working to improve, but his athleticism will make it easier to step back into some of the traditional linebacker roles he's filled earlier on in his football career.
Taking on a more diverse role seems like it could utilize even more of what Mario Cristobal has called "limitless potential."
"I think for me, playing D-end--it didn't put me in a box, but it did," he said. "Because it kind of dumbed down my technique and dumbed down my footwork and dumbed down everything that I was doing.
"Now all my off-season work is actually being put to use and being put to work--with the coverage jobs and the different techniques I can do."
It's probably fair to say DeRuyter's defense is being built around Thibodeaux, and his early impressions are nothing but positive. He hopes his versatility in coverage and rushing the passer can help him bring home a Heisman trophy, which would make him the first defensive player to win the award since Charles Woodson added it to the trophy case in Ann Arbor.
"He (DeRuyter) puts me in more positions to make plays," the All-American said. "Really, I'm like the bigger Jamal Hill."
He's the strongest pass rusher on the team, but the emergence of another player that could get after the quarterback would make the defense even more dangerous. In his eyes, there's no shortage of guys that could be next up.
"If you asked me I feel like this is the best defense, the best team that probably Oregon has ever seen."
Competition is instrumental to Mario Cristobal's "iron sharpens iron" mentality, and so far in spring it's present at every level of the defense, whether it's starters or backups.
"When I run off the field I instantly have a guy, a younger dude, a Bradyn Swinson--either correcting me or telling what I could have did," Thibodeaux said of Oregon's collective effort in practice. "Or vice versa when they come out we're instantly helping each other and figuring out how we could be better and how we can improve."
One game everyone is eying next season is the September 11 matchup against Ohio State in the Shoe. It'll be crucial for KT to get after the Buckeyes' quarterback if Oregon wants to secure a signature win over a blue blood.
"Once you watch enough football you'll learn the line of scrimmage wins the game," he said. "Whoever wins the line of scrimmage is gonna win the game. It's marked down on my calendar too."
For now the team is focused on progressing in spring ball and preparing for the season opener against Fresno State.
The Ducks will continue practice on Thursday.
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