Assistant head coach/defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro knows that battling Chip Kelly's offense day in and day out will help the defense prepare for Sundays in the fall. At the same time, Azzinaro wants you to know that the defense is going to battle-test the offense as well.
"There was a benefit to us going against up-tempo, but it's a benefit for them to go against a defense that could run and that would play consistent day in and day out," said Azzinaro, who coached at Oregon with Kelly. "It's perfect sparring partners."
Kelly's teams at Oregon were known for prolific offensive performances, but the program's success would not have happened without sound defensive play as well. Last year, Oregon ranked 25th in the nation in scoring defense allowing 21.3 points per game. That average was better than the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens last season and well ahead of the mark set by the Eagles, who surrendered 27.8 points per contest. In 2010, the Ducks ranked 12th in the nation in scoring defense allowing 18.7 points per game.
The Ducks were also proficient at taking the ball away in the air. Last year, the Ducks ranked first in the nation in interceptions with 25. The Eagles had eight a year ago. Oregon's ability to pluck the ball away has been consistent as they ranked 17th in the nation in 2011 and were tied for sixth in 2010. New defensive backs coach John Lovett, who did not previously coach at Oregon, explained why this offense is "the best" to practice against.
"It's the best because if they can sort it all out and get started and finish the play like they're supposed to, when somebody starts huddling up it's going to be easier," Lovett said. "I think the stress that is put on them by this system is really good."
Outside linebacker Connor Barwin signed with the Eagles this past offseason after four years with the Houston Texans. Barwin admitted that the Texans used to struggle with teams that have incorporated elements of Kelly's up-tempo offense.
"This is obviously going to have us prepared to play those offenses. I think in the offseason just the nature of not being able to be that physical, some teams that go against a traditional offense all summer, you can't really do much, at least the guys up front," he said. "But here I think we're all really gaining a lot because having to play in space and having to play against that offense works out well during this time of the year."
Barwin's position coach, Bill McGovern, described the training sessions against the offense as simply "challenging."
"You learn the full length of the field. You learn how wide it is. You learn how deep it is. You're going to have to cover everything," McGovern said. "What's great about it is that it forces you to be detail-oriented. You need to pay attention and detail your work. You have to make sure you're on top of what you're doing, what your responsibilities are and what you need to be doing on every play."
As new coordinator Bill Davis installs his defense, he has the ideal offense to test it against on a daily basis. Davis looks to provide the same benefit for the offense.
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