'Praying Mantis' may bolster Oregon's pass rush
EUGENE - He's all arms and legs, a whirlwind of an athlete at 6-7, 240 pounds on the edge for the University of Oregon.
No wonder Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti affectionately nicknamed him the "Praying Mantis."
Junior defensive end Dion Jordan likes the nickname - because his coach gave it to him.
"I have no choice," he says, chuckling.
A converted tight end who saw plenty of duty in 2010 as one of assistant coach Jerry Azzinaro's rotating defensive linemen, Jordan enters the season as one of Oregon's rising stars. Aliotti had the pleasure of counting on Nick Reed and Kenny Rowe to rush the passer in recent years, and points to Jordan to continue to wreak havoc.
"He's the Praying Mantis," says Aliotti, of Jordan.
The name comes from considering Jordan's combination of strength, athleticism, knifing arms and churning legs.
"I love his effort and athleticism, his speed,' Aliotti says. 'He's the one guy who stands out (among pass rushers).
"We have some pass rushers, but the No. 1 guy is the Praying Mantis."
Jordan, from Chandler, Ariz., and senior Terrell Turner figure to be the Ducks' starting defensive ends. The Ducks may or may not miss Rowe, who followed in the footsteps of Reed, the school-record holder in sacks. Reed had 29 1/2 sacks in his career and Rowe 23 1/2. Jordan's first season at D-end produced two sacks and 5 1/2 tackles for loss.
But Jordan has put on another 10 pounds, making it 20 total since switching from tight end before 2010 spring ball. He'll make some tackles against the run, having played well on special teams the past couple years, but he'll excel in the pass rush.
"I feel like I'm coming along pretty well," Jordan says. "I practice every day with Coach Azzinaro, and he teaches us techniques and fundamentals that we'll use in game situations. Last year, we made a lot of plays off the edge, and the more turnovers and sacks we can get will help our offense and team."
The Ducks face LSU in the opener Saturday (5 p.m PT) at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, and Jordan says he should make his presence known.
"It is all preparation," he says. "I prepare, and the rest of the D-linemen prepare, as well as anybody in the country. No problem to go out there on Saturday and do what we do.
"There's not a lot proving we have to do. We have a lot of people with a lot of confidence who've been in a lot of situations that other people haven't. We're confident enough to go against anybody, step on the field with anybody."
Brandon Bair, about Jordan's height but much heavier, proved his worth as a long-armed defensive linemen the past couple years. In Jordan and 6-6 Taylor Hart, the Ducks have a couple others in the same mold. Jordan knows that offensive tackles and tight ends will try to get inside his arms, negating an advantage, and break him down with leverage and push.
Jordan will go high and low to get around the blockers. He's been working on everything, especially coming off watching the likes of Rowe and Bair.
Then again, Jordan's schooling goes back to 2008 and 2009, when he had been tabbed by coach Chip Kelly as the next great Oregon tight end. The problem was that Ed Dickson, who dabbled at defensive end himself, had established himself as one of the country's top tight ends. The coaches went into the 2009-10 offseason, after UO's Rose Bowl visit, evaluating whether Jordan would be better suited at tight end or moved to defensive end.
Kelly framed it as a move to better the team and get Jordan on the field. The Ducks had David Paulson and Brandon Williams at tight end for the 2010 season, although Williams had an injury keep him out much of the campaign and then had to retire.
Jordan never fussed about the change to defense.
"I just wanted to play," he said.
He flourished on special teams and at defensive end last season. And, a year after being a reserve player who rotated in, he'll surely be on the radar for opposing scouting reports.
So, what will 6-5, 330-pound offensive tackles try to do with him?
"I wonder what I'm going to do to him," he says, of such an opposing lineman, as he chuckles again. "They're going to do whatever they've got to do to stop my speed. I'm not worried about what he'll do to me."
Jordan says he misses playing tight end "big-time." He envisioned scoring touchdowns and then trying to make himself an NFL player.
The goal has remained the same, only the position changed. And, it's not like Jordan hasn't dealt with challenges. As a prep senior, he and some buddies tried to siphon gasoline from an automobile using a vacuum; the vacuum sparked, flames erupted and Jordan suffered severe burns, which left visible scars on his arms and legs.
He will have to get bigger to play in the NFL, but Jordan says his 6-7 frame can handle much more weight for an NFL bid.
"It's time to make the dream a reality," he says. "I prepare myself to take the next step. When it's time for me to get there, I'll be ready."