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D-tackles see a solid UO defense

by: JIM CLARK, Track athletes (from left) Jeremy Bahr-Worley, Kristen Hamman, Amanda Davis and Shawn Magee took up racewalking to help Concordia score more points at the NAIA track and field meet.

Big defensive tackle Ra’Shon “Sonny” Harris has great expectations for the Oregon defense in 2008. “We’re striving to be the best in the nation — not just the Northwest, the Pac-10 or the West,” he says. The 6-5, 310-pound Harris and fellow senior D-tackle Cole Linehan, 6-4 and 295, could have a big say in how good the Ducks end up being on defense. They are expected to be senior start-ers, as the most experienced players, although sophomore Tonio Celotto and junior college transfers Blake Ferras and Justin Thompson should be in the mix. It remains to be determined how much 6-4, 320-pound Simi Toeaina can help the Ducks. He has had injuries, and coaches have at times wondered about his drive. And the undersize Michael Speed (6-4, 255) may play end and tackle, like Matt Toeaina and Jeremy Gibbs of previous years. Tackles stood and delivered Coach Mike Bellotti again has identified defensive tackle as the main area of concern on defense, for the second consecutive year. But the D-tackles performed well last year, led by the departed David Faaeteete and Gibbs. The Ducks played good team defense last year, swarming to the ball, with secondary players in the starring roles. It won’t be any different this year, with wily Nick Reed at defense end, athletic linebackers and some of the Pac-10’s best defensive backs in Patrick Chung, Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond. Defensive tackle has been unfairly identified as the weak spot for the past three seasons by opponents and fans who remember when the Ducks were stout at the position with Haloti Ngata, Junior Siavii and Igor Olshansky. The easiest way to break down a defense is to run up the middle, and the defensive tackles have used the perceived weakness in the middle as a motivation. “It felt good to make plays and let people know we were for real last season,” says Linehan, from Banks. “We have some good linebackers, but the D-line wants to make plays, too. We know our role most of the time is to soak up blocks and let linebackers jump in, but at other times it’s up to us to step up and make something happen.” Linehan can get past a center or guard and get to the quarterback. Harris is a run-stopper, for the most part. Many could play Defensive line coach Michael Gray likes to play four or five defensive tackles each game. The strong Celotto played last season, as a true freshman, after overcoming a staph infection. He needs to improve on his lateral movement. Toeaina has the size. “I’ve been noticing Simi lately,” Linehan says. “His get-off is really good, and he’s starting to hit people.” Speed, who started the 2007 opener and then didn’t play much more, has the agility. “That’s what I strive to be — a very good team player, not selfish, a guy who works hard every day,” Harris says of Speed, another senior.