Ducks' D hunts for depth at linebacker as Virginia looms

UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.EUGENE — Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is one of those tough-as-nails, old-school guys.

Throughout his career, Aliotti has taken much criticism about his defenses giving up a lot of yards and points.

The bend-but-don’t break philosophy has delivered results, though.

Aliotti was with the Ducks when they won the 1994 Pac-10 championship. After that season, when Aliotti was not hired to replace Rich Brooks as head coach, he left Oregon and went to the NFL, coaching with the St. Louis Rams from 1995-97.

In 1998, Aliotti was the defensive coordinator at UCLA when the Bruins won the Pac-10 championship. Aliotti returned the next season to Oregon, where he has been ever since.

While Oregon’s offense gets most of the credit for the program’s success over the past four years, Aliotti’s defense has played its part in Oregon reaching four consecutive BCS bowl games.

Now in his 22nd season with Oregon, Aliotti still remembers what it was like at Oregon when the program did not have tens of millions of dollars flooding into it and when defenders were still allowed to knock a ball carrier into next Thursday.

Aliotti is never afraid to speak his mind. Consider his reaction to a question about cornerback Terrance Mitchell being ejected for targeting during Oregon’s 66-3 win over Nicholls State last week.

“I hope there’s more common sense in making these kinds of calls,” he said. “Can I get fined for this? You know what? I don’t care. They’re wrong. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong. ... I’m a bad guy. If wanting perfection and execution and being perfect is bad then I’m bad. Because that’s what I want. I wish those officials would have some more common sense.”

Aliotti took some time after the season opener to reflect on the old days, the new days and Oregon’s new head coach.

Here are some questions and his answers:

Q: Seeing what the program was like in the ‘90s and the facilities you had, what do you think of the new Hatfield-Dowlin Complex?

Aliotti: I’ve got to be careful. I’ll say that I’m appreciative of what people have done. This is an outstanding building. It’s state-of-the-art, maybe the finest facility in the country.

But, to me, the guys in the uniform are more important than all this stuff. It’s about how we act on and off the field and how hard we play.

I hope that we don’t become a bunch of guys who feel like we’re entitled. I come from humble beginnings. When you go to a Division-II school like UC Davis, you don’t have much. When I started here with Rich Brooks, we didn’t have much. We went to the Rose Bowl without this kind of stuff.

This is nice, this is awesome, I’m very appreciative of what they’ve given us. But I hope the players understand what it really takes. It’s not about the bells and whistles, it’s about the Johnnys and the Joes.

Q: Last week was your first game under first-year head coach Mark Helfrich. How does that compare to coaching under Chip Kelly?

Aliotti: Chip Kelly for four years never said one word to me on the headset during the game. Mark didn’t say a word (against Nicholls State). Whether that will or won’t change, I don’t know. But Mark has been fabulous. He’s let us do our thing.

Q: What do you think of the new targeting rule?

Aliotti: That rule is very tough. My understanding is if the stands go, “Wow,” then that’s a call for ejection.

That rule is one that’s going to be tough on a lot of us coaches on defense. They’re really concerned about concussions, as you can see in the NFL. And we are too. But, on defense, you have to be aggressive and hit and be like monsters on the field, and then when you get off the field I want you to be a perfect gentleman. But, on the field you have to be violent and aggressive.

Q: How do you feel about the depth of your defense?

Aliotti: Our defensive line has depth. Our secondary has depth. Our linebackers ... we need to get some depth, and we’ve said that from day one.

Q: You finally got to see the 2013 defense in a real game. What were your impressions of it against Nicholls State?

Aliotti: Overall, I’m pleased. The ‘W’ is the biggest stat, the three points is the second-biggest stat. When you look at the total plays, it was 87 snaps (by Nicholls State) for 343 yards — that’s less than four yards a play. That’s really good.

I’m not totally jumping up and down about the way we played. I want to snuff people out, but that doesn’t happen (very often) now.

Be thankful for a win. I’m not going to sit here and apologize for a 66-3 win, I can guarantee you that, because next week we have a tough game away against Virginia, and we’ll see what happens there.

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