Bryson Young was mostly an innocent bystander at the Las Vegas Bowl.
The reserve outside linebacker participated in Oregon’s 38-28 loss to Boise State but did not register a tackle, a common occurrence for Young during three unstable seasons for the program.
Young made a total of five tackles during Jim Leavitt’s two seasons as defensive coordinator and 12 tackles as a true freshman during Brady Hoke’s calamitous one-and-done campaign.
When Young and his defensive teammates were on the sideline during the Las Vegas Bowl, they watched Leighton Vander Esch and the Broncos smother Oregon’s running game (47 net yards) and harass Justin Herbert (sacked four times) while spoiling Mario Cristobal’s debut as head coach.
With Andy Avalos, Boise State’s defensive coordinator that afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium, joining the Ducks, Young and some other older players seemingly lost in the shuffle now have an opportunity to step into the spotlight.
“This is the most comfortable I've been, literally since I've been here,” Young said after a recent fall camp practice.
Avalos has described Young, a 6-foot-5, 248-pound senior, as being an ideal fit for his hybrid “stud” linebacker/defensive end position.
“That’s the type of length we are looking for with size and mobility,” Avalos said of Young’s athleticism and measurements. “That is the other part I should mention, his mobility and the ability to open and close his hips and change direction drastically improved in the spring time. …
“It was constant progression, not only in the run game, but the pass game, too, and being able to do different things on the boundary-side edge. He’s a very consistent player, and you can probably attribute that to the way he prepares and is spending extra time in the classroom.”
Young said he felt relatively comfortable lining up “with a hand in the dirt” and helping set the edge at the line of scrimmage in Hoke’s 4-3 defense. But Mark Helfrich and his entire coaching staff were fired after the 4-8 finish in 2016.
In Leavitt’s 3-4 base, Young did not crack the two-deep at the outside linebacker positions, where more sleek athletes like Justin Hollins and La’Mar Winston thrived.
That all changed when Cristobal hired Avalos, who has had Young playing with the first team since installing the defense in the spring.
“I think there’s a system there that plays to his skill set. He just plays with such a tenacity and a motor that gives him that opportunity,” defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said of Young finding a comfortable niche in the front seven. “I’m really excited for him and what he’s been able to get done in this short amount of time in camp. … I think he’s found a home there with (Avalos’) outside backer spot.”
Young said when quarterbacks drop back to throw, the responsibilities for the studs are split evenly between rushing the passer and coverage.
“But mainly, the biggest emphasis on that position is the run game,” Young added. “And how you play that, you have to be a physical type of cat. It's not really like a nickel (five defensive backs) type, you have to be a bigger, heavier type of guy for that position.”
Having Avalos, who coaches the studs, express confidence in him has helped Young’s rebirth entering his final season with the Ducks.
“That’s really helpful,” Young said. “It's always good to have the main guy in your room as your position coach, because you really get a full view of the whole defense. So you know what you’re doing.”
Young is learning his third defense in four seasons, but Gus Cumberlander — who is also emerging as a key player in Avalos’ 2019 plan — has him beat. The fifth-year senior spent his redshirt season practicing in Don Pellum’s 3-4 defense.
The 6-7, 256-pound Cumberlander is expected to replace some of Jalen Jelks' production at defensive end after finishing second on the team with four sacks in 2018.
“It's been fun, definitely competitive,” Cumberlander said of the transition to his fourth defensive coordinator at Oregon. “It's all our first year running this defense under coach Avalos. It’s very different from the defense we ran with coach Hoke, so it's been fun learning the nuances of the defense, learning the different details.
“We're all getting each other better. I mean, we're not holding out anything from one another.”
Over the years, Cumberlander has learned a variety of techniques, including the 3 (lining up in the middle of the B gap between the guard and offensive tackle), the 4-I (lining up on inside shoulder of an offensive tackle) and the 5 (lining up on outside shoulder of the offensive tackle).
Besides size, speed and smarts, Avalos is obviously keen on versatility.
“I think both,” Cristobal said when asked if the emergence of Young and Cumberlander was due to the fit in Avalos’ system or their development as players. “When you have two guys that are that long, that athletic, that explosive, they deserve an opportunity, and they’ve certainly gotten that now. They're making the most of it. …
“We have to force the issue to get guys like that on the field, and they did not disappoint because they have relentless motors. And when you have that, when you have attention to detail and a high desire to achieve, you're going to do well. And that's what they do.”
Oregon returns starting nose guard Jordon Scott, as well as experienced defensive ends Austin Faoliu, Drayton Carlberg and Gary Baker.
Freshman phenom Kayvon Thibodeaux and Miami transfer DJ Johnson, two dynamic talents, have been learning the stud and defensive end positions.
Winston and Adrian Jackson add to the experience at outside linebacker, where true freshmen Mase Funa and Treven Ma’ae are also competing.
Senior tackling machine Troy Dye, sophomore Isaac Slade-Matautia and junior Sampson Niu are the three inside linebackers the defensive staff would be comfortable putting on the field for a game at this stage.
Players say the competition during fall camp has been ratcheted up with the mix of older players used to change and the influx of talent in the 2019 recruiting class.
“There's been more leadership this year, especially from the senior class with everything we’ve been through,” Young said. “It's easy for us to lead and step up because now we know what we have to do that we weren't getting. So we’re giving that, and the young guys are picking it up really quickly. That's all a good flow.”
Last month Young tweeted: “Can’t express my excitement to get back to work this fall camp. Waited a long time for this season.”
When the Ducks kick off the highly anticipated 2019 campaign on Aug. 31 against Auburn at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, he will be much more than a bystander.
“Definitely,” Cumberlander said of Young’s evolution. “He works hard and everything he does is with a really high effort. The coaches really spotlight him going through meetings, just admiring his effort and energy running to the ball.”