After being mostly dominated up front by the likes of Auburn and LSU in the past two years, the Oregon coaching staff seems to have made a slight shift in their approach to the game. The smaller, yet fast and powerful Ducks have been built to win the Pac-12, and that has proven to be fruitful in recent years.
However, when faced with the task of matching up against SEC powerhouses in big games, the Ducks were faced with lining up against teams that could match their speed while holding a size advantage up front. While the Ducks held up for the most part, they were unable to play their normal game. Head coach Chip Kelly took notice and has changed his philosophy ever so slightly.
The Ducks still want to play fast and still want to be the most fit team on the field every time they step on the field, but Kelly hasn't been shy about admitting the disadvantage his teams were faced with. The often brash head coach did something a lot of high-profile coaches wouldn't do. He admitted that his system might not always work against the mighty SEC without the proper personnel.
One way to gauge Kelly's shift in philosophy is by looking at the defensive linemen the Ducks brought in this past recruiting cycle: 6-foot-8, 297-pound Arik Armstead; 6-foot-7, 240-pound DeForest Buckner; 6-foot-4, 260-pound Alex Balducci; 6-foot-6, 230-pound Cody Carriger and 6-foot-7, 275-pound Stetson Bair.
After years of having smaller and quicker defensive linemen, the Ducks look to be building a front wall that can match the size and power of the NFL lineman factories in the Southeast.
With four signees at 6-foot-6 or taller, the Ducks will have a height advantage over most teams and creating smaller passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks. With that type of height, teams often lose athleticism and strength, but with athletes like Armstead, Buckner and Carriger having standout high school careers in multiple sports, they will lead the way as the Ducks look to piece together a complete team.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Ducks still look for quick and agile offensive linemen that allow for the offense to operate at full speed. The size on the offensive front hasn't changed much and most likely won't, based on the type of system the Ducks run.
The lone offensive lineman they signed this past year, junior college tackle Kyle Long, checks in at 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds and brings a nasty streak with his physical presence.
The group of wide receivers at Oregon has gone through phases of being small and fast or big and strong. The current crop of receivers offers a good mix of size, strength and speed. While the Ducks lost their biggest weapon in Rose Bowl MVP LaVasier Tuinei, they have some good size ready to step in.
Incoming freshman Dwayne Stanford will come in at 6-foot-5 and 195-pounds and should be the physical presence the Ducks haven't had on the outside since Jaison Williams made a career out of pancaking opposing defensive backs.
Stanford has the frame to add another 20 to 30 pounds during his career and having one go-to blocker on the edge can go a long way toward helping attack bigger, stronger defensive teams.
Linebacker is another position that always falls short in terms of size when looking at the Oregon lineup. In the Rose Bowl season of 2009, Eddie Pleasant, who later moved to safety, was a starting linebacker at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds.
The core of the linebacker rotation in 2012 will be one of the Ducks' most physically impressive groups in years.
The Ducks will likely use a rotation featuring Michael Clay (5-foot-11, 225-pounds), Kiko Alonso (6-foot-4, 240-pounds), Boseko Lokombo (6-foot-3, 230-pounds), Anthony Wallace (6-foot-1, 230-pounds), Rodney Hardrick (6-foot-1, 235-pounds) and Derrick Malone (6-foot-2, 215-pounds).
Everyone has to deal with adversity. Some adjust to it and others are stubborn about making the necessary changes. The fact that the Oregon staff is actively trying to make a change in order to compete with the top teams in the biggest games should make Ducks fans happy.
Time will tell if the slight shift in philosophy and the increase in size will pay dividends when the Ducks are faced with the task of going to battle with the most physical teams in the nation.
The Ducks have had so much success in recent years that changing too much would be a major mistake, but it is apparent that the coaching staff is determined to make the necessary changes in order to allow for the team to be ready to match up with any team in the nation when the big prize is on the line.