The first day of spring practice is more than a month away, but it’s never too early to take a look at what Oregon must do this spring to be a championship contender in the fall.
We’ll be doing different countdowns looking at players, position groups and position battles over the next month. We’re starting this week with the five position groups that need to improve the most. We’re on the second-to-last day and you can probably guess these last two.
No. 2: Defensive line
2013 review: Teams attacked the Ducks’ defense pretty evenly last season. Opponents averaged 43 rushes and 37 passes per game against Oregon. However, the Ducks allowed 123 rushing first downs, which put them 82nd in the nation, tied with Oregon State. However, Oregon did finish better when it came to stopping the run in crucial territory. Opponents averaged a touchdown just 3.2 percent of the time they chose to rush, which was -- a much more respectable -- 23rd nationally. The defensive front stopped rushing attacks for a no-gain or negative yardage 100 times (No. 97 nationally) and 67 percent of the time opposing offenses gained first downs when they chose to run the ball on fourth down. The Ducks were a bit better at getting pressure on quarterbacks. They finished with 29 sacks (T-45th nationally, No. 7 in the Pac 12) which gave the Ducks a sack on 5.7 percent of opposing teams’ plays (No. 74 nationally, No. 7 in the Pac-12). But those numbers are all to be taken with a grain of salt when coupled with the prolific Oregon offense. At the end of the day, the defense got it done. Only six times did it allow more than 20 points, but in both of its losses the offense scored 20 or fewer points.
Why they must improve: The Ducks lose two of three starters on the defensive line and are going to need to get new starters in place so this unit can gel before it faces an experienced Michigan State offense in Week 2. That game is going to be a huge benchmark for the Ducks, and if they’re not able to put together a complete performance, it could be an early blemish that keeps coming up during playoff talk down the road. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner returns after a solid sophomore season (39 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble). Alex Balducci will try to step in at nose tackle while Arik Armstead will play on the end. Armstead is playing basketball this winter (he has appeared in one game for the Ducks). Stetzon Bair and T.J. Daniel will both provide competition at those spots, but neither has significant experience on the defensive line. A year after this was a stout position group going into the spring, it’s one of the biggest questions marks now.