During the next few weeks, we’re going to go through Oregon’s roster, position by position, examining what talent was lost to graduation or the NFL and what that leaves the Ducks with in 2014.
We’ve finished up with the offense, and now we’re moving on to the defensive side of the ball, starting with the defensive line (not including the drop end, which we’ll analyze tomorrow).
Lost statistics: 134 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Who’s back in 2014: junior Arik Armstead, junior DeForest Buckner, junior Alex Balducci, redshirt junior Sam Kamp, redshirt junior Christian French, redshirt junior Stetzon Bair, redshirt sophomore T.J. Daniel, junior Tui Talia, redshirt sophomore Cody Carriger, redshirt freshman Jason Sloan, redshirt freshman Jonathan Kenion, redshirt freshman Jason Sloan, incoming freshman Justin Hollins
Returning statistics: 94 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Outlook: Few teams can say their top defensive line from 2013 is now currently signed with NFL teams. Hart (fifth-round pick) and Keliikipi (free agent) landed with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, while Havili-Heimuli (free agent) signed with Jacksonville. That stands as both a point of pride and pain for the Ducks -- bragging rights but also many tackles to make up for in 2014, all at the same time.
So, yes, that’s a very hard trio to lose in one season, but it’s also not time for everyone to freak out. There’s plenty of experience returning in the form of Armstead, Buckner and Balducci, who -- assuming there’s not a defensive line apocalypse -- will be the three starters on the line this fall.
All three of those guys are juniors, and they’re joined by five other juniors or redshirt juniors, so there’s plenty of maturity on the line. But maturity doesn’t necessarily mean consistent production (as the Oregon D-line showed at times last season). But with that many upperclassmen battling for so few spots, there should be a lot of competition along the line, which will be good for everyone.
The bottom line is that they’re going to need to be stronger against the run this year. As a unit, they’re taller than they were last year (2013 average height: 6-foot-4; 2014 average height: 6-6), but they’re also lighter (2013 average weight: 302 pounds; 2014 average weight: 295 pounds). Theoretically, this means they should be quicker off the line while also having longer arms that will help them be more disruptive. Whether or not that happens, we’ll see. But in the spring game this entire group looked much improved, so assuming that curve continues, this could be a surprising area of strength this fall for the Ducks. (Better yet, they’ll all be seniors in 2015 and could be one of the few strengths of the team then.)
Other spring position reviews: