In Defense Of: The Duck Defensive Line
Gone from the 2013 Duck D-Line are such stalwarts as Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart and Ricky Havili-Heimuli. All very good players who will be missed, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Though some fans panicked at Oregon’s inability to close on a couple of highly regarded D-Lineman on LOI day, there remains much to look forward to from the Duck’s DL in 2014. Here are some reasons to believe Oregon’s D-Line will deliver:
Arik Armstead hangs up his Nike Hyperdunks.
Or at least they’re now strictly really cool campus kicks. When last seen on the hardwood, he was taking a pass from Jalil Abdul-Bassit and deftly kissing the ball off the glass for two. He showed soft hands, great feet and amazing quickness in a tight space to make an athletic play few college lineman could pull off.
Now he’s all in for football, which can only mean he’s determined to make his 2014 season special. Heaven knows, at 6-8 and a chipotle burrito under three bills, he doesn’t need to get any bigger. Yet apparently he’s taking his game from the hardwood of the Matthew Knight Arena to the even harder Brazilian Ipe wood of the weight room in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. If you’re a Pac-12 offensive lineman, this is not good news.
DeForest DeStroys offenses.
No player’s continued progression is any more tantalizing than DeForest Buckner’s. Few and far between are the players who are ready to step on the field as true freshmen and play significant snaps. Buckner did that in 2012, which is why in just his third year in the program, it feels like he’s been around forever.
He’s 6-7 and 286 pounds. He’s a Hawaiian hoss. Buckner is tough against the run, explosive at the snap (thanks Jimmy Rad!) and fast enough to run down a play from behind. With his towering frame, might he add even more muscle and not lose any quickness? Either way, he’s got All Pac-12 potential.
Washington hates Washington.
Okay, maybe not really. How much rancor can one’s heart muster for a team routinely trampled? All Tony Washington was tasked to do in 2013 was step in and make everyone forget the departure of Dion Jordan, the third player chosen in the 2013 NFL Draft. All he did was make plays with 60 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. And, to go with his Pac-12 Academic All-Conference honors, he’s studying right now for a big senior finish to his Oregon career.
We just like saying “Balducci.”
Great football name, Alex Balducci. Right? It’s a moniker that would have been at home in the classic movie The Godfather. Balducci would have been the hit man Luca Brasi. You can just see DL coach Ron Aiken glancing at the beefy Portland native a bit off-handedly and saying, “Balducci, take care of it.” Look for the defensive tackle out of Central Catholic to continue to make Oregonians proud in 2014. And look for running backs and quarterbacks to be the ones “sleeping with the fishes” (fans under 40, Google it).
Christian French? Oui.
Of the players mentioned so far, big Christian French is the biggest unknown. But the upside is undeniable. Flash back to the 2011 Army All-American game, the first and still most renowned of the growing number of national high school All-Star tilts. French runs about forty yards to catch and tackle a running back from behind.
We’re talking about a running back that probably runs a 4.4 forty! Army All-American running backs are not Budweiser Clydesdales, but French is a big, very fast defensive end. Time will tell whether or not the physically gifted athlete will take his game to the next level in 2014. He certainly wouldn’t be the first player to shine in his third year in the program.
The Poly Pipeline continues.
New defensive coordinator Don Pellum and defensive line coach Ron Aiken are hopeful they’re getting immediate help in the form of J.C. All-American Tui Talia out of the Bay Area’s Diablo Valley College. After all, the 6-5, 270-pound Tulia was ranked the No. 1 Junior College DE by ESPN.com. While the jump from J.C. to Pac-12 football is considerable, Talia will be one to watch during Spring ball.
Then there’s the captivating prospect of Austin Maloata. Originally a USC commit coveted by the erstwhile Trojan defensive line guru, Ed Oregeron, Maloata figures to be more of a project. He has only one year of American football under his belt, but he was a force at one of Southern California’s top prep programs, Centennial High School in Corona. He’s also 291 pounds of “relentless motor,” as noted by goducks.com. Time will tell, but we can dream, right?
Waiting in the wings.
Inevitably each season sees a newcomer rise from obscurity to assert himself and become part of the rotation. This is especially true at Oregon, where the modus operandi is to play a lot of bodies in order to keep everyone fresh enough to play fast.
On signing day, coach Helfrich dismissed concerns about his D-Line and offered up the name T.J. Daniel, a sophomore from Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, as one whose scout team exploits had coaches dreaming big. Others poised to assert themselves include returnies Sam Kamp, Stetzon Bair, Cody Carriger and Ryan Hagen, along with incoming freshmen Jalen Jelks and Henry Mondeaux.
The upshot is this: when the 2014 season kicks off, Oregon will be ready with a fast, well-conditioned and deep D-Line. Don’t sweat it, Duck fans. Leave the sweating to the summer workouts and the guys who can’t wait to get after it all over again in September. What say you? I invite your comments below.
Top photo: Kevin Cline