by Rob Moseley
DE: Taylor Hart, Sr.; Arik Armstead, So.; Sam Kamp, So.; T.J. Daniel, So.; Jason Sloan, Fr.
NG: Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; Alex Balducci, So.; Ryan Hagen, Sr.; Stetzon Bair, So.; Jonathan Kenion, Fr.
DT: DeForest Buckner, So.; Ricky Havili-Heimuli, Sr.; Jared Ebert, Sr.; David Kafovalu, Jr.
Starters: Like the UO offensive line in 2013, Oregon's defensive line overall had a fine season this past fall. The Ducks allowed 3.82 yards per rush, third in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and Utah, the defenses that held Oregon's own mighty rushing game to its two lowest outputs of the year. Led by high-motor seniors Hart and Keliikipi, along with the breakout sophomore Buckner, the top trio played well from start to finish, including career games from Hart and Keliikipi in the Alamo Bowl.
That said, the Ducks had breakdowns at key times. Just as the offense piled up yards but was inconsistent in the red zone, the UO defense allowed opponents to convert 40.09 percent of their third downs, up nearly eight points over the previous season. In the Ducks' two losses, Stanford converted 14-of-21 third downs, and Arizona converted 11-of-16. (Take out those two games and Oregon allowed third-down conversions 34.9 percent of the time, just a couple points worse than 2012.) Oregon found itself in too many third-and-short situations those two days, and lost out at the point of attack. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum stressed in his introductory press conference the need to get the pile at the line of scrimmage moving the other direction, and he will explore tweaks to scheme, personnel and technique in order to make that happen.
Reserves: The second unit of Armstead, Balducci and Havili-Heimuli was solid, and Kamp worked his way onto the field in some key situations over the latter half of the season. Ebert played sparingly after his 2012 knee injury, then was hurt again and missed the bowl game. Thus, the walk-on Hagen was part of the two-deep for Oregon's "heavy" package with four linemen and four linebackers for a couple snaps in the bowl game, his most prominent playing time. Bair and Kafovalu made their biggest contributions on the scout team.
Redshirts: Position changes don't always go well, but Daniel really took to a switch from tight end and was the Ducks' defensive scout-team player of the year while redshirting as a sophomore. It remains to be seen how well Daniel can transfer that effectiveness into challenging for a spot on the two-deep, but he gave the UO offense good looks all year, playing the part of elite guys like Anthony Barr from UCLA and Jackson Jeffcoat from Texas. Two walk-on additions, Kenion and Sloan, also redshirted while contributing on the scout team. Kenion was technically a transfer after signing with Southern Oregon last year, so he was ineligible to dress for games and didn't make the bowl trip. But he would have redshirted regardless.
DE: Arik Armstead, Jr.; T.J. Daniel, RSo.; Jason Sloan, RFr.
NG: Alex Balducci, Jr.; Stetzon Bair, Jr.; Jonathan Kenion, RFr.
DT: DeForest Buckner, Jr.; Sam Kamp, Jr.; David Kafovalu, Sr.
Entering 2013 this looked like the deepest, most talented position group on the team. But the losses to graduation are massive, and suddenly depth is a real question mark. Buckner is a budding star, and Balducci can take the next step from plugger to playmaker. Armstead has more than enough talent to be an impact starter, though he's spending this winter playing basketball rather than "pushing more weight," as Pellum wants to see his defense do in their offseason lifting program. Can Bair make the huge jump from scout-team yeoman to contributor in the two-deep? Will Daniel parlay his work with the scout team into a regular role on defense? The Ducks do have some help on the way, having signed JC defensive lineman Tui Talia, and there's a chance he could get here in April. This may be a position where some February signees get a chance to contribute early, too, come August.
by Rob Moseley