By Rob Moseley
Analyzing where things appear to stand at each position group entering preseason camp, based on developments last season, in the spring and over the summer.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
DE: DeForest Buckner, Jr.; T.J. Daniel, So.; Jalen Jelks, Fr.; Jason Sloan, RFr.; Jordan Kurahara, Fr.
DT: Alex Balducci, Jr.; Sam Kamp, Jr.; Austin Maloata, Fr.; Jonathan Kenion, RFr.
DE: Arik Armstead, Jr.; Tui Talia, Jr.; Stetzon Bair, Jr.; Henry Mondeaux, Fr.; Spencer Stark, Fr.
The veterans: It’s the time to shine for juniors DeForest Buckner, Alex Balducci and Arik Armstead, the first unit on the line throughout spring drills. Buckner broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore, and could be poised for stardom this fall. Balducci is a stout space-eater in the middle, and Armstead focused full-time on football this offseason, after giving up basketball. Together, they should be quite capable with the No. 1 defense.
The second unit has more to prove. Daniel is a converted tight end who will make his collegiate debut on defense this fall, Kamp packed on weight last winter to contend for playing time at nose, and Talia is a JC transfer. That said, all had their moments in the spring, particularly Daniel and Talia. Stetzon Bair is a versatile depth player who knows all three positions by this point, and the Ducks also return walk-ons Jason Sloan and Jonathan Kenion.
The newcomers: The next generation is here, and figures to contend for some reps soon. Maloata immediately becomes Oregon’s heaviest defender, at 313 pounds, a nice backstop for Balducci and Kamp. Henry Mondeaux was a two-way star at Portland’s Jesuit High, but will start out on defense with the Ducks. And Jelks is a long, athletic guy in the mold of Daniel. (FWIW: I’ve addressed the newcomers in two different meetings this month, and by far the most attentive guy was Jelks. Eyes front, intently focused on what was being discussed. As first impressions go, it was pretty good – he came across as a mature guy who I would assume will be very coachable.) Spencer Stark, a high school teammate of Johnny Mundt’s, and in-state product Jordan Kurahara figure to join the scout team.
What to watch: For as steady – and frankly underrated – as guys like Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi were over the last couple years, this group has a higher athletic ceiling. Buckner, Balducci and Armstead have the potential to be a dominant trio up front. The bigger questions are behind them, with the backups largely unproven. Hopefully Kamp will emerge from the summer feeling completely comfortable carrying his increased weight, while Daniel and Talia build on their spring progress And, as elsewhere, we’ll see how much, if at all, the freshmen can shake up the depth chart over the next few weeks.