Over the next week, before spring practice starts on March 30th, we'll be taking a look at each section of the team, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and looking at any battles that will be taking place. Today we look at the defensive line.
One of the biggest question marks going into spring is the defensive line. With a new coach, and only one returning starter, it will be very important to see growth during the spring. Luckily, it's a position that's not totally devoid of talent. With a few young players vying for a spot, as well as a few new JC transfers (who are on campus and will participate in spring practice), there is a reason for cautious optimism.
The only known starter:
The only sure thing on the defensive line is Will Tukuafu. He has been in the shadow of Nick Reed for the past two years, but is poised to be the leader on the defensive line this year. Last year he had 17.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks. He will need to improve on his pass rushing abilities, but has the talent to continue his improvement. Having a defensive line coach who taught Dwight Freeny in college certainly won't hurt things.
The main competition:
The other 3 line positions will be a battle. There will be 3 players vying to start opposite Tukuafu. Junior Kenny Rowe has been at Oregon for a while, and has seemingly shifted positions every year. He is a pass rush specialist, and has the speed to be a great pass rusher, but will need to develop the bulk and strength to be able to handle the run as well. Brandon Bair will also compete for the job. He's played all over the line during his time at Oregon, but does not have the pass rushing talent that Rowe has. Lastly, newcomer Zac Clark will be given a shot. It's said that he has a motor like Nick Reed, and we'll get our first look at his this spring. Also, sophomore's Terrell Turner and Dominic Glover will be waiting in the wings if any of the other players should falter.
At the tackle position, 5 players will be going for two spots. Junior Tony Celotto should be the top DT going into spring, as long as he can stay healthy. He got a lot of experience last year as the main DT reserve, despite battling injuries. Beyond that, Blake Ferras, Simi Toeaina, JC transfer Terrance Montgomery , and JC transfer Andrew Iupati should compete as well. If Toeaina can work hard and keep in shape, he may finally break through, as he has the size to be a force in the middle.
Oregon has a lot of bodies on the D-line, and that's not a bad thing. Constant rotation will be key throughout next season. Oregon has seemed to thrive on this the past few years, and personally, I don't think this is a bad thing. Especially at DT, it seems that there are few great players at that position, and many good players can do a more than adequate job.
With the amount of players, and the new line coach, it seems like someone is bound to step up and do very well at the position.
While I don't expect the D-line to carry the defense this year, it should be able to hold it's own, and not become a liability. With the influx of JC players, and the in program talent waiting to be developed by Azzinaro, the spring should tell us a lot about the future of this unit.