The Oregon Ducks aren't traditionally known for having a dominating defensive line. Many will point to this as a reason for why Oregon can't hang with the powerful, run-oriented offenses of the SEC (despite the Ducks holding mighty Auburn to just 22 points in 2010).
But all that will change in 2013, when the Ducks will boast the best defensive line they've ever had, which should help compensate for the lack of experience at linebacker.
To make such a statement, one must first look at some of the other dominating defensive lines of past Duck teams.
The year 2003 immediately comes to mind, because Oregon started two future NFL'ers, Haloti Ngata and Igor Olshansky, at defensive tackle. While Ngata is likely headed toward the Hall of Fame when he's done playing, Olshansky had himself a decent stint in the league as well, last appearing for the Miami Dolphins in 2011.
Other members of that group included Junior Siavii and Darius Sanders, both solid players in their own rights. But that particular team went 8-5, and while the record may not be indicative of how great the D-line was, it certainly doesn't help their case as best group ever.
The Ducks have also seen a number of extremely talented players come and go over the past five years, from Nick Reed to Kenny Rowe and so many more in between.
But the 2013 group will stake its claim as the very best for three reasons: talent, experience and depth on top of depth.
Take a look at this projected depth chart (courtesy of Rob Moseley of The Register Guard), and the talent at D-line should jump out rather quickly.
Every projected starter has a wealth of experience, and while Tony Washington may have the largest shoes to fill with Dion Jordan having graduated, consider this: Jordan totaled just 5.5 sacks last year and was hampered by injuries throughout the second half of the season. It's conceivable that Washington, with a similar frame, could end up as a more productive starter than Jordan was in 2012.
The rest of the gang features guys like Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli (slight name change in the offseason) and Wade Keliikipi. They average nearly 6'5" and 300 pounds, which may come standard in the SEC but is pretty huge for the Ducks.
Hart would make the all-underrated list each season if there was one, and his work ethic puts him squarely in the mold of former players like Bair and Reed who got the very most out of their talent.
Have I mentioned this group has depth?
We're all aware of the potential of both Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Both guys were very highly rated coming out of high school, and given the fact that each appeared in all 13 games last season, it's fair to expect a big leap in year two.
Then there's Alex Balducci, a 6'4", 290-pound sophomore who burned his redshirt last season against Cal after several injuries to the first-stringers. Cal ran all over Oregon in the first half of that game, but by the end, the Ducks were consistently holding the Bears in check.
Behind Tony Washington at the drop-end position is Christian French, another talented reserve with great potential. And finally, let's not forget about Jared Ebert, the senior tackle who sat out last season with an injury.
By my count, that gives Oregon nine players with experience, some of whom have just scratched the surface of what they can do on the field. Incoming freshman Torrodney Prevot may have a chance to get some time in the drop-end position as well.
The Ducks don't have a star player like Haloti Ngata, but the depth at the position is greater than ever before. Of course, this doesn't mean the line is set for the future. Oregon loses Hart, Havili-Heimuli, Keliikipi and Ebert next season and must address the tackle spot in recruiting.
But that also shows the kind of experience this particular group has, not to mention the motivation the young guns might have to show new coach Ron Aiken what they're all about.
In a league filled with innovative, exciting offense, the defensive line must be stout.
That won't be an issue for the 2013 Ducks.
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