The Fiesta Bowl on January 3 will be the last college football game for many Oregon Duck players.
Seniors such as Kenjon Barner, Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso will be leaving their full effort on the field in hopes of winning their second straight BCS bowl game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Oregon is losing four senior starters: Linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, as well as defensive linemen Dion Jordan and Isaac Remington.
With the departures of these four, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will be looking to fill roster spots.
Here's what Oregon's 2013 defensive depth chart will likely look like.
The defensive line position at Oregon is very deep. Although seniors Dion Jordan and Isaac Remington are leaving and won't be around next season, young talent has stepped up and looked strong in 2012.
Players such as Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner were two of the young linemen that showed they can make plays with their large, yet athletic frames. These two will be battling to move into starting roles as sophomores next season.
Junior Taylor Hart has been a beast of a blockade for Oregon this season. He has 10 tackles for loss and leads the team in sacks with eight. There has been talk of Hart leaving for the NFL, but for now, I'll keep him in the depth chart for 2013.
Now, without further adieu:
Defensive End: Taylor Hart—DeForest Buckner
Defensive Tackle: Wade Keliikipi—Ricky Heimuli—Stetzon Bair
Defensive Tackle: Arik Armstead—Jared Ebert—Alex Balducci
Defensive End: Tony Washington—Christian French
The linebacker position looks to be the biggest hole for Aliotti to fill with his two leading tacklers, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, leaving.
Not only do they provide experience and football smarts to the defense, but Clay and Alonso are also a couple of Oregon's larger-bodied linebackers.
Oregon's backups, such as Derick Malone and Rahim Cassell, need to work extremely hard to put on weight in the offseason. Both backers are listed at 215 pounds or below. Most running backs would love to meet them in an alley.
Someone who could add some weight to the linebacker group is junior college transfer Joe Walker. Walker stands around 6'3'' and 230 pounds, but will likely put on more weight in his preparation for Eugene.
From what I've read about Joe Walker, he is a diamond-in-the-rough type of athlete who got injured in his senior season of high school and got left watching other players receive scholarships while he, devastatingly, didn't.
Walker is the fast, physical, hardworking type of athlete that linebacker coach Don Pellum loves. I look for Walker to move up in the depth chart quick in the 2013 season.
Also, there is the possibility of freshman Danny Mattingly deciding not to redshirting and receiving action as a youngster.
Here's what Don Pellum's group may look like:
Weak-side Linebacker: Boseko Lokombo—Tyson Coleman
Middle Linebacker: Rahim Cassell—Joe Walker—Rodney Hardrick
Strong-side Linebacker: Derrick Malone—Anthony Wallace—Danny Mattingly
With the oldest starter in the defensive backfield being only a junior, the Ducks won't be making too many changes to their pass defenders.
The biggest, and I believe, most exciting changes will come in the backup roles for the safety and cornerback positions.
Redshirt freshmen Eric and Stephen Amoako from Arlington, Texas, will be able to come in and show Oregon fans what Texas defense is all about. Eric supposedly plays safety while his twin plays cornerback. Watch out for these two next year.
Also, 2012 4-star safety recruit Reggie Daniels will be battling for playing time. He is a lengthy athlete that covers well in the open field and loves to lay a big hit. Daniels was recruited by schools such as Arkansas, Notre Dame and Nebraska.
Oregon returns three safeties next season: Brian Jackson, Avery Patterson and Erick Dargan, all of whom have garnered much needed experience.
On the corners, athletes Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu have solidified their spots, but it is unsure who will back them up.
Troy hill is one of the most likely candidates with all of his experience, but youngsters like Stephen Amoako or Tyree Robinson could end up beating him out for the backup role.
Here's a look:
Cornerback: Terrance Mitchell—Stephen Amoako
Strong Safety (Rover): Brian Jackson—Erick Dargan—Tyree Robinson
Free Safety: Avery Patterson—Eric Amoako—Reggie Daniels
Cornerback: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu—Troy Hill—Dior Mathis
As always, the Oregon defense will be fun to watch. They will play fast, cause turnovers and score points.
One of the main things Nick Aliotti will look for in the offseason is which of his players will step up and fill the role(s) as defensive captain.
Will it be Terrance Mitchell, Boseko Lokombo, Taylor Hart? Or perhaps a young emerging star such Armstead or Buckner?
Whoever it is, they have some shoes to fill...