Oregon Football: Ducks' 5 Biggest Priorities on National Signing Day
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While guys like Marcus Mariota and Kenjon Barner have been catalysts for recent success, it's the depth of the Oregon Ducks that has moved them into the realm of elite programs.
With national signing day right around the corner, Chip Kelly must continue to recruit positions of need and keep the depth chart strong on several levels.
A small departing senior class will likely mean a smaller recruiting class, but that only puts more pressure on finding the right guys. And with potential sanctions looming that could affect scholarship count, well, this class becomes vital.
Here is a list of current Oregon commitments, but it should expand to fill a few more holes in the coming weeks.
Let's take a look at the five biggest areas of need for the Ducks and how they might address those areas with the 2013 recruiting class.
Note: Wide receiver and defensive line were strongly considered but ultimately left off this list due to the abundance of young talent at each position. Of course, continuing to recruit these positions is still a pretty good idea.
Brian Jackson (right) knocks away a pass in the Fiesta Bowl
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After John Boyett was declared out for the season following the Arkansas State game, the safety position became an immediate area of concern.
That concern was alleviated by the outstanding play of Brian Jackson, Avery Patterson and Erick Dargan. While all three players return next season, both Jackson and Patterson are entering their final year, and depth could become an issue with another serious injury.
Other guys like Isaac Dixon and Troy Hill helped out at the position, and several highly rated recruits, such as Reggie Daniels, will be available next season following a redshirt year.
Nonetheless, Oregon needs to find athletic, physical players to continue the tradition of hard-nosed play created by Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward and John Boyett.
4. Offensive Line
C Hroniss Grasu and the O-line make the Oregon offense go.
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If there's one position that looks different than it did 10 years ago, it's the offensive line.
The starting talent is better than ever and the depth allows Oregon's offense to thrive even amidst injuries to key players.
The reason the offensive line makes the list of major priorities isn't due to a lack of current depth, but rather the fact that this unit is the most important cog in Oregon's offense.
Continuing to build depth and develop talent on the offensive line is a priority every year.
How will the Ducks replace Kiko Alonso?
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Both Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay are graduating from the ranks of starting linebacker, and the position is a huge priority for the Ducks in recruiting.
Add in the recent transfer of Anthony Wallace and finding talent at linebacker becomes a must.
Backups like Tyson Coleman and Derrick Malone, both of whom played extensive snaps this past season, should fill the starting holes nicely. But after them lies more questions than answers.
The Ducks have addressed this need with Joe Walker, a junior college commit who could help out immediately. They've also secured a verbal commitment from Danny Mattingly, a former Notre Dame recruit who fits the mold of recent LB/DL hybrids like Dion Jordan and Tony Washington.
At linebacker, Oregon looks for speed above anything else. The ability to run sideline-to-sideline is crucial on a defense that relies on athleticism more than brute strength.
Recruiting the linebacker position will always be a major priority, but this year's class is more important than ever.
K Alejandro Maldonado
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This one seems fairly obvious given the recent kicking struggles by Alejandro Maldonado.
While the much-maligned kicker made both field goals in the Fiesta Bowl, some new blood is needed at the position that has cost Oregon a chance at two National Championships.
Oregon addressed this need by recruiting Matt Wogan, who's ranked as the fourth-best kicker in the nation by ESPN.
The Ducks will likely enter next summer with an open competition for the starting kicking job, and that's probably the correct move despite Maldonado's past.
But the team simply cannot enter next season with questions at this position, and Wogan could be the answer fans have been waiting for.
1. Running Back
Byron Marshall is just one of two scholarship running backs with the departure of Kenjon Barner.
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With the departure of Kenjon Barner, Oregon is left with just two scholarship running backs on the roster.
And though Byron Marshall and De'Anthony Thomas are as talented as they come, Oregon must add depth with this recruiting class given the importance of the position.
Oregon was in a similar spot last offseason with the transfer of Tra Carson, which left the Ducks' with just Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas at the position along with Marshall, then an unknown commodity.
Fortunately Barner stayed healthy and Marshall was able to provide enough depth to carry the team to 12 wins.
Chip Kelly will rely on commit Thomas Tyner to fill that role next season, and athlete Dontre Wilson could also get time at the position. Both recruits are in the ESPN 150 and should help out with depth immediately upon arrival.
With the Lamichael James/Kenjon Barner era officially over, running back is the biggest priority in recruiting, and it looks as if the Ducks have addressed it.