Ifo Ekpre-Olomu leads a talented secondary
It's not easy to select the four strongest positions on a team expected to once again be in the hunt for a national title. The Oregon Ducks have outstanding depth on the defensive line, a trio of NFL-ready offensive linemen, a whole flock of impressive wideouts and a tight end who is more physically gifted than most athletes ever dream of being.
Then there's the secondary, which is likely tops in the conference and one of the best in the nation.
There are a few holes, but today we're looking at the rock-solid cornerstones of the 2013 Ducks. Here are the four strongest positions on the team heading into 2013.
QB Marcus Mariota
How can a position that has just one player on the field at any given time (except for extreme circumstances) be included in the list of strongest positions?
Well, that one person is Marcus Mariota, who's coming off a first-team All-Pac-12 season in which he threw for 32 touchdowns with just six picks and rushed for 752 yards.
Depth is obviously a major factor here, and it's the main reason why the quarterback position is in the No. 4 spot. Neither Jake Rodrigues nor Jeff Lockie has any game experience, but in a worst-case scenario, both appear capable of at least managing the game and making a few plays.
In short, the backup situation, while not ideal, could be a whole lot worse.
Led by one of the best players in the country, the quarterback spot is one of the strongest positions on the Ducks heading into 2013.
DeForest Buckner gets in on a tackle.
The next two spots were extremely difficult to separate, but the defensive line finds itself at No. 3 for a variety of reasons.
The biggest thing working in Oregon's favor on the defensive line is its incredible depth. Taylor Hart is one of the more underrated players in recent memory. Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Havili-Heimuli are experienced veterans with some major bulk. Younger players like Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner have all the potential in the world.
On top of the aforementioned crew, Jared Ebert is returning from injury, Christian French and Tony Washington will be making plays from Dion Jordan's drop-end position and a third youngster, defensive tackle Alex Balducci, played quite well for a freshman toward the end of last season.
Regular contributors Isaac Remington and Jordan are gone, and they will be missed. But despite Jordan going high in the NFL draft, he didn't exactly dominate on defense. He was a key player, but the Ducks have more than enough depth to overcome his loss, and statistically there's a great chance that Washington will end up being more productive.
The defensive line is without superstars (yet), which is why it isn't higher on the list. But there aren't many depth charts better than the one the Ducks have heading into 2013.
Oregon's offensive line is an extremely talented group.
The offensive line may not have the depth that the defensive line boasts, but the current talent is a notch above nearly every line in the program's history.
The featured trio will be Hroniss Grasu, Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher, all of whom have an excellent chance to start in the NFL someday. Any of these three could have great seasons and become a first- or second-round pick in the draft next April.
Other plays vying for a starting spot include Hamani Stevens, Mana Greig, Andre Yruretagoyena and Jamal Prater. The 2013 recruiting class was a strong one along the offensive line, so depth is on the way, too.
As mentioned, the difference between the two lines is that the defensive line has a lot of good players, several of whom may be great. But the offensive line has several great players that have already reached an elite level.
And in an offense where the line is expected to do much more than simply hold its ground, fans have to be excited about the strength of this unit.
CB Terrance Mitchell gets ready to make a tackle.
I almost decided to go with the entire secondary, but that's sort of a cop-out. The safety position is a strong one, but the cornerback spot is the strongest on the entire team.
The tandem of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell has a chance to be the best in program history by the time the season is over.
What's funny is that before the 2012 season, it was Mitchell getting all the publicity. But after a stellar year by Ekpre-Olomu, the tables have turned. It's not unfair to call one guy better than the other, but Mitchell has all the talent in the world and will likely get his chance to show it next season after being thrown away from last fall.
Behind the two corners are Dior Mathis and Troy Hill. Hill has played relatively well during the opportunities he's been given, and Mathis just now appears to be discovering some of his massive potential. He also runs track, and it never hurts to have an elite sprinter in the secondary.
Expectations are through the roof with these corners, and if Ekpre-Olomu, Mitchell and company are able to deliver, they'll cement the cornerback spot as the best position in the team.