Oregon Football: Young Defenders Must Soak Up Knowledge While They Can

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Oregon Football: Young Defenders Must Soak Up Knowledge While They Can
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive lineman Arik Armstead has the potential to be an All-American, but he must learn the nuances of the position.

A common trait among many elite programs in college football is the legacy left behind by the departing players.

The Oregon Ducks have been among the elite programs in the nation since the turn of the century. For that to continue into 2014 and beyond, the young defensive players on the Oregon roster must use the next few weeks to soak up everything they can from the veterans.

The Ducks will lose five defensive starters to graduation and could potentially lose both of their starting cornerbacks to the NFL draft.

One of the biggest things that has kept the Ducks from winning a national championship has been the defensive line. When facing off against bigger and more physical teams, the Ducks have been unable to stand toe-to-toe with them.

Considering the way teams like Stanford have attacked the Oregon defense in recent years, the defensive line hasn't been bad. It also hasn't been elite.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Senior Taylor Hart has been a force while playing in all 52 games for the Ducks since he stepped on campus.

The group of young defensive linemen the Ducks have on the roster right now is as big and talented as they have ever had. They have the potential to become a great unit over the next couple of seasons, but they need to learn from the current crop of seniors before they leave the program.

Defensive linemen Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi have been through the battles against Auburn, LSU, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Stanford.

What they have learned from those games should provide the younger players like Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci plenty of information to dissect in the offseason.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
If he continues to develop sophomore DeForest Buckner could be the next star on the Oregon defensive line.

The linebackers are still a young group, but the lone departing senior, Boseko Lokombo, has been heavily in the mix for the Ducks since his sophomore season. 

Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone have the talent and experience to lead the group in 2014. It is sophomore Tyson Coleman, freshmen Torrodney Prevot, Tyrell Robinson and Danny Mattingly who need to learn the nuances of the college game in order to become stars.

The Oregon offense looks as if it will be as good as ever in 2014. That makes the secondary the primary concern heading into the offseason. As it has been in recent years, the Ducks will likely jump out to some big leads and teams will need to throw the ball in an attempt to catch up.

With senior safeties Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson on their way out the door after the Alamo Bowl, junior Erick Dargan will be the leader on the back end of the defense. He will need to continue to teach up-and-coming players like freshmen Reggie Daniels, Tyree Robinson and Juwaan Williams. Like Patterson, Robinson and Williams could play corner or safety for the Ducks depending on need.

If it is cornerback where they end up, they will need to learn fast. Junior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is projected as a first-round draft pick, and junior Terrance Mitchell is also well thought of by NFL scouts.

Juniors Troy Hill and Dior Mathis have experience, but neither has proved himself worthy of a guaranteed starting spot in 2014. The Ducks do have a verbal commitment from Dominique Harrison, a junior college cornerback who could potentially make an impact next season.

The most important factor in a program continuing to hum along at an elite level is for the younger players to step in and not miss a beat.

Christopher Barth/Getty Images
OLB Torrodney Prevot showed glimpses of his talent as a true freshman in 2013.

The Ducks have lived by the mantra "next man up" in recent years. They have been fortunate to have the talent to reload instead of rebuild.

With so much uncertainty on defense after the Alamo Bowl, the young Ducks must prove they have the ability to soak up knowledge from the veterans who have been the key to Oregon's recent success.

They have the talent, and if they are able to gain the knowledge necessary to compete at the same level, the Ducks should continue to fly high in 2014.

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