Oregon Football: Why Arik Armstead Will Be Ducks' X-Factor in 2014

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Oregon Football: Why Arik Armstead Will Be Ducks' X-Factor in 2014
USA TODAY Sports

He arrived at Oregon in 2012 amid much fanfare, a 5-star defensive line prospect and standout in two sports. Two years later, Arik Armstead's sole focus is on the football field, where the junior is the X-factor in the Ducks defense. 

Improved line play is a point of emphasis for Oregon heading into 2014. To that end, Armstead's emergence as a major contributor should play an integral role in the Ducks' Pac-12 championship pursuit—particularly because Armstead is taking on a bulk of the duties Taylor Hart leaves behind. 

Hart was—pardon the pun—the heart and soul of Oregon's defensive front in 2013 with 75 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. That's the level of production Armstead must match in his third season with the Ducks. 

The line rebuilds with 2013 breakout performer DeForest Buckner as its anchor. As his progression into a star playmaker continues, Oregon has the foundation for a devastating defensive presence up front. That would answer one recurring criticism of the Ducks' championship credentials. 

But for the unit to meet its potential, Armstead must reach his individually. His first two seasons did not quite live up to the lofty billing he garnered as a recruit. He made 26 tackles in 2012, but he suffered a sophomore slump with just 15 in 2013. 

First-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum obviously needs more from Armstead, and the junior is ready to respond in what he called a "takeover season." 

He isn't the only one looking for a takeover season. CBSSports.com NFL draft analyst Rob Rang has Armstead tabbed as a breakout candidate in the coming campaign:

Armstead's production is far from staggering but he boasts such an incredible combination of size and athleticism that he could wind up as Oregon's hottest NFL prospect on the defensive side of the ball...A monstrous man with natural power and light feet, Armstead's upside is undeniable.  

One dramatic step Armstead took this offseason was turning his attention exclusively to the gridiron. 

He left the Oregon basketball in January, giving him a full offseason to prepare for an expanded role. When asked by Victor Flores of DailyEmerald.com if the decision was beneficial, Armstead said: "Definitely. Being around my teammates more and lifting a lot more than I would have definitely helped me."

The result of that extra time spent in the weight room is 16 additional pounds of muscle, as reported by Matt Prehm of 247Sports. Armstead is now pushing 300 pounds on his 6'8" frame. That's a sizable load with which opposing offensive lineman must contend. 

That combination of length and mass should make Armstead more effective in shedding blocks, an area in which he has faced growing pains.

The below highlights from Oregon's 30-7 defeat of Texas in the Alamo Bowl show Armstead's struggles with the big, physical Longhorns offensive line. 

Should Armstead prove ready to meet his potential and indeed take over, the junior will be the X-factor Oregon needs on its defense.  

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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