Oregon Football: What You Need to Know About Ducks' Defensive Line in 2012

Chris Anderson@anderso3Correspondent IIIAugust 28, 2012

Oregon Football: What You Need to Know About Ducks' Defensive Line in 2012

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    The 2012 Oregon defense is shaping up to be one of the best in school history and will surely be (so far) the best defense during the Chip Kelly era at the University of Oregon football program.

    Engineered by Oregon Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti, the Duck defense features an explosive group of talented players that should wreak havoc on opposing offenses and improve upon their numbers from last season.

    Anchoring the 2012 Oregon defense will be one of the most intimidating defensive lines in the Pac-12.

    Overseen by Defensive Line Coach Jerry Azzinaro, the Oregon defensive line features a bevy of returning stars as well as young and fresh talent that should help them surpass the Pac-12 best 45 sacks they accumulated last season.

    Combining big and physical players on the interior and explosive, strong players at the end positions, the Oregon defensive line is sure to be an intimidating force during the 2012 college football season.

    Here is what you need to know about this talented unit.

Coaching: Coach Jerry Azzinaro

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    Defensive Line Coach Jerry Azzinaro is entering his fourth season at the University of Oregon and is looking to keep building stronger and faster defensive lines.

    Since he came to the Duck football program, Azzinaro has bolstered the play of his players every single season.

    He has been integral in the recruitment of players that fit his needs and has even gone so far as to petition to have players switched from other positions to the defensive line (Dion Jordan, Christian French). Azzinaro has bolstered the interior presence of the Ducks and made way for some of the most explosive players at the end positions in the history of Oregon football.

    One of the loudest coaches on the field and at practice, Azzinaro keeps a calm demeanor off the field and is largely unheralded by people across the nation. But don't let this fool you, Azzinaro is one of the key figures behind the revitalization of the Oregon defensive line.

Key Losses

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    Terrell Turner

    Turner was a key piece part of an Oregon defensive line that saw vast improvements since he came into the program in 2007. Officially beginning play in 2008 for the Ducks, Turner had his 2008 campaign derailed by an injury but came back with a bang in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

    He had his best year in 2011 when he accumulated 49 total tackles to complement his five and a half sacks.

    Turner was not only a great player but one of the funniest guys on the Oregon football team, producing his own show called "Turner Time", a program that provided a witty take on football players and the football program.

    Brandon Hanna

    Originally recruited as a linebacker, Hanna made the switch to DE during his junior year and made the most of his switch as a senior when he secured one of the starting spots.

    During his senior campaign Hanna finished with 33 tackles, placing him fifteenth on the team in that category. He would also compile two sacks, one interception, and one fumble recovery.


Key Newcomers

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    Arik Armstead - Freshman

    Arik Armstead (pictured) figures to be the real deal. An early enrollee at Oregon, Armstead has made it through preseason camp in outstanding fashion and has already earned his spot on the Oregon two-deep.

    A U.S. Army All-American, Armstead figures to be the next Haloti Ngata of the Oregon program and should be ready to immediately contribute. He boasts exceptional size and speed and recorded one tackle and a forced fumble in Oregon's 2012 Spring Game.

    Alex Balducci - Freshman

    Balducci is another talented player that was part of the U.S. Army All-American Game. As an incoming player to a talented Duck line, Balducci will likely see this be his redshirt season as he looks to develop into more of the interior presence the Ducks need.

    Though he does demonstrate great strength and is able to fill the gap, his explosiveness must be worked on before he is considered a big player at the college football level.

    DeForest Buckner - Freshman

    Buckner is yet another exciting freshman that is poised to immediately contribute for the Ducks.

    Listed as right behind/competing with Armstead for a spot on the Oregon Ducks two-deep, Buckner has shown the coaches that he is ready to perform at the college football level.

Notable Returners

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    Dion Jordan

    Jordan figures to be the most explosive and exciting player on the Oregon defensive line this season. He is an all-around great player and has already demonstrated his dominance at the DE position.

    In 2011 he accumulated 42 tackles, seven and a half sacks, and one forced fumble.

    Though he may make an appearance at linebacker every now and then, Dion Jordan is one of the most explosive ends in the business and should have a stellar senior season.

    Wade Keliikipi

    Keliikipi will be the starter at DT for the Ducks and will be looking to also make improvements despite already impressive statistics.

    He is a big force up the middle and really makes offenses try to push the ball to the outside, something that is not easily accomplished against a speedy Oregon defense.

    Look for Keliikipi to share playing time with Ricky Heimuli but still figure significantly into the impressive statistics of the Ducks' defensive line. 

    Taylor Hart

    Hart made the most of a 2011 campaign that saw him play in all fourteen games. During this past season he put up 44 tackles, two and a half sacks, and forced a fumble, efforts that earned him a selection to the All-Pac-12 honorable mention list.

    Now with two seasons under his belt and a deeper knowledge of the game, expect Hart to continue his streak of impressive play as he helps lead the Ducks' interior defense.

Current Depth Chart

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    DE Taylor Hart

    Arik Armstead/DeForest Buckner           

    DT Isaac Remington

    Jared Ebert            

    DT Wade Keliikipi

    Ricky Heimuli          

    DE Dion Jordan

    Tony Washington

    There were no big surprises on the Oregon depth chart this season, with the most significant move/surprise coming in the form of Tony Washington being situated behind Dion Jordan at the DE position.

    While he has already played DE for the Ducks during his young career, Washington made the switch to drop-end this past offseason and looks to build a name for himself as he rotates in with the extremely explosive and physical Dion Jordan.

    Duck fans should feel ecstatic about the fact that both Armstead and Buckner are making an appearance on the two-deep very early on in their careers. The two have already demonstrated that they have the talent in place to perform at a high level and the future for the Oregon defensive line surely looks bright.

Reasons for Optimism

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    With an arsenal of returning stars all across the defensive line, Oregon fans should feel confident in their teams ability to get to the quarterback while also stuffing the run up the middle.

    The veteran presence of this squad really makes it one of the more well-educated and explosive units on the Oregon football team, something that should translate into great numbers on the field.

    Two big players in the middle should help to take pressure off of both Jordan and Hart as they make their push towards the quarterback. The sheer size of the players can help Ducks feel a little bit more confident should their defensive line encounter a meaty offensive line, let's say, in the BCS National Championship.

Reasons for Pessimism

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    There's not too much to hate about the Oregon defensive line except for the fact that some of the players behind the first-stringers are a little bit unproven.

    Rookies Armstead and Buckner will likely need some adjustment time to get used to the atmosphere and speed of the game, although we do expect these rookies to be well-conditioned as they have gone up the Oregon offense for their entire preseason camp.

    Tony Washington will be an interesting player to watch and see if he can develop into a physical and explosive presence behind Dion Jordan at the drop-end position for the Ducks.

Overall Assessment

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    Overall, Oregon fans should feel extremely confident in their defensive line this season.

    Led by Coach Azzinaro, the 2012 Oregon defensive line has the talent in place to be the best in the history of Oregon's program.

    With a slew of new size and explosive power coming from every player, this unit should be able to easily surpass most of its statistics last year while also contributing significantly to a much improved and intimidating Oregon defensive unit. 

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