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Oregon spring football: Ducks start rebuilding defensive line in spring

The Ducks lost more than 900 pounds of key weight along their defensive line from 2013.

Otto Greule Jr

With arguably the nation's best quarterback, numerous talented and experienced running backs, the conference's best offensive line, and receiving and defensive back cores that are loaded with talent and experience, there's really only big question mark looming over the Ducks this spring - their defensive line.

The Ducks weren't terrible against the run in 2013, finishing sixth in the Pac-12, but really struggled down the stretch of the season, particularly in their losses against Arizona and Stanford and their down-to-the-wire win in the Civil War. What is most concerning about these struggles this spring is that the Ducks will have to start replacing the top three defensive linemen in their rotation from 2013.

The Ducks lost more than 900 pounds of beef and a countless number of starts with the graduations of Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Havili-Heimuli up front and their departure will put a lot of pressure on younger players to step up.

Returning starter DeForest Buckner is the leader amongst that group and the kind of athlete that could fill Hart's role as a long, rangy player that can play anywhere along the line and rush the passer. Buckner is far from Hart's level yet, but he does have the body and athleticism to become that kind of player if he progresses and lead the Ducks' defensive line in the next couple of years.

The other defensive tackle spot is the one of most concern though and the Ducks have a few modestly-experienced players that could start filling the spot this spring. The most-interesting of those players is junior Arik Armstead, a former five-star recruit and Duck basketball player that is a physical monster at 6'8 296. Armstead has played a lot on the end, but could possibly slide inside with his size, and either way, the Ducks will be watching him closely this spring to see if he can start to fulfill his unlimited potential.

Physically, junior Alex Balducci is probably a stouter option at the position, as a strong 6'4 297 player that may be better at standing up against the run. Balducci doesn't have a ton of experience, but he as the body type that could probably best fill the role of run-stuffing defensive tackles which is something that the Ducks desperately need in 2014.

There is a bit of more stability on the edge for the Ducks with senior Tony Washington, who is the team's best returning pass rusher as he led the Ducks with 7.5 sacks in 2013 and their only traditional defensive end with a good deal of experience. He will also get some help at the spot in JC transfer Tui Talia, who brings excellent size to the position at 6'4 265.

With all of these players in the fold, there is no doubt that Oregon's defensive line will be long, athletic and talented as any in the Pac-12this spring, but starting with spring practice, it is time for them to become more experienced and steady against the run. If the unit can do that, the Ducks will have a great chance at fulfilling their national championship potential in 2014.