With Signing Day officially in the books, so is the 2012 campaign for Oregon football. However, as one chapter closes another one opens and it's never too early to take a sneak peek at the upcoming season. DuckTerritory's "Offseason Burning Questions" series takes a look at each position on the Oregon depth chart and addresses the biggest questions at each spot, priming Duck fans for what they can perhaps expect in 2013. Today, the series continues with an examination of the defensive line.
Will 2013 be Ricky Heimuli's best season yet?
Projected 2013 Depth Chart
* - denotes projected starter at one of three defensive line positions.
Is this Oregon's deepest defensive line ever?
"Ever" is a mighty long time, but there isn't a group in recent memory at Oregon that really comes close to matching the depth in experience and talent that the Ducks possess along the defensive line heading in to 2013. Both senior laden and infused with youth, Oregon's defensive line has the potential to be one of the more dominant units in the entire conference; a far cry from where this group was prior to the arrival of former defensive line coach, Jerry Azzinaro. With Azzinaro now gone to the NFL, new Oregon defensive line coach Ron Aiken steps in to an enviable situation after spending the last six seasons in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. Hart, Heimuli, and Keliikipi rightfully headline the group, but reserves Buckner, Armstead, and Balducci are rising stars that could prove to be better than the aforementioned upperclassmen listed ahead of them on the depth chart. Add in what the Oregon coaches hope are steady contributions from promising players such as Jared Ebert and Stetzon Bair and the sky is truly the limit for this bunch.
How much have Buckner and Armstead progressed?
After posting nearly identical statistics in 2012, sophomores DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead represent what appears to be a very promising future in the defensive trenches for Oregon football. As near carbon copies of one another, Buckner and Armstead proved to be a handful for opposing offensive linemen last last season, using their tall, rugged, and athletic frames to create pressure and muck up rushing lanes. Truly, there was negligible drop off when Buckner and Armstead would spell front line starters last season, but how much more should be expected out of them this upcoming year? With Hart, Keliikipi, and Heimuli all retuning for their senior seasons, it's possible that while improved, Buckner and Armstead's impact could very well mirror their production last season. Bet that both will make more of the snaps they receive in their second go-around, however don't expect all-conference performances from them week to week.
Should the omission of true defensive line recruits from the 2013 recruiting class be a concern?
Not immediately. Ideally, Oregon probably would have preferred to bring in at least one true defensive lineman from this past class, but it was by no means a position of vital need considering what the Ducks have returning next season. This does however put immense pressure on Oregon and defensive line coach Ron Aiken to make defensive line recruiting a top priority for the Ducks in their 2014 recruiting class. Prior to his six year stint with the Cardinals, Aiken spent eight years at Iowa serving in the same capacity with the Hawkeyes, thus the recruiting trail is far from an unfamiliar place despite his extended absence from the college game. Yet, Aiken will have at least three to four gaping holes to fill after Hart, Heimuli, Keliikipi, and Ebert graduate following next season. The Moncks Corner, South Carolina native will have to hit the ground running this spring and summer to ensure the Ducks don't experience a major drop off at the position in 2014 and beyond.