Friday, March 21, 2014
Biggest shoes to fill: Oregon
By Ted Miller
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.
In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at Oregon.
Biggest shoes: NG Wade Keliikipi
There were a few different ways to go for Oregon. The Ducks most notable departures are Keliikipi, WR Josh Huff, CB Terrance Mitchell and DE Taylor Hart. But Bralon Addison is almost certain to replace Huff as the Ducks No. 1 WR -- he caught 61 passes in 2013 compared to 62 from Huff -- and, with Hart, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead have extensive experience as DE/DTs flanking the Ducks noseguard. Oregon, traditionally, is strong in the secondary, with veteran Dior Mathis the easy pick to replace Mitchell. It's not much different with Keliikipi in terms of who will replace him, but the question is how well he will be replaced. Keliikipi is a three-year starter and four-year contributor. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors his final two seasons. While he often battled injuries, he had 34 tackles, five tackles for a loss and two sacks in 2013. In healthy form, he was dominant against Texas in the Alamo Bowl. He might have been the Ducks most underrated player, one who was playing a critical position in a 3-4 defense.
Stepping in: Junior Alex Balducci
Balducci was thrust prematurely into service in 2012 as an undersized true freshman when the Ducks D-line was wracked by injuries. He held his own and was a reliable backup last year, finishing with 18 tackles. But how well can he hold up as a starter in the middle of the Ducks defense in 2014? At 6-foot-4, he's taller than Keliikipi and should play around 300 pounds this fall, so the Ducks aren't giving up anything in terms of size. But Keliikipi was good at holding his ground, even against double-teams, and was still able to make plenty of plays. He was more than a plugger. Balducci will need to be more active in order to replace Keliikipi's production. Further, the depth behind him is uncertain. He might end up seeing more plays than Keliikipi did, in large part because he won't have his own Balducci behind him.
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