Jalen Jelks

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 5 - Defensive line must be strong up middle

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 5 - Defensive line must be strong up middle

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Defensive line. 

Projected starters: Junior defensive end Henry Mondeaux (6-5, 280), junior defensive tackle Austin Maloata (6-1, 305), sophomore defensive tackle Canton Kaumatule (6-7, 295), senior defensive end Torrodney Prevot (6-3, 225).

Key backups: Sophomore defensive tackle Rex Manu (6-3, 315), redshirt senior defensive end T.J. Daniel (6-6, 275), redshirt sophomore defensive end Jalen Jelks (6-6, 268), redshirt freshman Drayton Carlberg (6-5, 290), redshirt freshman defensive end Gus Cumberlander (6-6, 260), redshirt sophomore defensive end Justin Hollins (6-6, 230), redshirt freshman defensive tackle Gary Baker (6-4, 298) and junior transfer defensive tackle Ratu Mafileo (6-3, 300).

Smelling like roses: Oregon has a ton of bodies in position to contribute along the defensive line.

The problem is that just one, Mondeaux (22 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks last season), has ever done anything at Oregon worth mentioning.

That doesn't mean we won't see several fresh faces blossom once given more opportunities. It only means that we simply don't know what to expect.

First and foremost the Ducks must be strong up the middle at defensive tackle and middle linebacker. Otherwise, teams are going to steamroll UO inside and eat game clock, the best recipe for defeating Oregon.

For the Ducks to have a chance at winning the conference it must get major production out of Maloata, Manu, Kaumatule and any other defensive tackle they toss in there. 

I list Kaumatule as a starter only because he has the greatest potential within the group. If the former four-star recruit meets that potential, the Ducks could be in business. If not, it would be a great disappointment to the program, and make succeeding inside more difficult. Not impossible, just more difficult. 

A wild card is Mafileo, a three-star junior college transfer who backed out of a commitment to Texas A&M to attend Oregon. He could be a missing piece in the middle for the Ducks. 

Place your bets: UO signed five defensive linemen last year and three in 2014. The group needs experience and might not be ready to play at a championship level until 2017. Manu and Maloata combined for just 12 tackles last season. Are they really capable of anchoring the interior of the defensive line at a championship level in 2016? Remember, DeForrest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci were far from ready to dominate as freshman in 2012, or as sophomores in 2013. 

Odds are: We will see flashes of greatness here and there, but the group will be inconsistent playing in a new scheme, and doing so with only one proven impact player. It's doubtful any team in the Pac-12 is fearful of Oregon's front four now that Buckner and Balducci are gone.   

Poker hand: Pair of kings with a queen, and the river yet to come. Has potential to be a good hand, but it's dicey.   

Next up: Linebackers.  

Other posts: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers/Tight ends; Offensive lineLinebackers; Defensive backs.