Dustin Hollins

Oregon 2017 Outlook - DL: The area most in need of improvement

Oregon 2017 Outlook - DL: The area most in need of improvement

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backsTight ends, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Defensive line.

Key losses: Defensive end T.J. Daniel.   

Projected starters: Defensive ends Henry Mondeaux, Sr., (6-5, 280) and Drayton Carlberg, RSo., (6-5, 290), and nose guard Rex Manu, Jr., (6-3, 300).

Key backups: Defensive ends - Jalen Jelks, RJr., (6-6, 260), Elijah George, RSr., (6-5, 290), Gus Cumberlander, RSo., (6-6, 260), Hunter Kampmoyer, RFr., (6-4, 245), and Bryson Young, So.,  (6-5, 245).  Nose guard - Gary Baker, RSo., (6-4, 305), 

What we know: Oregon played 15 defensive lineman last year out of necessity because of injuries and poor play. The results were ugly. The defensive line contributed greatly to the Ducks allowing 246.6 rushing yards per game.

Mondeaux, expected to be a rising star, did little all season, finishing with just one sack and four tackles for loss in UO's 4-3 defense. He might be better suited for the 3-4 defense, to be brought back under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, where he can eat up space and make plays when they present themselves rather than be asked to force the issue in a one-gap scheme.

Manu proved to be solid during his first year as a starter but he and the rest of the interior linemen failed to make much of an impact as pass rushers or against the run. The experience he gained, however, should pay off in 2017.

What we don't know: Plenty. After Mondeaux the Ducks have a lot of mysteries at defensive end. Carlberg won a starting job early in the season before being lost for the year. Cumberlander saw some time. So did George. Jelks looked like a strong pass rusher in the 4-3, but will need to add bulk in order to function as a two-gap end in the 3-4.

At nose guard, Baker has promise and is the front-runner to backup Manu. But the loss of Wayne Tei-Kirby, who transferred to BYU, hurts what was already a thin group.

The team's move to a 3-4 defense will likely mean that redshirt sophomore Justin Hollins moves from defensive end, where he was woefully undersized at 235 pounds, to outside linebacker where he could become a heck of a pass rusher in the mold of former Ducks, Christian French, Tony Washington and Dion Jordan. Hollins had 9 1/2 tackles for loss, including 3 1/2 sacks in 2016.

The scheme shift could also force senior Jonah Moi (245 pounds) to return to linebacker where he could compete for a starting job as an inside linebacker.

Final word:  Had the defensive line just played average football last season the Ducks would likely have won games at Nebraska, at home against Colorado, at California and at Oregon State. That said, too much was asked of such a young and inexperienced group that also faced more than its share of injuries. A year of getting their teeth kicked in should pay dividends.

Position grade: D. This group could easily reach 'C' status, or better, with growth. New defensive line coach Joe Salave'a will have his work cut out for him, that's for sure.

Next up: Linebackers.