Area of need: Defensive line
Current situation: Dire. Oregon had the worst third-down rushing defense in FBS last season (opponents converted on 71 percent of their attempts) and the second-worst interior run defense (opponents picked up 5.2 yards per attempt) as the Ducks attempted to transition to Brady Hoke's 4-3 defense.
On top of a rough transition on the field, last season was full of attrition on the defensive line for the Ducks. They lost (or, dismissed) Wayne Tei-Kirby, Austin Maloata, Eddie Heard, Torrodney Prevot, Canton Kaumatule and Ratu Mafileo, so the list of possibilities at this position for new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is slim.
To say that this is an important area of improvement for Oregon is an understatement. It is a necessary area of improvement. If the defensive line doesn’t make major strides, it really won’t matter what happens anywhere else on the field defensively because opponents will continue to pound the ball up front.
Plan moving forward: The good news for the Ducks is that Leavitt will likely bring this group back to a three-man front and Oregon returns experience in this category. Henry Mondeaux, Rex Manu, Justin Hollins, Jalen Jelks and Elijah George will be at the forefront of the competition as the new staff gets into town. Though five players isn’t enough for what Leavitt would likely want for this competition and rotation, it’s a start.
Leavitt has yet to officially hire a defensive line coach. Taggart's D-line coach at USF, Eric Mathies, has signed on to stay there and work with Charlie Strong and Leavitt's defensive line coach at Colorado (Jim Jeffcoat) is still listed as the Buffs' assistant coach/defensive line coach, so it'll be interesting to see where exactly Leavitt and Taggart go to lure in a talented defensive line coach to work with this unit that'll be so crucial to the defense's turnaround.
Looking at the players on Oregon's roster, Leavitt will likely ask many of his defensive linemen to bulk up a bit considering he fielded a starting three-man defensive line at Colorado last season that averaged out to 6-foot-3, 307 pounds.
But when it comes to size, one interesting prospect for Leavitt is 2017 commit Jordon Scott, who weighs in at 350 pounds. The ESPN scouts say Scott “can surprise you at times in how he can move and disrupt in trenches.” And though it’d be pretty rare for a true freshman tackle to see game time, he has already signed with Oregon and is reportedly on campus, so he’ll be able to start the strength and conditioning program immediately, which gives him a jump on the game.
But in 2017, the defensive line is going to be less about who and more about what and how. As in: What kind of progress can this group make? How will it match up against opposing Pac-12 offenses? What can it mean for the Oregon defense as a whole?