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The Replacements: will the Ducks rebuild or reload in 2014?

College football is a game with built-in cycles and a tremendous challenge every winter: after the last Signing Day pledge comes in, coaches have to accept the challenge to rebuild and reshape their teams for a new season. How do you say good-bye and replace Josh Huff, De'Anthony Thomas, Taylor Hart and the rest? Here's an inventory of what was lost.

Chicks dig scars, and pain heals: Keanu Reeves and friends have all used up their eligibility, so the Ducks will have to make do in 2014 with Marcus Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and Hroniss Grasu.

Wide Receiver/Passing Game

 
Player Rec Yds Ave   Td      LG
Josh Huff 62 1140 18.4 12 65
Daryle Hawkins   23 347 15.1 3 45
De'Anthony Thomas 22 246 11.2 1 28

Bralon Addison immediately steps in to Huff's role as the go-to receiver (61 catches, 890 yds. 7 tds in 2013), but who replaces Addison? Ducks have to identify a reliable #2 target and big-play receiver among several candidates. Huff had 6 100-yard games last season, and 6 times he averaged over 20 yards per catch in a game.

Dwayne Stanford, Chance Allen, B.J. Kelley, Darren Carrington, Devon Allen, Jalen Brown, Tony James and Budda Baker all have talent, but a couple of them have to grow up in a hurry under the watchful eye of Matt Lubick. Look for running backs Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall to be more involved in the passing game as well (13, 14 receptions last season). All three tight ends return. Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis, all flashed potential to become playmakers. Mundt and Baylis each made a nice catch on a seam route in the Alamo Bowl, Mundt for 20 and Baylis for 27 yards.

Running Back

Player Att Yds Ave Td LG
De'Anthony Thomas 96 618 6.2 8 40

The Ducks are in great shape at running back next season despite Thomas' departure. DAT wasn't fully reintegrated into the Oregon offense after his injury against Cal in game 4, accounting for just 4 touchdowns after going down, missing  four games and ineffective against UCLA at the end of October, little-used in the Alamo Bowl.

Tyner, Marshall, incoming freshmen Royce Freeman and Tony James, reliable sub Ayele Forde, and redshirt freshman Kani Benoit comprise the deepest backfield the Ducks have ever had. Curiously DAT, Tyner, and Marshall all averaged 6.2 yards a carry in 2013. Forde churned out 6.4 in his mop-up role. Despite a late-season injury Mariota scorched defenses for 96 carries, 715 yards, 7.4 yards a carry, 9 tds, including a 71-yard scoring run against Virginia and a career-high 133 yards in the Alamo Bowl.

The sleeper in the running back rotation is linebacker Rodney Hardrick, who carried the ball twice last year, a 66-yard rumble with a fake punt, and 65-yard scoop-and-score with a blocked field goal versus Stanford.

Defensive Line

Player HT WT Tackles Sacks TFL other
Taylor Hart 6-6 287 75 3.5 6.5 3 FF, 5 pass BU
Wade Keliikipi 6-3 306 34 2 5.0 1 fumble recover, 1 blk kick
Ricky Havili-Heimuli 6-4 314 25 1 4.0 none

Hart's relentless motor will be the hardest to replace. For all the worry about the loss of five defensive linemen in 2013 (Jared Ebert and Ryan Hagen are the other two), statistically, this group won't be missed provided there is improved linebacker play next year.

A change in scheme or technique seems inevitable unless the Ducks score big in the last 25 days of recruiting: currently the roster doesn't include any of the big defensive tackles needed to play the "3-technique" role played by Keliikipi and Havili-Hemuli. 6-4, 297-lb. Alex Balducci, a junior next year, comes closest.

The Ducks desperately need to close strong at defensive tackle in the next three weeks. Defensive linemen get dinged up, and numbers are essential. Fans can remember the Cal and Stanford games in 2012, when the Ducks got so thin on the d-line that they had to burn Balducci's redshirt; in parts of both games they were fielding 3 freshmen on the defensive line.

Linebacker

 
Player HT WT Tackles Sacks TFLs Other
Boseko Lokombo 6-3 229 63 7.0 3.0 1 int, 2 PD, 1 rec, 1 FF

The entire linebacker group underperformed in 2013, and the hope is that a year of experience and the energy provided by a new defensive coordinator will inspire improved results next season. The emergence of Danny Mattingly and Jimmie Swain inside allows 6-2. 220-lb. Derrick Malone to move outside where he can be more effective. Hardrick and junior college transfer Joe Walker showed progress in the Alamo Bowl. Tyson Coleman earned two starts in the middle of the season but missed the Civil War and the bowl game. Torrodney Prevot and Tyrell Robinson look like rising stars. Both should have a bigger impact as sophomores.

Lokombo had a productive Duck career, but always seemed like a player who was about to burst into a full-blown dominating player but never got there. Blessed with a NFL body and good size and speed, he scored 4 touchdowns on defense and special teams, including a pick six against Andrew Luck in 2011 and a fumble recovery against Arizona State as a freshman.

Secondary

Player HT WT Tackles Int TFL Other
Avery Patterson 5-10 189 80 3 6.0 9, PD, 3 career pick sixes
Brian Jackson 5-10 197 71 0 1.0 3 PD, spokesman, inspirational leader
Terrance Mitchell 6-0 189 59 5 0 12 PD, 1 FF, team leader in ints

Replacing these three is a tremendous challenge for John Neal and the defense, not just in their statistical production, but their leadership and knowledge of the game.

The Ducks have a wealth of talented young defensive backs, and a lockdown veteran presence in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on one side. Hard-hitting safety Erick Dargan returns, and Dior Mathis played in all 13 games. Dominique Harrison has already enrolled for winter term; the cornerback from Contra Costa College was Defensive Player of the Year in the Bay Valley Conference as a sophomore. 5-star recruit Arrion Springs will make a bid to play right away. Chris Seisay, Tyree Robinson, Reggie Daniels and the Amoako brothers have all waited their turn, and linebacker/safety Oshay Dunmore is one of the best athletes on the team.

Whoever emerges, Neal will be teaching on the fly in 2014, and Connor Cook and Michigan State come to town on September 6th.

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