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Practice news digest: Oregon defense looks tougher at every level in 2014

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Stick that in your smash mouth offense: The Oregon defense will be tougher and more physical this season, with an increased commitment to stopping the run (Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports photo).

Reports trickling in from fall camp suggest the Oregon defense will be much tougher in 2014.

Rob Moseley at goducks.com talked today about how impressive Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci will be up front:

Moseley wrote, “There have been no more impressive, nor more physically imposing, players in Oregon’s preseason camp so far this August than defensive endsDeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. Each is at least 6-foot-7 and approaches 300 pounds, and they’ve been virtually unblockable in passing situations this month, while wreaking havoc in the backfield on run plays.”

Starting nose tackle Alex Balducci is 6-4, 310. The junior from Central Catholic had 18 tackles last season and played in all 13 games, adding four in the spring game. He added 25 pounds of muscle in the off season.

At linebacker, Joe Walker cut off his long hair for his sister’s wedding this summer, but it didn’t rob him of his strength. He’s more comfortable and confident in his second year after appearing in all 13 games and getting a start in the Alamo Bowl last season. Walker had 37 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore.

Defensive coordinator Don Pellum told Steve Mims of the Register-Guard, “The nice thing about Joe is his command of the defense is better, so the confidence level is a lot higher. That’s a big part of players playing with confidence, the feeling they can play faster when they know what they are doing. He’s in terrific shape. He had a terrific winter and summer and now he’s like a veteran walking around.”

At cornerback, senior Troy Hill is making the most of a second chance after disciplinary issues last season. Secondary coach John Neal says Hill has improved so much he would have challenged departed starter Terrance Mitchell for a first-team cornerback spot, even if Mitchell hadn’t left for the Dallas Cowboys.

Neal praised Hill’s improvement in a conversation with Andrew Greif of the Oregonian. “He’s not faking it,” Neal said. “It’s real and there’s evidence of it every single day. … The thing I was most proud of is he got better at his weaknesses. When he came here in fall camp the first day I said, ‘You did it. You got better at the things you weren’t good enough to be a full time starter.’ Tackling, bump coverage, press coverage, technique, balance.”

The 10-year veteran of the Oregon coaching staff also said that newcomer Kahlil Oliver is progressing rapidly and may be among the first to earn playing time among the first-year players, ahead of Mattrell McGraw and Arrion Springs, who may also play. Oliver asks intelligent questions, Neal said, and he’s an exceptional athlete, a long jumper and sprinter in high school as well as a hard-hitting safety.

There’s some understandable anxiety about the twin injuries to offensive stars in advance of the Duck’s drive for a return to the PAC-12 championship, but people forget that in 2012, the Ducks lost veteran starters Carson York and John Boyett in game three against Fresno State. That season they went on to beat Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, their third straight 12-win season and fourth straight BCS bowl. The Ducks are the winningest team in college football over the last five years, according to ESPN. In that time they’ve overcome a lot of big injuries.

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Dale Newton

About Dale Newton

The Ducks Stops Here is a site for opinions, commentary and analysis on Duck football. I've written it since 2010. Reader contributions are welcome and can be submitted at duckstopshere@yahoo.com

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