Originally written January 23, 2013 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
Making a Run Last year the Oregon Ducks were heading into their 2012 college football season with questions surrounding a few key positions. Could Marcus Mariota be the real deal at quarterback and succeed as a freshman in the Pac-12? Would the Oregon secondary be able to improve upon their 2011 statistics despite the loss of John Boyett? Could Kenjon Barner replace the productivity and statistics of LaMichael James? Well, a No. 2 postseason ranking later and the Ducks more than answered the questions surrounding their team in 2012. All of the players that needed to have big years had impressive statistics, and Oregon looks as though it is built to contend for a Pac-12 and National Title in the coming years. That does not mean, however, that there are not a few positions that the Ducks must improve at should they want to solidify their place among the elite college football teams of 2013. Here are the five positions Oregon needs to upgrade heading into next season. Linebacker Key Losses: Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso Key Returners: Boseko Lokombo, Derrick Malone, Anthony Wallace, Tyson Coleman Boseko Lokombo will look to step into an even bigger role in 2013 for the Ducks. The Oregon linebacking crew has consistently been one of the best in the nation. From the days with Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger to last year’s impressive crew of Clay, Alonso, and Lokombo, this unit has bee one of the Ducks’ most reliable on defense. With Clay and Alonso finishing their Oregon careers in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State the Ducks will need a youth-filled movement to continue the production at these positions. While Lokombo will return to Oregon and be preparing for a year that will be his time to shine, the trio of Malone, Wallace, and Coleman will need to get into that weight room during the offseason and further develop their skills so one of Oregon’s most reliable units (in recent history) does not see a drop-off in 2013. Wide Receiver Key Losses: Will Murphy Key Returners: Josh Huff, Keanon Lowe, Bralon Addison Oregon’s wide receivers are a little bit tougher to claim that they need to be more productive considering the fact that, on the whole, they were a very good unit last season for the job they had to do. A multiplicity of receivers were involved in every game and as an entire group the wide receivers were very impressive as they seemed almost interchangeable; no matter what wide receiver combination was on the field, Oregon could continue to move the ball. That does not mean, however, that improvements do not need to be made at this position. One thing the Ducks need is a standout receiver. While Huff is close to becoming that kind of impact player for Oregon, injuries have prevented him from becoming the premiere receiver on offense. Should he stay healthy and continue to develop his already impressive skills this offseason, opposing defenses could have an even harder time trying to stop the Oregon offensive attack. Place Kicker Key Losses: Rob Beard Key Returners: Alejandro Maldonado…? Will Maldonado remain Oregon’s kicker in 2013? (Photo: KEZI.com) Let’s just say that Oregon’s biggest weakness as a whole is it’s kicking game. Partially due to the fact that these kickers are not relied upon all too often to kick field goals (as the Ducks usually cash in six instead of three), the Ducks’ field goal kickers, and especially Maldonado, have been unimpressive. In fact, Maldonado has cost the Ducks two relatively big losses in recent history: USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2012, both games in which the Ducks could have either jumped back into the national title picture or solidified their case for a BCS National Championship appearance. Heading into 2013 there are many Oregon fans that do not want to see Maldonado kick another field goal for the Ducks. Unfortunately it remains to be seen whether or not there is another kicker on the current roster that could step into this role. Matt Wogan, one of Oregon’s 2013 commits, could see playing time early on if he is able to showcase his skills and beat out Maldonado in competition. Interior Defensive Line Key Losses: Isaac Remington Key Returners: Ricky Heimuli, Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart As a whole this unit was very solid in 2012 despite a young roster that saw plenty of action for numerous players. Partially a consequence of the way Nick Aliotti and Jerry Azzinaro rotate their players onto the field, these guys limited opposing offenses from getting to the middle of the field while containing mobile quarterbacks. The improvements that need to be made at this position group deal mainly with the youthful talent further developing their bodies and skills during offseason workouts. Also needed in 2013 is greater pressure on quarterbacks that will dissect defenses if given enough time. Though there is a lot of promise in this group (especially when you look at the returners of Heimuli, Keliikipi, and Hart), all of these players need to work on specific techniques so they can handle those big teams and powerhouses when they come their way. Place Kicker Yes, this position group was THAT bad last season. Besides the joke in putting that position on this list again, what this shows is that Oregon is relatively stocked at other position groups such as QB, DB, S, RB, and OL. The talent already in place on the roster added with the upgrades that should be easy to address during the offseason should have the Ducks in great position to more than contend for a Pac-12 Championship and fifth-straight BCS Bowl berth. CLICK HERE CHECK OUT THE DUCKS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!

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