Spring Assessments: Defensive Line

The defensive line is returning both of their defensive ends. However the middle of last season's line has graduated, but this perceived weakness in the defense may be a lot stronger than you think.

The defensive line may be the most intact group from last year. They do loose two starting defensive tackles in David Faaeteete and Jeremy Gibbs. However the two guys behind Faaeteete and Gibbs, Ra'Shon Harris and Cole Linehan, do have some in-game experience in their careers. The pair played in a combined 24 games last season, recording 33 tackles and one sack. However Harris and Linehan have had a fair share of injury problems, and that may be a concern for them next season.

Stepping Up Into A Starting Position – Cole Linehan

The senior has seen playing time in each of his three seasons at Oregon. Injuries have plagued him throughout his career, and those injuries have limited Linehan's progression as a defensive tackle. His career stats are 44 tackles, seven of them for a loss and three sacks. This body of work is more than any other returning defensive tackle. Mike Bellotti has spoken at length this spring about the defensive line. Earlier this week he discussed his expectations of Linehan and his work this spring.

"I expect improved performance; I think Cole has improved this spring. Maybe the best improvement I have seen on this football team."

The Surprise Of Spring – Michael Speed

After nearly a month of spring drills, Mike Bellotti reflected on his defensive line and their taking advantage of opportunities presented to them because of injuries.

"The best player (in taking advantage of his reps this spring) has been Michael Speed. Michael Speed plays at a level all the time that uses his ability. He plays to his full potential, he plays hard, he's smart, and he uses his hands very well. I just need him to get a little bit bigger and stronger."

Mike Bellotti has mentioned Speed's play after several practices and scrimmages this spring. It will be interesting to see how Michael Speed will perform in tomorrow's spring game as the starting defensive end for the green team in place of the injured Will Tukuafu.

Others In The Mix – Tonio Celotto and Justin Thompson

Tonio Celotto saw time last season as a true freshman, and he stood out in last Saturday's scrimmage (highlighted by being the first defender to bring down LeGarrette Blount this spring). He is one of, if not the, strongest players on team, and he like Speed, will get a change to shine as a starter in tomorrow's scrimmage.

Justin Thompson was one of the headliners of Oregon's past recruiting class, and he was the only five start prospect the Ducks landed. Thompson has great size at 6-foot-5-inches and 290 pounds. Defensive line coach Michael Gray feels that Thompson could have a real impact on the team.

"I think he's going to be an immediate factor," Gray said. "It's good to get another bigger guy. He's very athletic, he has played a lot of football and he brings some of the skills to the table that some of the other tackles don't have."

The Ducks' defensive line has plenty of big bodies, and it has a knack for rotating bodies and keeping them fresh. They have nice blend of returning starters, more developed underclassmen, and a highly-touted junior college transfer. With all of that talent and size, it's hard to see this unit becoming a chink in the defensive armor of the University of Oregon.

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