Helfrich, Ducks look to address defensive needs
EUGENE — Nick Aliotti is gone, but it appears Mark Helfrich has his Ducks in a row.
Oregon is in the process of addressing its two most pressing needs — help on the defensive line and in the secondary — entering today's national signing day.
The Ducks lose defensive linemen Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Havili-Heimuli and linebacker Boseko Lokombo from the defensive front. In the secondary, Terrance Mitchell has entered the NFL draft and starting safeties Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson have graduated.
"I think we have some answers," Don Pellum said before heading out on the recruiting trail for the first time since being promoted to replace the retired Aliotti as Oregon's defensive coordinator. "We need a couple more."
Two junior college transfers — 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end Tui Talia (Diablo Valley College) and 6-0, 185-pound cornerback Dominique Harrison (Contra Costa College) — are officially members of the Ducks' 2014 recruiting class, having already signed national letters of intent.
The program has verbal commitments from defensive tackle Jalen Jelks (6-7, 253) of Phoenix, defensive end Austin Maloata (6-3, 270) of Corona, Calif., defensive end Justin Hollins (6-5, 207) of Arlington, Texas, and outside linebacker Jimmie Swain (6-2, 229) of Olathe, Kan.
Arrion Springs, a top-100 prospect, plans to have an impact as a true freshman. The cornerback from San Antonio recently told The Register-Guard his focus during fall camp will be on competing for the starting spot opposite Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Springs has been actively recruiting other notable classmates to join him in Eugene. Trey Lealaimatafao, a 6-0, 300-pound defensive tackle from San Antonio, is expected to decide between Oregon and LSU on Wednesday.
According to 247sports, the Ducks are also in the mix for John "Juju" Smith, a five-star safety/wide receiver from Long Beach, Calif., who could follow in De'Anthony Thomas' footsteps by choosing Oregon over USC at the last minute.
If safety prospects Khalil Oliver from Meridian, Idaho, and Mattrell McGraw from New Orleans, are added to the class it might be longtime secondary coach John Neal's most talented group.
"I think the needs in this class were defensive line and in the defensive secondary. They've addressed them at the junior college ranks extremely well," Tom Luginbill, ESPN's national recruiting director, said of Oregon's coaching staff. "More than anything, I think they've done a good job in areas of need, which at the end of the day is something you've got to do."
Defensive lineman Arik Armstead, a 6-8, 296-pound junior who made five starts in 2013, announced last week he was leaving the basketball program to focus on football. DeForest Buckner (started final seven games), Alex Balducci (played in all 13 games) and Sam Kamp (played in 10 games) are also expected to fill bigger roles in 2014.
Troy Hill, a redshirt senior cornerback who played in 11 games as a backup last season, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of menacing last week and is expected to be reinstated to the program by Helfrich after being suspended following his Dec. 13 arrest.
Erick Dargan, who was suspended for the Civil War along with Hill for an undisclosed violation of team rules, is going through the offseason strength and conditioning program and expected to be in the competition at free safety.
Pellum plans to run a 3-4 base as Aliotti did in recent years. Although the Ducks say goodbye to some key contributors from last year's 11-2 team, there are plenty of intriguing pieces in place and more ready to sign up today.
"He said he was playing and looking at some stuff right now, but he doesn't have anything concrete," Swain said of Pellum's plan of attack. "He doesn't want to tell me anything to work on because he doesn't know exactly what they're going to be doing yet."