May 4, 2006

Oregon must replace Ngata's production

Leave it to a big body to leave a big void.

On the same day the Baltimore Ravens took Oregon's Haloti Ngata with the 12th pick in the NFL Draft, Oregon's spring practice ended with the chore of replacing Ngata's presence in the trenches.

After sharing the benefits of playing alongside the 6-foot-5, 338-pound tackle, the Ducks' defenders will shoulder the burden of replacing him.

"The challenge will be shared by everybody," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "Anytime you lose somebody you go one by one and say 'Where are we now, and who is going to pick up slack?' All of us have to respond to that. It's a challenge to everybody."

Last season, Ngata's size demanded double-teams and freed up the linebackers in Oregon's gap-control defense, leading the Ducks to a 10-2 season and the No. 1 total defense in the Pac-10.

The task of replacing Ngata, Oregon's first consensus All-American since 1962, will be felt across the Ducks' front seven, whose heaviest player - tackle David Faaeteete - is more than 30 pounds lighter than Ngata.

Cole Linehan (6-4, 295) ended the spring with the other defensive tackle spot after starting seven games last year.

"That position can really help anchor our interior line and keep wear and tear off the linebackers," Bellotti said. "Haloti was the best at that. Guys are having to step up in the line. They might not be as big, but they can be physical."

At least in Oregon's April 29 spring game, the Linehan-Faaeteete combination was productive. Their White team limited the Green team to 1.4 yards per carry. Backup defensive ends Nick Reed and Victor Filipe also added three sacks each.

Despite the strides made during the spring game, Bellotti will have to wait until the fall to sort out the defensive line. The Ducks' best lineman, Matt Toeaina, practiced at defensive end in the spring after starting at tackle opposite Ngata in 2005.

But the 6-foot-3, 301-pound Toeaina could stay at defensive end for the regular season if needed.

Bellotti, though, hopes that is not necessary with the arrival of three junior college defensive linemen, defensive ends Dexter Manley II and Micah Howeth and defensive tackle Jeremy Gibbs, in the fall.

"We'll put him where we need him," Bellotti said of Toeaina. "I hope our two ends will give us support and we can move Matt inside."

Through the spring, Bellotti emphasized that the season without Ngata won't necessarily be a bad thing, especially with the Ducks' potential to have more speed overall defensively.

"You have to say the glass is half full," Bellotti said. "We have a chance to be better."

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