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Defense 3-headed monsters: Pac-12 North

3/24/2015

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

We're breaking it down by division. Yesterday, we handled North and South offenses. Now, we move to the other side of the ball. As you'll read below, the Pac-12 North must replace a tremendous amount of defensive production in 2015.

1. Oregon

LB Joe Walker, DL DeForest Buckner, CB Chris Seisay

The skinny: The Ducks did lose defensive firepower, but they've also retained some of their big guns. Buckner is a future NFL talent who led the team with 13 tackles for loss (four sacks) last year, while Walker's 49 solo tackles were the most from the linebacking corps. The biggest production vacuum comes in the secondary, where Erick Dargan's conference-best seven interceptions have vanished. Seisay filled in for Ifo Ekpre-Olomu late, so he has big shoes to fill.

2. Stanford

LB Blake Martinez, LB Peter Kalambayi, CB Ronnie Harris

The skinny: The Pac-12's best defense for three years running faces a daunting reloading effort. Cardinal defensive coordinator Lance Anderson remains bullish about much of his roster's talent, though. Martinez returns 101 tackles, the most from the 2014 team, while Kalambayi's speed rush netted 6.5 sacks last season. The secondary saw a heavy load of departures -- Harris is now the elder statesman in the midst of youngsters. The hinge point of Stanford defensive success, though, will likely be the performance of its new-look defensive line.

3. Cal

LB Michael Barton, LB Devante Downs, S Griffin Piatt

The skinny: The Bears return their leading tackler in Barton, who finished with 80 stops last season. Barton also paced the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. Downs came off the bench to top the roster with three sacks, but Cal needs to pressure the quarterback much more effectively to succeed defensively in 2015 -- as a team, they accumulated only 16 total sacks. There's an influx of fresh talent coming into the secondary (the Bears need it to stay healthy this time around), but Piatt grabbed three interceptions in just six games before going down with a season-ending injury.

4. Washington

LB Travis Feeney, S Budda Baker, CB Sidney Jones

The skinny: There's a lot of individual star power to replace in Seattle. Hau'oli Kikaha's boatload of sacks are gone, as are John Timu's tackles and Danny Shelton's mind-boggling numbers from the nose tackle slot. Feeney is the most experienced returning starter. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss last year for a Washington team that has lost a staggering 60.5 tackles for loss and 44 sacks to graduation. Baker brings back 80 stops -- third most on last year's team -- while Sidney Jones should benefit from having a trial-by-fire freshman year under his belt.

5. Washington State

LB Kache Palacio, LB Jeremiah Allison, CB Charleston White

The skinny: Xavier Cooper has declared for the NFL draft, so Palacio is the Cougars' most productive returner. He led the team with 6.5 sacks last season. Allison's 71 stops in 2014 make him the top returning tackler. Washington State defensive backs finished with only one interception throughout all of last season -- yes, you read that right. It belonged to White, so he earns the mention here, although there are still plenty of questions left to answer.

6. Oregon State

DE Lavonte Barnett, CB Larry Scott, S Justin Strong

The skinny: The Beavers must replace nine defensive starters. Their top six tacklers are all gone, and not a single one of the team's 11 interceptions in 2014 is returning. So finding a strong three-headed nucleus is a tough task at this point. Barnett led the team with 4.5 sacks last year, so there's that. Scott and Strong both racked up tackles in the secondary, but there's not much else to write home about when it comes to proven talent in Corvallis.