With signing day now firmly in the rear-view mirror, the focus for Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks now turns to spring football. Coming off their third straight Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl victory, expectations are high for the Oregon Ducks in 2012.
As with every team entering spring football, the Ducks are faced with the prospect of identifying players that can fill the void caused by the loss of players from the previous year's roster.
Here is a look at eight players that will be called on to increase their production in 2012.
With the departure of Darron Thomas to the NFL, spring football will feature a quarterback battle between redshirt sophomore Bryan Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.
While Mariota does possess considerable potential, it would be surprising if he were named the starting quarterback ahead of Bennett.
Bennett, in limited duty last season, played well enough to the point that some have questioned whether or not Thomas left early because of the possibility that Bennett would pass him on the depth chart.
As seen in the attached highlights ,Bennett possesses a cannon of an arm in addition to great running ability. For the Ducks to contend for another BCS bowl, the Ducks will need Bennett to make a smooth transition into leader of the offense.
Carson will see more carries in 2012
In addition to losing Darron Thomas, the Ducks also had to deal with the loss of his backfield mate LaMichael James. With Kenjon Barner rushing for almost 1,000 yards last season, the Ducks don’t have to worry about who is going to fill James' spot.
De'Anthony Thomas also will return, although he isn’t necessarily a true running back as the Ducks utilize him from a variety of spots. With the incredible pace that Oregon operates at on offense, the Ducks need at least three running backs over the course of a game.
After a freshman season in which he was relegated to mainly mop-up duty, Tra Carson looks ready to become a valuable change-of-pace back for the Ducks in 2012. Carson, who broke all of James' high school rushing records at Liberty-Eylau High School, will give the Ducks a legitimate power back that can move the chains in short-yardage situations.
Could Vaughn become a threat for the Ducks?
This season’s group of wide receivers faces plenty of questions, as behind returning starter Josh Huff there is little experience. To help out the Ducks' new QB in 2012, the wide receivers need another playmaker to complement Huff.
The competition this spring among wide receivers figures to be intense as the Ducks in the past few recruiting cycles have loaded up on wide receivers. One of these recently signed receivers is Rahsaan Vaughn, who signed with Oregon in the 2011 recruiting cycle.
As the top-rated wide receiver prospect in junior college, Vaughn was expected to make an immediate impact for Oregon in 2011. Despite his lofty ranking Vaughn failed to make much of impact for the Ducks this past season, as he only recorded 14 catches for 184 yards and one touchdown.
With a full offseason under his belt to grasp the playbook and develop chemistry with the quarterbacks, Vaughn could become the much-needed second threat at wide receiver.
Long will try and open holes for Kenjon Barner in 2012
Despite the fact that he just recently signed his letter of intent to go to the University of Oregon, Kyle Long will be counted on to make an immediate impact for the Ducks.
Standing at 6’7” and 290 pound,s Long looks the part of a future NFL offensive tackle. With the departure of last year's starting left tackle Darrion Weems, the son of former NFL great Howie Long will have a chance to start from day one.
Even if Long doesn’t win the starting spot, he will be counted on to bolster Oregon’s depth along the offensive line in 2012.
The Ducks expect big things from Lyerla in 2012
Even though he was a true freshman in 2011, Colt Lyerla found the end zone five times as the second-string tight end. The graduation of David Paulson means Lyerla will become the starting tight end in 2012.
No one can argue his incredible athleticism, but will Lyerla be able to handle the other responsibilities that being a starting tight end brings? What made Paulson a great tight end for the Ducks was that he was a great receiver and also a great blocker in the running game.
For the Oregon offense to keep humming in 2012, the Ducks will need Lyerla to be strong in both the passing and running attacks.
Washington has a chance to seize a starting spot in 2012
The battle for the departed Terrell Turner’s starting defensive end spot will be another position battle that bears watching this spring.
With Dion Jordan wreaking havoc from the other side, whoever takes Turner’s spot should benefit from not worrying about being double-teamed. Tony Washington will enter spring as the favorite for the vacancy but will face competition from a trio of talented freshman: Arik Armstead, Sam Kamp and Koa Ka’ai.
If Washington can seize the starting spot and bring pressure opposite of Dion Jordan, the Duck defense would be well prepared for the pass-happy Pac-12.
Alonso will look to build on a solid 2011 season
The defensive MVP of the 2012 Rose Bowl, Kiko Alonso will enter 2012 as the starting inside linebacker for the Ducks.
Despite missing time due to injuries and a suspension, Alonso was a crucial member of the Duck defense as a reserve linebacker in 2011. Alonso, who stands 6’4” and 237 pounds, is a feared hitter who is also surprisingly adept in pass coverage.
For the Ducks' defense to succeed in 2012, it will need its new man in the middle to build on his impressive showing in the Rose Bowl.
Jackson will have a chance to become a starter in 2012
Eddie Pleasant’s graduation is the secondary’s only lost starter from last year's solid group.
Brian Jackson looked to be gaining some of Pleasant’s snaps early in the season before he had to deal with injury problems. Jackson will enter spring football looking to fill the void at rover but will face competition from Avery Patterson and Erick Dargan, among others.
The secondary surrounding rover is strong with the likes of John Boyett and Terrance Mitchell, but the Duck defense will struggle if it doesn’t get production from Jackson at rover.