Oregon Football: What You Need to Know About the Ducks' Wide Receiving Corps
The first thing you need to know about Oregon's WR corps for 2012 is that there are a lot of them. As in 15 wide receivers on the current roster (16 if you count RB De'Anthony Thomas), and three more arriving in the fall.
Which of them will step up to replace the catches from Lavasier Tuinei (48 receptions for 599 yards and 10 touchdowns) and David Paulson (31 receptions for 438 yards and six touchdowns)?
The second thing worth mentioning is that with the departure of LaMichael James, added to the prodigious throwing skills of both Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota, it's likely the passing game will be more prominent in 2012.
It's also worth noting before we start breaking down the WR's that while they are, as a group, young and inexperienced, the talent potential of these kids is nothing short of phenomenal.
For those of you who were frustrated in 2011 by the number of dropped passes, you need to know that there were very few dropped balls in this year's Oregon Spring Game—hallelujah, baby!
When you start hyperventilating at the promise of these young receivers, I ask that you keep one thought in mind: WR coach Scott Frost's most famous quote "No block, no rock." No matter how fast a receiver can run the 40, no matter how reliable his hands, if he doesn't block efficiently to open up that second lane for Kenjon Barner or De'Anthony Thomas, he won't play regularly.
Here's the rundown of this rich WR corps in the order they popped into my mind (not particularly depth chart order—we'll do that once fall camp starts, OK?)
Will the enigmatic Josh Huff be "the guy" in his junior season?
As Oregon's leading returning pure receiver, No. 1 on the Ducks roster still has some distance to go before he is accepted as the No. 1 wide receiver.
Limited by a leg injury in 2011, Huff did not play in the Oregon spring game. There was discussion in the press box that day that Huff is still not 100 percent healthy.
Even if Huff's leg is ready to go, will the courts and Chip Kelly let him? Huff was arrested in March on a DUI charge and has plead not guilty. It remains to be seen what kind of doghouse Huff may or may not be in by fall.
Speculation is that he may be suspended for a game or two.
De'Anthony Thomas had 46 receptions for 605 yards and nine TDs last year. Although listed as a running back and not a wide receiver, DAT is clearly going to catch some balls in 2012, and I can't leave him off the WR list.
I will just say that if at any point you lose DAT on the field, look in the end zone. He's probably standing there alone waiting for the ball to arrive in his hands.
When Huff went down with his injury last year, JUCO transfer Rahsaan Vaughn came in and looked good early. He ended the year with 14 receptions for 184 yards and one TD.
I am not convinced, however, that Vaughn is the answer at WR unless he makes big strides from 2011 to 2012.
He is a good blocker, which as you learned in the intro is important in this position at Oregon. Vaughn also has good size at 6'2", 193 lbs, and he could conceivably get a shot at the NFL. That should be serious motivation for him.
Vaughn had a good spring practice, and ended it with a very solid spring game. He caught four balls for 57 yards, and was the leading receiver on Marcus Mariota's winning team.
But again, I'm not willing at this point to say Vaughn's a starter until he shows us the money. He should get the chance in game one, especially if Huff is suspended.
I have mixed emotions about junior Daryle Hawkins.
I love his size—6'4", 198 lbs.
I hate that he had so many dropped balls in the Washington game.
I love that Hawkins had a really good spring camp.
I hate that he had so many drops in the Washington game.
I love that he had a great spring game—4 catches for 55 yards, including one spectacular 35-yard reception (from Marcus Mariota) for a touchdown.
I hate that he dropped balls in the Washington game.
I love that Hawkins seems to have settled into the WR position after being bounced around.
I guess there are more positives for Hawkins than negatives, but if he drops one ball in this year's Washington game, he and I are through.
How can you not root for a walk-on who is so determined to play for the Ducks?
Sophomore Stanton was a star receiver at Crespi High in Los Angeles where he was teammates with Bryan Bennett and Hroniss Grasu. He languished in walk-on territory on the depth chart last year and still may not earn a starting position.
However, Stanton was widely praised by his teammates in post-practice interviews this spring. And then he came out in the spring game and quietly caught five balls (from Bennett) for 62 yards. Stanton was the leading receiver on Bennett's team, even though he was listed as the No. 5 WR on that team's depth chart.
Stanton is talented, he works hard and he will get opportunities in 2012.
Redshirt sophomore Keanon Lowe, out of Portland's Jesuit High, was consistent in spring drills and will also see action in 2012.
Lowe broke his wrist last year, but the coaches seem impressed by his toughness and determination to keep his nose in front of the new kids (more on them in just a few slides from now) nipping at his heels.
Lowe caught one pass for four yards in the spring game, and also saw duty returning punts and kickoffs. He returned two punts for 16 yards, and two kickoffs for 34 yards, his longest going 23 yards.
He's not particularly big or blazingly fast (although his speed is respectable), but I think Lowe will earn a steady spot in the rotation, both at WR and returner.
All Duck fans are rooting for Eric Dungy to have a breakout year in 2012.
The son of NFL legend Tony Dungy (and that's the last time I'm going to say that, Eric), Dungy always seems to make something happen when he gets in a game.
Dungy doesn't have sprinter speed, but he always seems to be where the ball is. He has great hands, plays smart, and has the best hairdo. Solid in the spring game, Dungy had three receptions for 40 yards.
I put him in the same category with Keanon Lowe, and expect them both to get action in rotation. They probably aren't superstars, but should both be solid contributors week in and week out.
Have you heard anything lately about Justin Hoffman, dear reader? The last I heard is that he may or may not play in 2012 due to repeated concussions sustained last year.
It would probably help if opponents would stop grabbing his face mask.
Hoffman had ten receptions for 133 yards last year and his talent is unquestioned. He has great hands and is a very good blocker.
The only question is his health, so if you hear anything please let me know.
Junior WR Ben Butterfield showed promise until he went down with a knee injury in the Washington game.
The Sherwood, OR, native did not show up in the stats for Oregon's spring game, and I don't remember seeing him. He was listed on the spring game roster, however, fourth on the depth chart on Bryan Bennett's team.
I will speculate that Butterfield was held out because of his knee injury, and because the coaches know what he can do. We won't know more about him until fall camp starts.
Three Redshirt Freshmen
Do you sometimes wish they played football with no jerseys or pads? Yeah, me too. If Devon Blackmon doesn't have a breakout year on the field, my guess is modeling is his second career choice.
One reason why there is so much uncertainly surrounding the Ducks' receiving corps is that we don't know how the trio of Blackmon, Tacoi Sumler and B.J. Kelley have developed as redshirt freshmen. All three apparently had good spring practices, and all three played solidly in the spring game.
Blackmon had shoulder surgery in 2011 and is now recovered. He caught one pass in the spring game, and also had a nice kickoff return.
Kelly had success on the track in spring and caught a 28-yard pass for a touchdown in the spring game. He, too, returned kickoffs and had two for 53 yards, with one long one of 41 yards. Of the three, Kelley was the most impressive in the spring game.
Sumler caught three balls for 15 yards in the spring game. He is scary fast, and is an explosive, deep threat type of player. Everyone seems excited about Sumler—including me—but will he live up to expectations? He is also somewhat vertically challenged, at only 5'9".
All three of these guys have the potential to be "the guy", and they will certainly push the older guys.
The New Kids on the Block
There is a lot of excitement in Duckville about the three new wide receiver recruits who will make their debut (or not) this fall.
Bralon Addison is a highly touted 4-star recruit from Texas. Chance Allen, also from Texas, is a 3-star wide receiver, and Dwayne Stanford from Cincinnati, OH, is also a 3-star.
I know you are all breathing heavily over these three youngsters, and they all have terrific potential. But I think you need to hold your horses.
I expect Chance Allen to redshirt. And I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Addison didn't redshirt as well.
However, I do think you might see Dwayne Stanford this year. Since I haven't seen Stanford in person yet, I'm going on his scouting report here, but I like his size—6'5", 195 lbs. He's obviously a big target, and if he can use his length, he could fit in nicely.
I see Stanford on a beautifully thrown Mariota fade route into the end zone, and I hope he is a "go-up-and-get-it" receiver from 30 yards in.
Please don't hate me if all three of the newcomers redshirt. They do, after all, have to learn how to block, remember?
By "others" I mean other players listed on the roster of whom I know absolutely nothing.
They are: Chad Delaney, a junior from Elmira, OR, who had no receptions in the spring game, but did have one punt return for 11 yards.
Dane Ebanez, a junior from—ya gotta love this—North Pole, Alaska. Ebanez had no catches in the spring game, and one punt return for no yardage.
Miles Johnson, redshirt freshman from Sherman Oaks, CA. Johnson had one catch in the spring game for five yards.
Will Murphy, senior from Albany, OR. Murphy had three receptions in the spring game for 34 yards, and had one real nice 14-yarder.
Just because these players aren't high on my personal radar currently, it doesn't mean they might not turn out to be superstar receivers.
Whew! That's a lot of wide receivers. It remains to be seen if the Ducks have an embarrassment of riches at this position, or if it's a case of quantity, not quality.
I'm certain that you will see more passes thrown, more passes caught, and fewer dropped balls in 2012 than you did in 2011.
There is even the thought among us "glass-half-full" types that receiving will be a real strength for the Ducks this year.
I just hope there are fewer of those hold-your-breath-and-grab-the-hand-of-the-person-sitting-next-to-you moments when the ball is in the air.
It's not too much to ask.