Oregon Football: 5 Biggest Question Marks of Training Camp
The last few years have been great if you are an Oregon Ducks fan. The program has three straight double-digit winning seasons and has appeared in three consecutive BCS bowls. Although the Ducks didn't reach last season’s goal of a national championship, a BCS Rose Bowl victory isn't too shabby of a season.
This year, the Ducks hope to return to the BCS National Championship Game as they return 12 starters, including seven on defense. With another soft Pac-12 schedule in the cards, Chip Kelly and company could very likely end up fulfilling this year’s expectations.
Despite all of the talent that is returning, Oregon still has a few questions to answer before the season begins. Here are five issues that the Ducks must address before September arrives.
Any True Freshmen Seeing Playing Time?
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Oregon put together a fine 2012 class that includes 21 players, many of which are 4- or 5-star recruits. With many players arriving on campus for the first time, fall camp is the first chance for these guys to begin competing for playing time.
Of everyone to commit to the Ducks, Arik Armstead is the most likely to make an immediate impact this year. He is capable of playing either side of the line, but will likely end up on the defensive side of the ball. He has terrific size, gets off the ball quick and straight up bullies the guy who is in front of him. You can expect him to play quite a bit this season.
Other players who will likely see quality minutes this season are wide receiver Bralon Addison, running back Byron Marshall and defensive lineman Stetzon Bair.
Which Wide Receiver Will Step Up?
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With the way Chip Kelly runs his offense, a true No. 1 wide receiver isn't necessarily needed. Still, it would be nice to have some reliable players this offense can count on, especially with David Paulson and Lavasier Tuinei no longer on the roster.
De'Anthony Thomas led the Ducks in receiving last season, but will likely see an increase in touches at the running back position. Josh Huff is the leading returning receiver from a year ago, as he caught 31 passes for over 400 yards. He doesn't have the size to be a true go-to target, but he does have experience and is a proven receiver.
Daryle Hawkins is somebody who could really be in for a big year. He has only caught nine passes in his Oregon career, but at 6'4" and with his playmaking ability, he really has the upside to have a breakout junior season. Rahsaan Vaughn is another bigger receiver, who runs terrific routes and could become a top target in this offense. He caught 14 passes last season for over 100 yards and a touchdown.
Oregon is going to score points regardless, but having a receiver you can count on is something every offense should have.
Running Back Questions
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Oregon had the best rushing attack in the Pac-12 last season and the fifth best in the country. Even with LaMichael James no longer on the team, the Ducks should still be fine with Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas sharing the load.
The question is, who is going to help back them up?
With Tra Carson transferring to Texas A&M, it doesn't leave much room for depth. Ayele Forde will likely get more touches, as he carried the ball 36 times, scoring two touchdowns. But at 5'7", 177 pounds, he isn't going to be a huge factor in the running game. Kenny Bassett will also play a bigger role as he redshirted last season, but showed some potential during the spring game earlier in the year.
Bryon Marshall is another player, who is entering his true-freshman season. He isn't the biggest back in the world, but like many Oregon running backs, he has great speed and makes defenders miss. Marshall will see early playing time with the lack of depth at this position.
Oregon Plays Defense?
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We know what type of team Oregon is, as they have ranked in the top five in total offense the last two seasons. With Chip Kelly as head coach, the Ducks are a team that will continue to put up video game numbers on offense and simply ware down the opposing defense.
But could Oregon actually become more of a complete team and be a solid unit on defense as well?
"We'll let the offense get all the hype and everything, but we know how good we are. That's all that matters," linebacker Michael Clay said of the defense. (Via ESPN)
The Ducks are returning seven starters from a defense that finished fifth in the Pac-12 and 67th in the country in yards allowed. They return majority of the defensive line that racked up 45 sacks, have promise at the linebacker position, and there is talent, as well as experience in the defensive backfield.
Don't expect LSU or Alabama numbers from the Ducks on defense, but this is a group of guys that look like they will impress many once the season begins.
Who Is the Quarterback?
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Darron Thomas shocked everyone when he decided that he was going to leave early and enter the NFL draft. That now leaves Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett in a tight quarterback battle, as they both compete for the starting position.
I have a lot of faith in both those guys’ abilities, Coach Chip Kelly said of Bennett and Mariota. Sam Rutigliano, the longtime NFL coach of the Cleveland Browns use to say, ‘It’s like a teabag, you don’t know what you’ve got until you put it in hot water.’ I anticipate them being very successful, but we’ll see. That’s obviously a big question for all of us. (Via The Washington Post)
Bennett has the playing experience, as he threw 46 passes last year for 369 yards and six touchdowns. Although it was Mariota who really shined in the spring game, throwing for 200 yards, rushing for 100 and scoring three touchdowns.
We may see a combination of both quarterbacks, as they both bring different things to the table, but we will ultimately find out in a couple of weeks.