Each season, a handful of players emerge as key contributors who spent the previous season on the bench, at a different program, or starring in high school. Here’s a look at possible key contributors for the Ducks in 2009. These are guys who have yet to make a major impact at this level.
Darron Thomas – QB (Sophomore)
If Jeremiah Masoli (junior) starts the season as the starter as expected, look for the athletic 6’3” Thomas to get a shot at running the offense if Masoli falters. Thomas had a shot at running the offense last year in the second half against Boise State, and nearly led the Ducks to what would have been a comeback for the ages. In his only real chunk of action of the ’08 season, he went 13-25 for 210 yards with three TDs and only one INT against the Broncos, all in the second half! Even if Thomas does not get a chance to take snaps at QB, look for the Ducks to find ways to get him in the action, as his athleticism will make it hard to keep him off the field.
Andre Crenshaw – RB (Senior)
Crenshaw has waited patiently for a chance to be the starter. He has accumulated 551 yards on 110 attempts and five touchdowns in three seasons as a Duck. With the recent indefinite suspension of next year’s expected starter, LaGarrette Blount, Crenshaw most likely enters the spring at the top of the depth chart. Of course, all of this changes if Blount is reinstated and/or top recruit Bryce Brown commits to Oregon, as he makes his announcement later this month. In either case, look for him to get a chance to get touches on kickoff returns.
Remene Alston – RB (Junior)
The junior, who missed six games to injury, had only 21 carries last season but gained 161 yards (7.7 avg), including a breakout game against Washington State where he ran for 73 yards on only six carries. Like Crenshaw, Alston’s touches will depend a great deal on Blount’s status.
Jamere Holland – WR (Junior)
The former transfer from USC finally gets his shot to play a starring role. He received his first career start in last year’s Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma State and capitalized on the first offensive series of the game with a flea flicker that resulted in a 47-yard catch by Holland. He plans to use his speed—he’s a former California high school state sprinting champion—to spread the offense and make life easier for the rest of the Ducks offense.
Chris Harper – WR (Sophomore)
Though Harper (pictured above) is still listed on the official roster as a quarterback, his best shot at playing time with Oregon is most likely going to come at wide receiver, where he played sparingly last season and managed nine grabs for 122 yards and a couple of scores. Like Thomas, Harper’s athleticism makes him impossible to keep off the field, and Chip Kelly will find any way he can to get Harper the ball, as he did last season, which led to Harper becoming the first player since Joey Harrington to throw and catch a touchdown as well as run for a score in a season.
Darrion Weems (sophomore), Bo Thran (Junior), Jordan Holmes (junior), Carson York (freshman), and Mark Asper (sophomore) are just a few of the offensive linemen you probably haven’t heard too much about who could play pivotal roles for the Ducks in ’09.
The only full-time O-line starter Oregon returns from ’08 is C.E. Kaiser (junior), but he has yet to be cleared for contact drills (ankle). Aside from Kaiser, only Thran and Holmes received starts last season (five and four, respectively), so inexperience will be abundant and mistakes will be plenty. That said, the coaching staff really likes the potential here, and Duck fans had better hope that at least a couple of these names really step up this season.
Much like on the other side of the ball, the Ducks will basically be completely revamping their line on defense. Aside from returning starter, end Will Tukuafu (Senior), Oregon will be breaking in a new starter at each spot along the line. The main position to watch will be whoever fills in the big shoes left by 2008 Pac-10 sack leader, Nick Reed.
That job will most likely go to Brandon Bair (junior), who, besides Tukuafu, played the most snaps of anyone returning on the D-line. Other guys to watch who could open the season in a starting role are Tonio Celotto (junior), Simi Toeaina (senior), and Blake Ferras (senior).
Eddie Pleasant – LB (Sophomore)
One of, if not the most, athletic linebackers on the team in ’08, Pleasant should get a shot to take over for the departed John Bacon. Pleasant was one of the team’s best special teams players last season and also played a pivotal role as a backup linebacker for most of the season.
Talmadge Jackson III – CB (Junior)
He was the team’s fifth leading tackler last season amongst the DBs. Will be challenged by Willie Glasper (senior), but his upside will most likely give him the edge heading into ’09. Jackson’s speed makes him a prime candidate as a return man in special teams as well.
Javes Lewis – FS (Sophomore)
Lewis, should he get the starting nod here, has possibly the biggest shoes to fill on the whole team in 2009, as he replaces the hard-hitting, big play man Patrick Chung.
Newcomers with the possibility of breaking the rotation this season: Mike Bowlin (K), Zac Clark (DE), Cliff Harris (CB), Diante Jackson (WR), Bryson Littlejohn (LB), Terrance Montgomery (DT), Jackson Rice (P), Tyrece Gains (WR), Lavasier Tuinei (WR)