Oregon Football: 5 Players Who Will Improve the Most in 2013
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The Oregon Ducks figure to be one of the top teams in the country once again in 2013.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota returns after his sensational freshmen campaign as does his entire group of starting receivers. The offensive line also returns plenty of talent, and tight end Colt Lyerla has NFL-type athleticism despite the fact that he'll be entering his junior season.
Aside from John Boyett, who missed every game but the opener, the secondary will return all four starters as well as a host of backups who contributed throughout the season.
It may sound like a broken record, but under head coach Chip Kelly the Ducks have continued to build talent and depth that rivals many top programs in the nation.
But new faces must emerge and contribute if Oregon is to reach its fifth consecutive BCS bowl game.
We already know about players like Tyson Coleman and Avery Patterson, both of whom burst on to the scene in 2012 to play major roles on defense.
Here are five guys who will improve the most next season. The list is based strictly on performance this season compared with how I think they'll perform next season.
5. Hamani Stevens, OL
OL Hamani Stevens will be charged with protecting QB Marcus Mariota
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The Oregon Ducks lose Carson York, Nick Cody, Ryan Clanton and Kyle Long along the offensive line, and Hamani Stevens will be one of the players expected to help replace this group.
Stevens has had an interesting journey, committing to the Ducks in 2008 before redshirting in 2009 and then taking two years off for his mission. He returned in 2011 and played quite a bit this season in a backup role.
He was a huge talent coming out of high school, and is listed at 6'3" 298 lbs., which is an ideal size for playing in Oregon's offense.
The Ducks have a trio of extremely talented linemen in Jake Fisher, Hroniss Grasu and Tyler Johnstone.
But if the run game is to continue being one of the most effective offensive units in the country, it'll be up to guys like Stevens to fill a void and help pave the way for the running backs.
I think Stevens will win the starting job at guard and become a mainstay on the O-line, further solidifying the group as one of the league's best.
4. Bralon Addison, WR
WR Bralon Addison
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Bralon Addison is a freshman speedster from Texas who played a large role in Oregon's passing offense this past season, totaling 243 yards on 22 catches with three touchdowns.
The reason Addison makes this list is because those numbers could very well double in his sophomore year.
He is fast, has reliable hands and even began returning punts late in the season. His versatility is exactly what Chip Kelly looks for in his skill position athletes.
He may not break into the starting lineup with all three regular starters returning, but that doesn't mean he won't see the field as much. The Ducks rotated as many as eight or nine guys at receiver last season, and Addison saw the field in many big moments.
With quarterback Marcus Mariota gaining another year of experience, look for Bralon Addison to develop into one of the Pac-12's best young receivers.
3. Tony Washington, DE/LB
LB Tony Washington started in place of Boseko Lokombo in the Fiesta Bowl
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Tony Washington is a 6'3" 244-lb sophomore who brings both size and speed to an already-loaded Oregon defense.
Washington started in place of Boseko Lokombo in the Fiesta Bowl and was part of a unit that held the Kansas State Wildcats 23 points below their season average.
Though several inches shorter than Dion Jordan, Washington has a similar build that allows him to play both linebacker as well as defensive end. His skill set is perfect for a defense that loses their star pass-rusher as well as the top two linebackers.
It isn't clear where exactly Washington fits into Oregon's starting lineup, but we know by now that the "starter" label is very misleading for the Ducks' defense with the way they rotate players.
Washington's unique athleticism will help him become one of the Ducks' most-improved players in 2013.
2. Derrick Malone, LB
LB Derrick Malone
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Linebacker Derrick Malone recorded 15 tackles as a freshman and followed that up with 41 this past season.
He'll now jump into a starting role with the departure of Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, and if the Ducks' defense is going to repeat its 2012 effort, Malone will have to step up.
The to-be-junior is listed at 6'2" 219 lbs., and his speed from sideline to sideline should put him in position to make a lot of plays.
The question with Malone is whether he can become a physical run-stopper in the mold of Alonso, but another offseason of weight training should help with that pursuit.
With linebacker being the main position of concern on defense heading into 2013, I expect Malone to allay any fears Duck fans may have about the unit with his tremendous play.
1. Byron Marshall, RB
RB Byron Marshall breaks into the open field against UW
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Not only will Byron Marshall take over as the Ducks' top running back in 2013, but I think he'll become one of the better backs in the Pac-12 conference rather quickly.
Marshall is coming off a freshman season in which he gained 447 yards and four touchdowns. He also had a 13-carry, 125-yard performance against Tennessee Tech. While those numbers don't exactly jump off the screen, remember that the majority of carries came when the Ducks held a lead and the defense knew Oregon would run the ball.
De'Anthony Thomas will also get plenty of carries, but his versatility pretty much forces Chip Kelly to use him in multiple ways. Marshall is a guy who can handle 4-5 carries each drive and pound it straight into the heart of the defense.
Incoming recruit Thomas Tyner will also provide competition at running back, but I think Byron Marshall will make a huge jump from year one to year two and become the team's most improved player in 2013.