Oregon Football 2013 Team Program
We've been counting down the days to the start of football season since the moment Alabama polished off its throttling of Notre Dame in last year's championship game, a contest that had many Duck fans thinking "What if?"
What if Alejandro Maldonado had been more accurate against Stanford? What if Michael Clay had recovered the fumble in overtime, or what if De'Anthony had made a block in the first quarter to give Marcus Mariota a clear path to the end zone?
All of the questions are now in the past, and it's officially time to start thinking about the upcoming season (if you haven't already). There's no more "100 days til football" nonsense. We're now less than two weeks away, and to help get you ready, we've compiled everything you'll need to know about the 2013 Oregon Ducks.
From the star players to the key storylines on offense and defense, this guide has it all. So click ahead and take a look at your comprehensive guide to Oregon football in 2013.
Information about fall practice courtesy of Rob Moseley's goducks.com blog.
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Last season, the Oregon Ducks put together one of the most successful campaigns in school history.
The team finished 12-1 and capped off the year with a dominating 35-17 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl.
As with any season that ends without a crystal football, there were ups and downs. But those negative moments can be traced back to a single game, while the positive moments came early and often as the Ducks lit up scoreboards week in and week out.
Aside from the lone loss, the Ducks won every game by double-digits and the only contest in doubt heading into the final quarter was the game at USC, which Oregon won 62-51. The Ducks led by at least 30 points in 9 out of 13 games, and the offense put away many opponents by halftime.
The defense was nearly as good, giving up just over 21 points per game. That included a shutout of the high-flying Arizona Wildcats, who managed to score 48 on the Stanford Cardinal.
But the Cardinal proved to be the ultimate thorn in Oregon's side, winning at Autzen in a 17-14 overtime thriller. While the defense performed admirably throughout the game, Chip Kelly's vaunted offense never really got in gear. The Cardinal D held the running game in check and the Ducks were unable to capitalize in the fourth quarter after getting in field goal range.
The loss all but ended Oregon's hopes of a national championship appearance, but the team rebounded by dismantling its Corvallis rivals 48-24 in a terrific all-around performance.
2012 will be remembered for many different reasons, from the rise of Marcus Mariota and the development of an outstanding secondary to a missed block against Stanford and ultimately, coming oh-so-close to a berth in the title game.
It was a fun and entertaining ride for Duck fans, who now turn their attention to the 2013 campaign where once again, all eyes will be on the prize of playing in the national championship in Pasadena.
Depth Chart/Returning Starters
According to the official Pac-12 Media Guide, Oregon returns 15 starters from last season, with eight coming back on offense and seven for the defense. You can add one more if you count Alejandro Maldonado as a returning starter.
With the release of the official depth chart (which can be found here), the slide has been updated to reflect what the two-deep will look like in week one.
1. So. Marcus Mariota 6'4", 211
2. RFr. Jake Rodrigues 6'3", 218 OR RFr. Jeff Lockie 6'2", 195
1. Jr. De'Anthony Thomas 5'9", 176
2. So. Byron Marshall 5'10", 201
1. Sr. Josh Huff 5'11", 205
2. Jr. Eric Dungy 6'1" 182
1. Sr. Daryle Hawkins 6'4", 202
2. So. Bralon Addison 5'10", 189
1. Jr. Keanon Lowe 5'9", 181
2. RSo. B.J. Kelley 6'2", 181 OR RFr. Chance Allen 6'2" 199
1. Jr. Colt Lyerla 6'5", 246
2. Fr. Johnny Mundt 6'4" 232
1. RSo. Tyler Johnstone 6'6", 292
2. RSo. Matt Pierson 6'6" 267
1. Sr. Mana Greig 5'11", 291
2. RSo. Andre Yruretagoyena 6'5", 288
1. Jr. Hroniss Grasu 6'3", 294
2. Sr. Karrington Armstrong 6'3", 290
1. Jr. Hamani Stevens 6'3", 298
2. Sr. Everett Benyard 6'7", 305
1. Jr. Jake Fisher 6'6", 294
2. Fr. Cameron Hunt 6'4" 282
And now on to the defensive side of the ball:
1. Sr. Taylor Hart 6'6", 292
2. So. DeForest Buckner, 6'7", 265
1. Sr. Wade Keliikipi 6'3", 295
2. So. Alex Balducci 6'4", 290
1. So. Arik Armstead 6'8", 280
2. Sr. Ricky Havili-Heimuli 6'4", 305
Outside Linebacker (or Drop-End)
1. Jr. Tony Washington 6'3", 244
2. RSo. Christian French 6'5", 242
1. Jr. Derrick Malone 6'2", 219
2. So. Joe Walker 6'2", 225 OR RSo. Tyson Coleman 6'1" 222
1. Jr. Rodney Hardrick 6'1", 230
2. RSo. Rahim Cassell 6'0" 223
1. Sr. Boseko Lokombo 6'3", 233
2. RSo. Tyson Coleman 6'1", 222 OR Fr. Torrodney Prevot 6'3" 214
1. Jr. Terrence Mitchell 6'0", 189
2. Jr. Dior Mathis 5'9", 182
1. Sr. Avery Patterson 5'10", 185
2. Jr. Erick Dargan 5'11", 205
1. Sr. Brian Jackson 5'10", 205
2. RFr. Reggie Daniels 6'1" 198
1. Jr. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu 5'10", 190
2. Jr. Troy Hill 5'11", 180
And finally, a look at the special teams (excluding the return positions, which seem to rotate guys throughout the year):
1. Sr. Alejandro Maldonado 5'10", 185
2. RJr. Dylan Ausherman 6'3", 170
1. Fr. Matt Wogan 6'2", 197
2. Sr. Alejandro Maldonado 5'10", 185
All information provided by the official roster on goducks.com. Some weights may have changed slightly since the latest roster update.
As I'm sure you're all aware by now, Oregon is very hush-hush on the injury front, so gleaning any information on a player's current status can be difficult.
As spring practice concluded, it appeared that wide receiver Dwayne Stanford would be the only player limited in the fall, though beat-writer Rob Moseley confirmed to me that Stanford had indeed been working out in camp.
Avery Patterson suffered a torn ACL last season, though it also appears that he's back to practicing at or near full strength, according to recent practice updates.
The word on Tyner has been non-existent since his apparent injury, though he hasn't been mentioned in practice reports since it occurred. John Canzano of The Oregonian tweeted that a source told him the injury was "minor" but no official word has been handed down from the team.
All in all, the Oregon Ducks appear fairly healthy as they reach the end of week two of practice.
Players to Watch
The list of players to watch on the Ducks is a long one for a variety of reasons.
At the top of everyone's list is quarterback Marcus Mariota, a preseason Heisman candidate coming off a freshman season in which he accounted for 38 total touchdowns on his way to earning first team All Pac-12 honors.
Right there with him is one of the more electric players in recent memory, De'Anthony Thomas. A potential Heisman candidate himself, Thomas is the very definition of a guy who can score every time he touches the ball. If he's given space to work with, fans will typically stand to their feet without even realizing it.
The other stars to watch for on offense are tight end Colt Lyerla, wide receiver Josh Huff and a trio of outstanding linemen in Hroniss Grasu, Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher. Lyerla is perhaps the most physically gifted tight end in the country, and Huff is a well-rounded senior looking to finish out his career in a big way. The aforementioned linemen are the cornerstones of the entire offense, and all three will be in contention for various postseason awards.
On the defensive side of the ball the linebacker position took a major hit with the departures of Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. But the unit should be able to traverse an easy start to the schedule with the help of veteran Boseko Lokombo. In the secondary, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu grabs the headlines but Terrance Mitchell is no slouch opposite him, either.
The defensive line has at least six guys who will receive plenty of playing time, though Taylor Hart and Ricky Havili-Heimuli are the names to watch for among the starters.
The only positions that will see a major shakeup are offensive guard and linebacker, which includes the current void at drop-end. A handful of guys are vying for the guard spots, but Hamani Stevens and Mana Greig appear to be the leaders in the clubhouse.
Perhaps more interesting to fans is the battle at linebacker, where Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker, Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick, Rahim Cassell and Brett Bafaro are all in contention to start.
Replacing Dion Jordan at outside linebacker is Tony Washington, a rangy junior who came on strong toward the end of last season. But he'll have to fight off sophomore Christian French, a super-talented player with the ability to become a first-round pick someday.
Before moving on, let's not forget about the special teams, which will likely see two new faces in Dylan Ausherman at punter and true freshman Matt Wogan at placekicker.
The Oregon Ducks signed a strong class in February, and several true freshmen will likely see time right away. After Wogan, fans will be anxious to get a look at running back Thomas Tyner, an in-state product who is one of the fastest recruits in the country.
Beyond those two, it's unclear exactly who will redshirt and who will see the field.
Cameron Hunt and Evan Voeller are highly touted offensive linemen that could see action early on. Torrodney Prevot and Danny Mattingly both have a chance to make an impact at linebacker, and Tyrell Robinson may also see the field at the same position. It's likely that almost everyone else will redshirt the season, although we probably won't know for sure until the opening game against Nicholls State.
The players who see action early in their careers tend to get all the attention, but don't forget that a number of talented players redshirted last year and will be looking to make an impact in 2013.
Of this group, it seems safety Reggie Daniels and linebacker Brett Bafaro have the best chance to make an impact right away, but look for wide receiver Chance Allen and defensive back Oshay Dunmore to make their cases for more action as well.
Players under the most pressure in 2013
I wrote a piece about this very topic a couple weeks ago, but it may be worth a second look.
Running back De'Anthony Thomas (who also spends a fair amount of time at receiver) will be under a lot of pressure to replace some of the carries left by the departed Kenjon Barner. Thomas is as explosive as they come, but his numbers haven't necessarily matched his ability. When the offense is scoring 50 points a game, it's hard to find way to produce even more, but Thomas will be looked at as a guy who should carry this offense early and often this season.
Receiver Josh Huff is also under pressure, mainly due to his inability to stay healthy for a full year. At full speed, Huff is one of the more electric receivers in the Pac-12, and his numbers against USC and Cal last season prove it, as he caught a total of 11 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns in those contests. Still, with the offense expected to toss it around a bit more, it's up to Huff to take that next step and truly become the go-to receiver on offense.
On defense, Boseko Lokombo will need to carry the load at linebacker, at least in the first few weeks. The rest of the unit is inexperienced, but if Lokombo can lead by example and get everyone up to speed, the defense will be that much better. As a senior, Lokombo has to put together the most complete season of his career.
In the secondary, the pressure will be squarely on cornerback Terrance Mitchell. After his partner in crime, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, stole the show last season, opposing quarterbacks will likely be looking Mitchell's way in hopes of exposing the perceived "weaker" of the two. But many forget that Mitchell was a Pac-12 All-Conference type of player in 2011, and if he brings that confidence into his junior season, the secondary will be awfully tough to throw against.
I'd normally start with the new faces in the coaching ranks, but you'll forgive me if I make an exception here.
The winningest coach (percentage-wise) in Duck history, Chip Kelly, finally decided to take his talents to the NFL ranks. After four straight seasons in which his teams reached a BCS bowl, Kelly leaves behind a program at the very height of its success, and an offense that has revolutionized the way the game is played. From his warp speed up-tempo style to his penchant for going for it on fourth down, Kelly was an innovator to the core and his departure has created the majority of offseason storylines for this team.
Also gone from the coaching staff is Jerry Azzinaro, the former defensive line coach known for his far-reaching voice. He joined Kelly in Philadelphia.
One constant is Gary Campbell. Oregon's running backs coach is entering this 30th season with the Ducks. Enough said.
But as we turn our attention back to the college ranks, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was promoted to head coach of the Ducks. Helfrich is a local guy who played football at Southern Oregon before hopping aboard the coaching wheel. He had stints with the Ducks (as a graduate assistant), Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado before returning to Oregon as the offensive coordinator in 2009.
The promotion of Helfrich ensures continuity within the program, and not much is expected to change in terms of offensive philosophies.
But the promotion of Helfrich left a void at offensive coordinator, which was filled by former wide receivers coach Scott Frost. Frost played quarterback at Nebraska and is seen by many as an up-and-coming guy in the coaching ranks. Having worked with the receivers for several years, Frost's promotion has led many to believe the team will pass the ball more in 2013, an idea no doubt aided by the maturation of Mariota.
This belief is also strengthened by the fact that Oregon hired Matt Lubick, formerly a wide receivers coach at Duke, to take the same position with the Ducks. Lubick is an excellent recruiter who also helped Duke reach new heights in its passing game.
The final new face to get familiar with is Rob Aiken, who replaced Azzinaro as the defensive line coach. Aiken, a more soft-spoken man, spent time with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL before landing in Eugene, and fans are hoping he can get the most out of the abundance of talent currently in the unit.
2013 Schedule and Most Important Games
Sat, August 31st: Nicholls State
Sat, September 7th: at Virginia
Sat, September 14th: Tennessee
Sat, September 28th: California
Sat, October 5th: at Colorado
Sat, October 12th: at Washington
Sat, October 19th: Washington State
Sat, October 26th: UCLA
Thu, November 7th: at Stanford
Sat, November 16th: Utah
Sat, November 23rd: at Arizona
Fri, November 29th: Oregon State
The Oregon schedule begins like a smooth ride through the balmy Willamette Valley in the summertime and ends like a drive along the coast in a heavy snowstorm.
The goal, at least in Helfrich's world, is to win the day. But we have the luxury of being able to circle the important games without being scolded.
The game at Virginia will be interesting because it occurs on the other side of the country, but it should result in a comfortable win for the away team. The following week, a former SEC powerhouse visits in the midst of a low point, but getting to see a nationally recognized team in your own building is always a treat.
The game against Washington will be circled on everybody's calendar. The rivalry, despite being put on life support following nine straight Oregon victories, will resume in grand fashion at a brand new Husky Stadium. The Dawgs would love nothing more than to end the streak in front of their own fans, while the Ducks will be jumping at the chance to spoil a housewarming party.
The game against UCLA is notable because the Bruins are coming off back-to-back South Division championships and have some serious talent on both sides of the ball.
The biggest game of the season from where we sit today is easily the Thursday night showdown with Stanford. The Cardinal spoiled Oregon's shot at an undefeated season last November, and the game could have national title implications.
The final game to mark on your calendar is the Civil War, where the Ducks will be looking for a sixth straight win in the series against what should be an improved Oregon State team.
What to Look for on Offense
The biggest question surrounding the Ducks is how will Mark Helfrich keep Oregon's dizzying offense on the map? Many are expecting business as usual.
Mariota completed nearly 70 percent of his throws last season and is the unquestioned leader of group. His main weapons will be Colt Lyerla at tight end, Josh Huff at receiver and De'Anthony Thomas wherever he decides to line up. Byron Marshall could very well get the lion's share of the carries at running back as the bruising sophomore with deceptive speed appears headed for a breakout season.
The offense shouldn't look all that different to the untrained eye. Mark Helfrich has been on hand the past few seasons, and he's smart enough to not attempt to fix what clearly isn't broken. In terms of tempo, the Ducks may experience a few hiccups early on as the team gels with the new faces on the coaching staff, but look for things to be clicking in time for conference play.
The aggressive nature is also something that few expect to change. The Ducks are going to go for it on a lot of fourth downs, and two-point conversions will be attempted with regularity.
The only difference you may see on this side of the ball is a passing attack with more variety, utilized more frequently. For example, when Kelly was coach, the Ducks could gain nothing on first down and then run it right up the middle on second down. Sometimes this would work, and other times it put the offense in a hole. This season, you may see a pass on second down instead of another run.
With an experienced and accurate quarterback, a deep wide receiving corps and a freakishly athletic tight end, the passing attack may experience new heights in 2013. This won't be Joey Harrington tossing it around to Keenan Howry and Samie Parker in 2001, but Mariota should surpass the 3,000 yard mark this season.
What to Look for on Defense
The Oregon defense is always interesting to watch because, despite keeping the Ducks in games over the past few years, fans often still find reasons to grumble.
That's in part due to the bend-but-don't-break nature now synonymous with Nick Aliotti, where the defense tends to give up yards but ultimately stiffens up in the red zone, often resulting in a field goal or no points at all.
The grumbling has become mostly cheers over the past few seasons, and with more talent to work with than ever before, Aliotti may be hearing full-blown roars when the season is over.
The defensive line has three talented veterans in Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi. Hart and Havili-Heimuli in particular have stood out in fall camp and could be quite the terrorizing duo this season.
The backups may really intrigue those following the Ducks. Arik Armstead was a monster recruit out of California and he'll be looking to build off a promising freshman season. Not to be overshadowed is DeForest Buckner, an end with great speed and strength. Many will be watching to see if either player can break into the starting ranks, but look for the line to rotate as many as seven guys regardless of who trots out for the first series.
We've talked about the linebacker spot, where Boseko Lokombo is your name to know as several other players stake their claim to fill the void left by Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. Tony Washington is another guy to watch for at outside linebacker, and his backup, Christian French, should also give us glimpses of his incredible talent.
The secondary was a large part of a defense that led the nation in interceptions in 2012, and every player is returning from last season.
I expect Oregon to try out several different styles of play in the first few weeks. The defensive line should be able to overpower most of the opponents, but Aliotti loves to use his speedy linebackers on blitz packages as well.
The development of the young linebackers will tell the story here. If the unit is holding their own and improving, look for Lokombo to set up camp in the backfield quite a bit. You may even see a few safety blitzes from Brian Jackson or Avery Patterson.
But if the linebackers struggle out of the gate, you may see a more conservative style of play, which will rely on the defensive line to get pressure on its own.
In any case, Aliotti won't ever be afraid to leave his secondary alone because the unit should be good enough to contain most passing attacks without the aid of additional defensive backs.
Optimism is high that the defense can be as good as it was in 2012, but if the linebacker situation clears up, the sky is the limit on this side of the ball.
X-Factors for 2013
The schedule is an ideal one for a team hoping to make another run at the national championship game. The Ducks shouldn't be tested at all in the first month of the season. It will be interesting to see how the team handles the unfamiliar environment in Virginia, and Tennessee could potentially make things interesting if it controls the line of scrimmage. However, don't expect any close games for awhile.
That may sound like an overconfident fan speaking, but remember that every Oregon victory last season came by double digits.
The schedule has three games that will make or break the season, aside from the Stanford contest, which is an early candidate for most-hyped game of the year.
The first game is the date at Washington, where a talented Huskies team will be looking to end a nine year drought against the Ducks. The atmosphere will be intense and the UW defense, led by Shaq Thompson, will be out for revenge after giving up 52 points in 2012. This will be the first true test of the season.
Two weeks later brings us another important game, this time against UCLA. The Bruins are a talented bunch and Anthony Barr at linebacker is one of those rare players who can affect the outcome of a game all by himself. The Ducks better not get caught looking ahead to Stanford, either.
The final game that will tell us a lot about this season is the Civil War. The Beavers will be desperately looking for a win in the rivalry, and the Ducks could have eyes on Pac-12 championship. Despite the lopsided victory last season, Oregon has to be ready when the Beavers travel to Eugene in late November.
The addition of an attacking-style passing game. The Ducks are sure to continue throwing the quick out routes that typically gain 5-10 yards, but with Mariota having a full season under his belt, there's a chance we'll see a lot more deep passes and aggressive routes by receivers.
On offense, there are a lot of guys who make great candidates to be the X-Factor. But looking beyond the obvious choices of Mariota, Huff, Thomas, Lyerla and Marshall, I'm going with receiver Daryle Hawkins.
The senior has put together an excellent fall camp thus far, and has both the size and athleticism to create matchup problems against most defenses. If Hawkins can establish himself as a legitimate threat after Huff, it will put a lot more pressure on opposing defenses who may be unaccustomed to seeing the Ducks air it out. That in turn could open up the rushing attack and at that point, the game may be all but over.
On defense, my X-Factor is a more obvious choice: Boseko Lokombo.
Lokombo is another guy reportedly having a terrific fall practice, and his leadership could really vault this defense into the nation's elite. He's extremely fast off the edge, but if he can replicate Clay's skills as a solid tackler, the defense as a whole will be tough to move the ball on.
It's hard to shy away from the biggest storyline heading into the season—the transition of Mark Helfrich from offensive coordinator to head coach. Helfrich's ability to step in and continue the momentum of the program will be the biggest thing to watch this season, and he's the clear choice for X-Factor among the coaches.
Top Storylines to Watch
New Head Coach
Yes, by now you are probably more than aware of Oregon's head coaching situation, where Mark Helfrich steps in to replace the departed Chip Kelly. I won't expand on it too much, because you're going to hear about it all season long. While it may become tiresome, it is no doubt something to keep an eye on as Helfrich's style will tell us a lot about his ability to continue the upward trajectory of the team.
Running Back Depth
2013 will mark the first time since 2009 that Oregon has entered a season without either LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner in the backfield. Most fans are confident that the combination of De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner will help the running game motor along without skipping a beat, but we won't know for sure until the games begin.
De'Anthony had his moments last season where he carried the ball well for more than a few players, but we've yet to see him do it for a full game. The same can be said for Byron Marshall, who looks ready to take over as the quote-unquote every-down back, but he has to go out and prove it. Lastly, Thomas Tyner has the talent to earn himself playing time, but it remains to be seen whether he can have the type of impact on offense that Thomas had as a true freshman in 2011.
Both Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas are in the thick of preseason Heisman talk, and the Ducks have never had a player go on to win the trophy. Whether either player stays in contention may depend on how long they are in each game. If the Ducks jump out to a big lead, Helfrich is going to (and rightly so) take out his guys and let them rest, which could take away from bigger statistics. This is a storyline that should continue to play out throughout the entire season.
Young D-Line Talent
The starters along the defensive line are solid and primed for big seasons, but it's the development of the backups that may gain more attention. Hart, Havili-Heimuli and Keliikipi all graduate next season and the young trio of Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci will be counted on to keep things going. Armstead and Buckner in particular could become absolute monsters up front. Both have height, strength and athleticism. If both guys start to come into their own this season, the line will be a downright scary bunch for offensive lines to match up against.
Best Secondary Ever?
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrence Mitchell will be doing all they can to cement themselves as the best secondary tandem since TJ Ward and Walter Thurmond III. Safeties Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson round out a unit that, as a whole, could be the Ducks' best ever.
To give you an idea of the talent in the secondary, consider that Erick Dargan, a backup at safety, led the team in interceptions last season. But the Pac-12 features several great quarterbacks, so it's going to take a lot more than talk for this group to establish its legacy as one of the best in school history.
National Title Run
This ultimately is going to be the most important storyline of the season. The Ducks have talent on both sides of the ball and a schedule that should allow for a fairly easy 5-0 start. After four straight BCS appearances, all eyes are on the national championship prize.
Now that you've got a handle on what the 2013 Ducks will look like, where does the team end up?
Predicting a title run comes off as homer-ish, but nobody can argue that Oregon doesn't have the talent to do just that. However, the Ducks have come up short the last couple seasons, and we've all seen what the difference between a national championship and a Fiesta Bowl looks like.
Nevertheless, here's a fearless prediction for the upcoming season.
10-0 (includes conference championship game)
National Championship vs. Ohio State
Result: 35-28, Oregon
The thought process behind these picks is simple. The Ducks are more loaded than they were last season when the only team to cause difficulty was Stanford. I think the Ducks will have learned a few things from last year's matchup, which will be enough to slip by the Cardinal.
After winning the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State, they'll travel to Pasadena to face Ohio State. Why the Buckeyes? Look, SEC fans, I get it, you're conference is tough and that's precisely why no team will reach the title game. Even last year's champion had one loss, and if it happens again this season while both Oregon and Ohio State go undefeated, it'll be the Ducks and Buckeyes squaring off for the title.
And right now, I think the Ducks are a more complete football team. But hey, who am I to crown the Ducks as champions in August? Let's hear your thoughts and predictions on the season as well!