Oregon Football: 6 Ducks with Big Opportunities in Spring Game
Key role players and potential breakout stars have their final opportunity to make an impact on Oregon's spring practice season in the intrasquad scrimmage.
The Ducks host the final of their 15 offseason workouts Saturday at Autzen Stadium, employing a format GoDucks.com editor Rob Moseley describes as being "as close to real football as possible for the first half, with kickoffs, punts and clock stoppages."
That live-game feel will be a showcase for some of the less-heralded on the roster to shine.
Oregon is split into two teams: one drafted by quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu; the other, by linebacker Tony Washington and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The complete breakdown is available on GoDucks.com.
RB Kenny Bassett
Redshirt senior Kenny Bassett is not the most game-tested member of Oregon's deep backfield, but entering his fifth season in the program, he is the group's elder statesman.
Bassett is using his experience to take on a leadership role.
"I look at myself as more of a leader this year,” Bassett told Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard. “I’m trying to hold the young guys out, make sure they know what they’re doing, get in their head a little bit."
Bassett won't take carries away from the returning one-two punch of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, but he can work his way into the crowded rotation.
He is one of the backs drafted to Mariota and Grasu's team, along with Tyner. Tyner missed a practice last week, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian. If the coaching staff is cautious with the sophomore, look for Bassett to get a chance to show off what he's learned in five seasons in the program.
WR Jalen Brown
With top returning wide receiver Bralon Addison lost to a knee injury, early-enrolled, 4-star prospect Jalen Brown has a prime opportunity to establish himself as a primary target in the passing game right out of the gate.
The spring game, with its promised live-action feel, is the closest Brown will be to collegiate competition in his very young Oregon career. Thus, the scrimmage should serve as an early barometer for his readiness to contribute to the receiving corps.
Receivers coach Matt Lubick said he already sees preparedness from Brown in one crucial facet of his game.
"The difference we talk about playing time with freshmen is if you’re ready to compete and you have to have a lot of confidence, and [Brown] has a lot of that," Lubick told Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.
DL Sam Kamp
Defensive lineman Sam Kamp arrived at spring workouts nearly 30 pounds heavier than during the 2013 season, per Matt Prehm of the 247Sports Network.
Kamp bulked up as part of a program-wide effort to get stronger—"push more weight," as defensive coordinator Don Pellum described it, via GoDucks.com.
And the redshirt junior Kamp says it worked.
"I'm noticeably a little bit slower, but I'm way more powerful," Kamp told Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal. "I'm excited about that because we need to get push from the defensive line this year."
The defensive line was overpowered in late-season losses at Stanford and Arizona a season ago, in part because of size. Certainly Kamp's weight gain helps in that regard.
But the Ducks were also hindered by a lack of depth. The emergence of contributors like Kamp into the rotation promises to give Oregon a more formidable front—how much more formidable will be revealed Saturday when it squares off with an experienced offensive line.
QB Jeff Lockie
For a quarterback not in the starting lineup, serving as understudy to a Heisman Trophy candidate might be the next best thing.
That's exactly the role quarterbacks Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues are competing to win.
Oregon's No. 2 quarterback gets plenty of playing time, a byproduct of the Ducks' often lopsided margins of victory. They won by an average of 32.5 points per game in 2013, which afforded Lockie the opportunity to make nine appearances.
Lockie finished the season with modest statistics: 8-of-13 passing for 57 yards with an interception and no touchdowns; five carries for 22 yards and a score. And if he is indeed Mariota's backup in 2014, his numbers are not likely to be much more impressive.
But winning this competition is about more than taking on mop-up duty in 2014. The No. 2 quarterback this season has an inside track to be Mariota's heir apparent when he pursues the NFL draft, presumably after the upcoming season.
Lockie is backing up Mariota on the latter's team Saturday, but don't be surprised to see Lockie come on early and get plenty of opportunity to show off his abilities.
LB Torrodney Prevot
Linebacker Torrodney Prevot showed flashes of brilliance in his freshman campaign, and he could be on the cusp of a full-fledged star turn as a sophomore.
"My mindset has totally changed. I’m more focused on the field, more confident out there," he told Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com.
Prevot's perspective is due in part to a meeting with boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., which Prevot told Andrew Greif of The Oregonian was "life-changing."
The sophomore is now applying his philosophy into the various blitz packages Pellum is introducing this spring. Prevot's development could give the Ducks one of the most fearsome pass-rushing defenses in the Pac-12.
Oregon returns 2013 standout Tony Washington. Prevot could emerge as Washington's tag team partner at outside linebacker, though the two will be on opposite sides in the spring game.
QB Jake Rodrigues
Redshirt sophomore Jake Rodrigues makes his case to be Mariota's primary backup in 2014 Saturday as the quarterback of Washington Ekpre-Olomu's spring game team. He'll line up behind center with a very specific goal.
"Whenever I go on the field, my objective is to score the ball. Big plays are nice, but I want points," Rodrigues explained to Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com after a scrimmage last week.
He reached the end zone once in seven appearances last season, throwing for a score in the Ducks' season-opening rout of Nicholls State. Rodrigues can position himself to have many more scoring opportunities in his Oregon career, starting by engineering a few drives to the end zone in the spring game.
A decision may not come immediately.
"It’s been a competitive situation, and we’ll see at end of spring where we are going forward. If it plays out, it plays out. If not, we’ll go into the fall," head coach Mark Helfrich told Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard.
Still, a strong close to the spring will put Rodrigues on the right course heading into the summer.