Oregon opened 2014 fall camp this week with plenty of outside expectations.
The same week the Ducks hit the field in preparation for the coming campaign, AthlonSports.com published assessments of each Pac-12 team as told anonymously by the conference's coaches. Reviews of Oregon were glowing.
"Unstoppable," "best team in the league" and "most explosive" were some of the evaluations offered. But according to head coach Mark Helfrich, all praise lavished on the Ducks now is meaningless until proven on the field.
That's just one of the storylines setting the stage for Oregon's first week of practice—part of which Helfrich was mic'd up for as part of Pac-12 Networks' tour around fall camps.
Development of the Ducks wide receiving corps is another subplot of particular interest in the coming weeks. Gone is 2013 leader Josh Huff, and the loss of Bralon Addison to a knee injury in April compounded Oregon's need for new contributors to step up.
Dwayne Stanford looks ready to make the leap—literally. GoDucks.com editor Rob Moseley tweeted the below image, captured by Eric Evans, of Stanford making an incredible, jumping reception.
Stanford impressed offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who talked about the redshirt sophomore's potential with Matt Prehm of 247Sports:
It'd be hard to come up with a comparison right away, but Dwayne has elite hands. I mean, he's got big...hands and catches everything. It was a shame to see him go down [to injury in 2013], but he's coming back and he's definitely in the mix.
So who else is in mix at wide receiver? According to quarterback Marcus Mariota, Addison could be in the rotation much earlier than expected.
That seems ambitious given Addison suffered his knee injury in mid-April. However, the Ducks quarterback said Addison "looks good."
"I’m excited. Hopefully he gets ready for that second game," Mariota said.
With or without Addison, the Ducks passing game should see considerable improvement in the performance of its tight ends. Position coach Tom Osborne offered lofty praise of the group Thursday, per 247Sports:
I think we've got four guys that are pretty good. Media guys always forget Koa Ka'ai. Koa Ka'ai really, really improved in the spring. He made great strides in the spring. I think we have four guys that can play for us.
Osborne's assessment is in line with Mariota's from Pac-12 media days. There, the quarterback called Ka'ai "a leader of the tight end position."
Along with Evan Baylis, Pharaoh Brown and Johnny Mundt—all of whom saw meaningful action in 2013—Ka'ai gives Oregon an intriguing new dimension to the already potent offense.
Another new dimension to Oregon's offensive arsenal is the addition of freshman running back Royce Freeman. The big power back is a fit for a new attitude the Ducks are embracing, and his playmaking ability is immediately turning heads.
RB coach Gary Campbell got a big smile on his face when talking about Royce Freeman. Said he's already at level Tyner was at end last year.— Tyson Alger (@tysonalger) August 5, 2014
Re: last RT, Royce Freeman had sideline hooting on one of today's last reps, cutting behind a Tyrell Crosby block, knifing through defense.— Rob Moseley (@DuckFootball) August 5, 2014
Thomas Tyner capped spring with an impressive scrimmage, and Freeman is generating buzz in preseason camp. But Byron Marshall, Oregon's top returning rusher, continues to grind out of the spotlight.
"It's not my job to really care what other people say, [but] it does make me work that much harder," he said.
Oregon's defensive line prepares for 2014 with some similar motivation. The Ducks replaced 2013 starters Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi. Alex Balducci joins Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner on the revamped defensive line.
Balducci talked with CSNNW.com's Aaron Fentress about the unit's focus for the coming season, saying it "lacked attention to detail" a season ago.
Stopping the run is among those crucial plot points for Oregon heading into the new campaign. Perhaps the defense can take inspiration from the lyrics of new honorary Duck Tom Petty's 1989 hit, "I Won't Back Down."
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.