With the loss of Jeremiah Masoli and other players to the draft, the Oregon Ducks still return most of their 2009 Pac-10 championship team. With the amount of depth that the Ducks have, they still look like a strong contender in the Pac-10 and national scene, but these five players can help make or break the Ducks' season.
Coming in at No. 5 on the list is D.J. Davis. Davis is a big target and will need to step up even more this year to help out whoever wins the quarterback competition. Last year, Davis hauled in 23 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns. This year, Davis will have to double or triple those numbers to help keep defenses off-balance and take some of the load off of Jeff Maehl. If the Ducks can have teams respecting the passing game, it will allow their backs to run wild.
Next up on my list is Eddie Pleasant. Pleasant played linebacker for the Ducks last year and recorded 54 tackles and 4.5 sacks. This year, he has been moved to safety to fill the void left by T.J. Ward. So far, the transition has been smooth in the offseason and Pleasant has drawn a lot of praise. If he can step into this defense and help fans forget that Ward is in the NFL, the Ducks defense will continue to be a major strength.
No. 3 on the list is tight end David Paulson. The Ducks had a ton of success last year when they used their tight ends, more specifically Ed Dickson. Dickson is now a member of the Baltimore Ravens, which leaves a big-time hole for Paulson to step into. Paulson pulled in 12 catches for 185 yards in a limited role last year. It will be important for the receiving core as a whole to step up, but Paulson will be involved in both the passing and running game. If Paulson can improve on his numbers from last year and give the Ducks' running game some solid blocks, it will ease the loss of Ed Dickson.
No. 2 on my list is Brandon Bair. Bair stepped up nicely last year for the Ducks, recording 45 tackles and two sacks. With the amount of talent the Ducks have in the secondary and linebacker levels, the one area people view as a weakness is the Ducks' defensive line. Coming into his last year, Bair should be able to see those numbers grow and another key aspect will be for him to cut down on the penalties. If Bair can give the Ducks some push up front and help take some pressure off Kenny Rowe, they could surprise some teams.
Last on the list is both Darron Thomas and Nate Costa. With the suspension and transfer of Jeremiah Masoli, the Ducks' one glaring hole is at quarterback. Coach Chip Kelly has continued to rotate both of them during summer practices and has split the reps with the first team down the middle. At the start of the year, one of these two players will be the Ducks' starter and he will be the No. 1 player that has to step up for the Ducks this year.