The unknown has created worry for generations of the human race. There are “ifs” and “buts’ to think about. I’ve been taught “worrying is pain suffered for something that hasn’t happened and most likely wont”. This seems to be the line of thought for Mark Helfrich and his coaching staff as they enter into the 2015-2016 season. Last season brought to an end the Marcus Mariota era, the shadow of Mariota might last for a long while, but Coach Helfrich and his staff seem determined to step out of the shadow and move on with life.
The Quarterback battle between returning backup quarterback Jeff Lockie and the transfer from Eastern Washington Vernon Adams is taking almost all the headlines, but there are other position battles are going on. Beyond replacing Marcus Mariota, there are many other positions that Coach Helfrich has to find new starters for one both sides of the ball, they may not be getting the same amount of attention, but their importance maybe be greater than who starts at quarterback this season for the Ducks.
On the defensive side, the Ducks graduated three-fourths of their secondary, Ifo-Ekpre Olemu, Erick Dargan and Troy Hill left leaving only Reggie Daniels as the only defensive back with substantial experience. Daniel will start at one safety while sophomore Tyree Robinson looks to start at the other safety. Last year as Ifo struggled through injuries, Chris Seisay gained some experience and he looks to be one of the two starting cornerbacks this year. The Ducks have a load of young players looking to fight for the other starting corner this year, even some converts from the offensive side of the ball (Charles Nelson and Ty Griffin) will be looking to make an impact.
The Defensive line is another area that lost some players, but defensive end Deforrest Buckner, and Alex Balducci leads a young but talented group of Ducks coming into the year, true Freshman Canton Kaumatule has the coaching staff gushing about his potential. It remains to be seen who will step up and be the next man up to replace Arik Amstead, who went pro, and top backup Sam Kamp, who retired, but Don Pellum likes what he sees out of the players he has on the line.
On the offensive side, line coach Steve Greatwood graduated the entire left side of his offensive line (Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher) and also had right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena decide to hang up his cleats. The return of left tackle Tyler Johnstone will help along with the arrival of transfer Matt Hegarty who is likely to start at center for the Ducks this year. The Ducks return Cameron Hunt, Matt Pierson and Tyrell Crosby who all played substantial minutes filing in last year.
Tight end is another position group that has the players who are very talented and experienced, but a true number one hasn’t been determined. Last November when Pharoah Brown was injured against Utah, the Ducks used more receivers to pick up the slack left by the absence of Brown, until the Rose Bowl when Evan Baylis recorded six catches for seventy-three yards. Going into this season when Pharaoh Brown will return is an unknown, what is known is that Baylis and Johnny Mundt both return. Mundt had a down year in 2014; inconsistencies and the emergence of Pharaoh Brown kept him off the field. Mundt is the better athlete in the battle to start in place of Brown, but Baylis has been much more consistant and is the better blocker. This will be an interesting position to watch, as the season gets ever closer.
The Ducks do have many position groups that will be loaded going into the fall. Even after losing Running Back Thomas Tyner, the Ducks return Royce Freeman (2014 Offensive Freshman of the Year) Sophomore Kani Beniot and Redshirt Freshman Tony Brooks-James (who has been compared to former Duck LaMichael James) and true freshman Taj Griffin will all look to have playing time this year. The Ducks also return all-purpose weapons Byron Marshall and Charles Nelson. Byron Marshall rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2013, was moved to Wide Receiver in 2014 and led receivers in catches, Nelson was used all over the field in 2014, on offense he played as a running back and a receiver, and was a dynamo on special teams as both a gunner and returner. Both Marshall and Nelson will be used wherever they are needed (defensive back also for Nelson).
Oregon returns perhaps the best group of wide receivers in the nation, and certainly the most talented group in school history. After missing last year due to injury Bralon Addison returns to lead the Ducks into 2015. A talented group follows Addison into the season, Devon Allen will return after healing from a knee injury sustained in the Rose Bowl along with Dwayne Stanford, Jalen Brown, Alex Ofodile, Darren Carrington and the afore mentioned Byron Marshall (who should start once again) and Charles Nelson.
The Ducks return four seniors to their linebacking corps after graduating Tony Washington and Derrick Malone last year. Christian French, Tyson Coleman, Rodney Hardrick, Joe Walker, Torrodeny Prevot, Johhny Ragin III and Danny Mattingly are poised to make this group better than the formidable group that help lead the Ducks to the National title game last year.
Many things will be left unsettled until the first game September 5th against the Eagles of Eastern Washington. Who will win starting positions? Who will redshirt? Can Oregon be a National Title contender without Mariota? One thing we know for sure is that we, the citizens of Eugene, are ready for football to be back and it just can’t start soon enough!
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