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2013 Oregon Preview – Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 19, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Oregon Duck Offense


Oregon Ducks

Preview 2013 - Offense

- 2013 Oregon Preview | 2013 Oregon Offense
- 2013 Oregon Defense | 2013 Oregon Depth Chart

What you need to know: Chip Kelly is in Philadelphia. The high-octane spread-option remains in Eugene. The Ducks offense won’t be changing now that Mark Helfrich is the head coach. Why mess with success? Last season was proof of the plug-and-play nature of the Oregon system. The program had to replace its quarterback, top back, to receiver and two starting linemen, yet still ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring. Giddy-up. Now that QB Marcus Mariota is back for an encore to his scintillating debut, Helfrich and new offensive coordinator Scott Frost are banking on even more explosive plays and lopsided victories. The Ducks will continue to spread the ball around, feeding any number of speedy playmakers, from the electrifying De’Anthony Thomas to TE Colt Lyerla or one of many speedy wide receivers. There is some trepidation regarding backfield depth, though young Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner are poised to allay many fears. C Hroniss Grasu and RT Jake Fisher will be the anchors of another very productive O-line. Fisher, in particular, is a shooting star, with the foundation of skills to catapult into the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Marcus Mariota
230-336, 2,677 yds, 32 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Marcus Mariota
106 carries, 752 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: De’Anthony Thomas
45 catches, 445 yds, 5 TDs

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Marcus Mariota
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Byron Marshall
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Bralon Addison
Best pro prospect: Junior RT Jake Fisher
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mariota, 2) Junior C Hroniss Grasu, 3) Fisher
Strength of the offense: The ground game, big-play backfield, quick-strike ability, balance, red-zone scoring, speed
Weakness of the offense: Backfield depth, the guards

Quarterbacks

Sophomore Marcus Mariota won the heated quarterback battle with Bryan Bennett last summer before setting off to prove he was a perfect fit for the Oregon offensive system. Oh, did he ever prove it. In a downright auspicious debut, the second-coming of Colin Kaepernick was not only named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, but was also the league’s first-team quarterback. The long and lean 6-4, 211-pounder from Hawaii went 230-of-336 for 2,677 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions, wowing with his progression as a passer. And in true dual-threat fashion, Mariota also sprinted for 752 yards and five more scores. Much more than just a terrific all-around athlete, he’s smart, poised under duress and willing to put in the time to get better. The frightening thought for Pac-12 defenses is that he is going to get better, even without Chip Kelly around to guide his development.

While Mariota is about to make a push for Heisman contention in 2013, his backup remains shrouded in debate. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues remain locked in a tight competition. Rodrigues has the higher ceiling, a 6-3, 218-pounder with a strong arm to go along with the athleticism to flourish running the zone reads. Lockie may have a little less upside potential, but his floor is more stable as well. He’s poised in the pocket, makes sound reads and throws an accurate, catchable ball. Rodrigues arrived in 2012 with more heralding, but Lockie has not backed down from the competition.

Watch Out For .... Mariota’s NFL Draft grade to soar throughout the fall. He’s just a sophomore, so big whoop, right? Uh-uh. Since Mariota will be three years removed from his graduation at St. Louis (HI) High School, he’ll be eligible to leave the Ducks at the end of this season. Mariota is a little stronger and more confident than a year ago, and his improved mechanics will minimize concerns about his potential as a next-level passer.
Strength: The dual-threat. Defending Mariota is a lot like stopping a penalty kick in soccer—lots of guessing and a very low success rate. The sophomore threw for 32 scores and ran for five more in 2012. The scary part for the rest of the Pac-12 is that Mariota put up his numbers as a rookie … and he’s going to be even more lethal this fall.
Weakness: Proven backups. The only drawback to Mariota’s precocious debut is that it drove veteran backup Bryan Bennett to transfer to Southeastern Louisiana. In his wake are two very talented, yet young, backups. Rodrigues and Lockie are capable of making a ton of exciting plays in Eugene, but the staff would prefer to use them only in blowouts this fall.
Outlook: Well, that didn’t take long. At this time last year, Oregon was deciding between two young quarterbacks, neither of whom had much experience between them. Today, the Ducks boast one of the premier weapons from behind center in America. Mariota is an emerging superstar of college football, the perfect marriage of dual-threat quarterback with well-crafted system. He’ll dazzle throughout 2013, racking up gaudy numbers, individual honors and lots of love from NFL scouts.
Rating: 8.5

Running Backs

The coaching staff chose not to overuse De’Anthony Thomas over the past couple of seasons, meaning there ought to be plenty of tread on his tires. Arguably the nation’s most versatile and incendiary offensive weapon, the junior is expected to enjoy an increased workload now that feature back Kenjon Barner has graduated. Thomas was instant offense again in 2012, rushing for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 92 carries, catching 45 balls for 445 yards and five more scores and generally unnerving special teams coaches as a return man. A 5-9, 176-pound cruise missile, he’s as fast to daylight as any player in the country. And he’s bucking for more chances to get into space, leaving defenders to look helplessly at the No. 6 on his back.

Since Thomas isn’t a traditional feature back who’ll carry the ball 25 times a game, he’s clearly going to share carries in this offense. Moving up the pecking order with the departure of Barner is 5-10, 201-pound sophomore Byron Marshall, the beneficiary of last year’s plethora of routs. Despite being a third-stringer, he still managed to earn 87 carries for 447 yards and four touchdowns. Marshall possesses the running style of an every-down back, earning extra yards with his light feet and nonstop leg drive.

Watch Out For … true freshman Thomas Tyner to instantly become a salve for Oregon’s depth concerns. The crown jewel of the Ducks’ 2013 recruiting class was rated the No. 2 back in America, an elite runner with the world class jets that belies his rather prodigious frame. The ingredients are in place for him to be special in Eugene.
Strength: Chunk yards. Explosive plays have been a staple in the Oregon attack … and will continue to be a staple in 2013. Thomas will obviously be the spark that ignites the ground game. But Marshall averaged more than five yards a carry in just his first year, and the sky is already the limit for Tyner.
Weakness: Depth. While it’s a “crisis” that many programs would love to have, Oregon doesn’t have quite the depth it did in recent seasons. Thomas is not a quintessential workhorse, Marshall is only in his second year and Tyner has yet to play a snap. The Ducks are a cut below the when a player of Barner’s caliber was waiting in the on-deck circle just in case LaMichael James got dinged.
Outlook: Right about now, it would be nice to still have Lache Seastrunk and Tra Carson on the roster, but they’re members of Baylor and Texas A&M, respectively. Not to worry. While Oregon is a little thinner than normal in the backfield, it could simply mean more touches for budding stars, like Marshall and Tyner. Meanwhile, Thomas will be a little busier than he was in 2012, upping his workload in what could be his final year as a Duck.
Unit Rating: 8.5

Receivers

For any number of reasons, Oregon has yet to fully maximize all of the skills of WR Josh Huff, but that could begin to change in 2012. The 5-11, 205-pound senior, with the big-play ability, achieved career-highs a year ago by making 32 receptions for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. Better yet, most of his production occurred during a strong second-half to the year. Huff has ample speed and improving hands, but is at his best when he’s battling for the ball in traffic. With pro scouts watching, and QB Marcus Mariota improving, the senior receiver ought to raise the bar this fall.

The staff is struggling to control its enthusiasm regarding the potential of sophomore slot receiver Bralon Addison. The 5-10, 189-pounder was consistently cited for his improved play and dedication to continuously getting better. In his debut, Addison pulled down 22 balls for 243 yards and three scores, while showing off good speed and ball skills, and a penchant for sitting down in the soft spots of the defense.

The third starting wide receiver in Oregon’s three-wide sets will be 5-9, 181-pound Keanon Lowe, a veteran of the starting corps. The junior is looking to build on his best season as a Duck, when he caught 22 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Lowe needs to play with more consistency, but his breakaway speed and elusiveness will continue to be attractive in the passing game.

Mariota’s other favorite option in the passing game will be junior TE Colt Lyerla, who took a giant step forward in his evolution last year. The 6-5, 246-pound honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick turned 25 catches into 392 yards and six touchdowns. You want multifaceted? How about 77 more yards and a touchdown on 13 carries from a tight end? Lyerla is a long target and a gifted pass-catcher, with the speed and the toughness to already look like he’ll be playing on Sundays soon. The tackle-dragger never goes down on initial contact, one of the fundamental reasons why he averaged almost 16 yards a catch in 2012.

Hoping to address somewhat questionable depth at wide receiver will be 6-4, 202-pound senior Daryle Hawkins, Addison’s backup in the slot, and 6-2, 181-pound sophomore B.J. Kelley. Hawkins arrived as a quarterback before emerging into a dependable pass-catcher, who caught a career-high 25 passes for 202 yards and three scores in 2012. Kelley is a well-sized burner who lettered as a rookie, making six receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. He has a bright future once he irons out the wrinkles in his fundamentals. Oregon will want to give reps to backup TE Pharaoh Brown. Not only might Lyerla leave after his junior season, but Brown is pretty dangerous in the passing game. Although the 6-6, 234-pound sophomore only caught two balls for 42 yards, he showed enough growth in practice to even entice the staff to employ some two-tight end sets.

Watch Out For … the influx of the four-star rookies. The Ducks attracted quantity and quality on Signing Day, landing three really good wide receivers from the West Coast. Phoenix’s Devon Allen and San Diego’s Tyree Robinson and Darren Carrington are the kinds of big and athletic targets that’ll get a chance to avoid a redshirt year.
Strength: Speed. The Oregon linemen are fast, so it goes to figure that the wide receivers and tight ends can motor as well. The wideouts, in particular, could form their own track club in Eugene, exploding off the line of scrimmage, and getting behind the secondary in an instant. As Mariota evolves as a thrower, the Ducks should click on more deep balls in 2013.
Weakness: Consistency of the wide receivers. Oregon has a lot of raw talent on the outside and in the slot, but does it have a bona-fide go-to wide receiver that Mariota can target on those rare third-and-eights? Huff is capable of becoming that guy, but first he needs to prove he can bring it on a week-in, week-out basis.
Outlook: The Ducks continue to have enormous potential and considerable raw talent in the receiving corps, but now they’ve got to start grasping it. The further evolution of Mariota is going to help everyone. Lyerla is an immense talent, who should be just a year away from starring in the NFL. Out of Huff, Addison and Lowe, there could be a different starring emerging every Saturday, which will present challenges to vexed and overworked opposing secondaries.
Unit Rating: 8

Offensive Line

Up front, the Ducks boast a sound base that includes three returning starters, two of whom earned all-league recognition a season ago. One, junior C Hroniss Grasu was named First Team All-Pac-12, and was an unsung hero of the 2012 offense. Mature and poised well beyond his years, he brings a quarterback’s demeanor to the trenches, directing traffic and making the correct pre-snap reads. The 6-3, 294-pound Grasu is on his way to contending for some of the top individual honors for a center, such as the Rimington Trophy and a spot on the All-American team.

The unit’s other returning all-star lines up at right tackle, junior Jake Fisher. One of the question marks up front entering 2012, he answered critics by finishing the year with All-Pac-12 honorable mention recognition. The former high school tight end is now 6-6 and 294 pounds, and is progressing as if he plans on protecting NFL pockets … soon. Fisher is a unique athlete for his size, sliding his feet fluidly, while improving the use of his hands. But what often get overlooked are his intangibles, such as his nasty demeanor and the way he quickly flattens learning curves. Scouts will be watching No. 75 very closely this fall.

Sophomore LT Tyler Johnstone started every game last season, and figures to just keep getting better with more reps. The 6-6, 292-pounder has tremendous size to go along with the light feet and toughness inherent to so many of the Oregon blockers. Johnstone is on an All-Pac-12 trajectory just a season after moving into the starting lineup.

After losing a handful of veteran guards to graduation, the Ducks will be looking for two new starters and capable reserves within the two-deep. Running with the first team on the left side is 5-11, 291-pound senior Mana Greig, an experienced and explosive run blocker. He was in the lineup before getting hurt last year, and plays with the power and pad level to blow opposing linemen off the ball, especially on running downs.

The likely starter at right guard for the Ducks is 6-3, 298-pound Hamani Stevens. The junior does his best work in a phone booth, displaying an unmistakable mean streak when locked in man-to-man battles. While Stevens is the least experienced of the projected starters, the staff has confidence in his ability to excel as a regular.

Veteran leadership off the bench will come from 6-3, 290-pound senior Karrington Armstrong and 6-7, 305-pound senior Everett Benyard. Armstrong will provide insurance for Grasu and the guards. Benyard is a bit of a utility man, capable of filling in at either guard or tackle.

Watch Out For .... a tackle named Fisher from the state of Michigan to make NFL scouts swoon for a second straight year. In 2012, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher soared up draft boards, eventually being taken No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. Traverse City native Jake Fisher might not be a top pick, but if he continues down his current path, he certainly could be enticed to leave Oregon at the end of his junior season.
Strength: Creating space. If there’s one thing that the Ducks know how to do really, really well, it’s opening holes for the program’s speedy backs and quarterbacks. All of the blockers are well-schooled in the nuances of the spread-option, getting out of the gates—and into the second level—in a flash. They’re the selfless, blue-collar cogs of a ground game that’s averaged 300 yards a game over the last two seasons.
Weakness: The guards. Relative to the tackles and Grasu at center, the guards are a cut below their surroundings. Greig and Stevens may not exactly be wet behind the ears, but they’ll still have a lot to prove in their first foray into being full-timers in an offense that thrives on perpetual motion.
Outlook: O-line coach Steve Greatwood continues to be one of those assistant coaches who doesn’t receive nearly as much attention or credit as he deserves. His unit of blockers will once again be the unheralded catalysts that help spur the high-powered Ducks offense. No longer just a cohesive collection of anonymous parts, Grasu and Fisher are All-Pac-12 performers capable of generating more national notoriety.
Rating: 8.5  

- 2013 Oregon Preview | 2013 Oregon Offense
- 2013 Oregon Defense | 2013 Oregon Depth Chart