2014 Oregon Preview: What You Need To Know
Oregon RB Byron Marshall
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Oregon (Getty Images)
2014 Oregon Preview
What You Need To Know...
What You Need To Know About The Offense: From the moment Marcus Mariota chose to return for at least one more year, Oregon was assured of housing one of the most prolific attacks in the country. Mariota is a perfect fit for the high-powered spread-option, running and throwing the ball with equal proficiency. A little too perfect, possibly, as backups Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs have recently decided to transfer. The Ducks will again rock on the ground behind Mariota, the dynamic backfield tandem of Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall and a stellar veteran O-line. But who’ll catch Mariota’s passes now that Josh Huff has graduated and Bralon Addison has suffered a serious knee injury? Look for the passing attack to employ more than just the receivers, which expect big things from speedy redshirt freshman Devon Allen and sophomore Darren Carrington. Tyner and Marshall have soft hands out of the backfield. And tight ends Johnny Mundt and Pharaoh Brown possess the size and the athleticism to emerge as dangerous weapons in the middle of the field.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: How in the world do you replace Nick Aliotti, an institution in Eugene? You promote from within a coach who has even deeper roots with the program. As a player or a coach, Don Pellum has been affiliated with Oregon for all but four seasons since 1980. He’s a tremendous communicator and a strict disciplinarian who already knows the players and the blueprint used by Aliotti to turn the Ducks into one of the country’s most disruptive units. Pellum takes the reins of a unit that’ll be outstanding at the second level, but will need to retool up front and in the secondary. All-star CB Ifo-Ekpre-Olomu is the leader of a defensive backfield breaking in three new starters, including both safeties. The D-line is banking on a trio of talented juniors to turn a possible liability into a unit strength. NT Alex Balducci and ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are flush with size and next-level potential. However, they’ve got to concurrently reach that ceiling in 2014, or else Oregon will be vulnerable both against the run and the pass.
Players You Need To Know
1. QB Marcus Mariota, Jr.
While Mariota is coming off another solid season, it was somewhat marred by a knee injury that hindered his trademark mobility in the second-half of the year, and a 2-2 finish for his Ducks. Still, the 6-4, 215-pound dual-threat remained the catalyst for the high-powered offense. He completed 245-of-386 passes for 3,665 yards, 31 touchdowns and four picks, including no interceptions over the first 10 games. Consistent with his speed, vision and athleticism, Mariota also rushed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns on 96 carries.
2. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Sr.
In one of the bigger surprises of the offseason in Eugene, Ekpre-Olomu opted for one more year as a Duck before turning taking his game to the next level. As one of the country’s top ball-hawking corners, he earned widespread All-American recognition as a junior. Ekpre-Olomu has picked off seven passes over the last two seasons, including three last year when quarterbacks tried to avoid him. The 5-10, 195-pounder also proved to be a willing run supporter by making 84 tackles and five stops for loss.
3. C Hroniss Grasu, Sr.
Grasu is one of the unsung heroes of the Quack Attack, earning First Team All-Pac-12 in each of the last two seasons. The Rimington Trophy finalist is mature and poised beyond his years, bringing a quarterback’s demeanor, intelligence and leadership to the trenches. Grasu will direct traffic and make the correct pre-snap reads, underrated skills for the leader of the O-line. At 6-3 and 294 pounds, he’s sturdy at the point of attack and very difficult to move off his base.
4. RB Thomas Tyner, Soph.
Along with Byron Marshall, Tyner is a part of one of the nation’s premier backfield tandems. The pair is interchangeable, and both will get their touches this season. Tyner performed like a five-star recruit in his debut out of Aloha (Ore.) High School by rushing for 711 yards and nine touchdowns on 115 carries. The 5-11, 215-pound Tyner possesses a rare combination of assertiveness and blazing speed, which could thrust him on to the national radar in 2014. He still runs a little high, but that should be corrected over time.
5. RB Byron Marshall, Jr.
Marshall made the most of Kenjon Barner’s graduation following 2012, needing just 168 carries to tally a team-best 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He’ll also be used out of the backfield in 2014 after making 13 catches for 155 yards. Marshall is an explosive, north-south runner, who wastes very little movement getting through the hole and into the secondary. And at 5-10 and 201 pounds, he has the sturdy frame to bounce off tacklers and handle a bigger workload when necessary.
6. OLB Tony Washington, Sr.
The Ducks employ a position known as a drop end, which incorporates the skills of an outside linebacker and a standard defensive end. Washington handled the hybrid role very well a season ago. He impacted the D on all three downs, notching 60 tackles and team-highs with 12 stops for loss, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. The 6-3, 250-pound Washington gets off the snap in a hurry, and he’ll get low to quickly zip past tackles inflexible opposing tackles.
7. LB Derrick Malone, Sr.
Malone’s promotion from key reserve and special teamer to full-time starter wound up being a seamless one in 2013. He started all but a single game, racking up a team-high 105 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, two sacks and a pair of interceptions. The 6-2, 220-pound former safety operates with ideal range, which allows him to string out plays from sideline-to-sideline and drop back fluidly into coverage. Malone is hoping to use his speed and burst this season to create a little chaos in the other guy’s backfield.
8. DE DeForest Buckner, Jr.
With the spring providing more backup evidence, Buckner is on the brink of a monster third season with the program. He is a big, physical and athletic 6-7, 286-pounder, with the wingspan to frustrate quarterbacks even when he’s not hitting them. Buckner showed flashes as an eight-game starter in 2013, chipping in with 35 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks. With a full season of reps now in the vault, he’s liable to blow up into one of the most disruptive all-around defensive linemen in the Pac-12.
9. OT Jake Fisher, Sr.
If Fisher can simply tighten up his consistency and reduce his penalties, he’s going to make NFL scouts gush with praise next January. The former tight end, now 6-6 and 299 pounds, is the type of athlete who projects very well to the next level. He has great feet and the speed that will make him a riser following next February’s Combine. Fisher has been a mainstay at right tackle the last two seasons, starting 11 games each year, while doing his part to keep opposing defenders out of the backfield.
10. DE Arik Armstead, Jr.
In January, Armstead quit the Oregon hoops team to focus exclusively on football. It was a smart move for a player who has an enormous ceiling on the gridiron. The former mega-recruit has yet to match the hype, making just 15 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and a sack as a five-game starter in 2013. However, Armstead possesses natural gifts that make a breakout year practically a forgone conclusion. Not only is he a powerful and imposing 6-8, 296-pounder, but he plays with rare agility for such a big athlete. It’s a big year for No. 9, who has taken out a $5 million disability and loss of value insurance policy.
11. OG Hamani Stevens, Sr.
At times last year, Stevens was the weakest link in an otherwise accomplished Oregon O-line. If the offseason is any indication, though, he’s ready to become an asset for the offense. The 6-3, 307-pounder started all 13 games in 2013, nine at right guard and the final four on the left side. Stevens has made the most of those reps so far in 2014, combining toughness and a mean streak with the agility to administer punishment at the second level.
12. LB Rodney Hardrick, Jr.
Hardrick is back, a full 12 pounds lighter, as he readies to build on his first full season as the Ducks’ starting middle linebacker. He finished sixth on the team with 65 tackles, three stops for loss, three pass breakups and three fumble recoveries. Now at a leaner and quicker 6-1 and 219 pounds, Hardrick is hoping to improve his range, while increasing his number of stops behind the line. One of the tougher players on the defense, he was the recipient of Oregon’s Bob Officer Award in 2013 for playing through physical adversity.