Oregon Ducks: College Football

Fall camp is underway but there's still quite a bit of work that needs to be done. This week and next, we'll be outlining a few storylines to keep track of as the month wears down and the Oregon Ducks' opener on Aug. 30 against South Dakota approaches.

On Monday, we looked at the running backs and who might emerge at that position, and today we're moving on to receivers. If the problem at running back is one of abundance -- a problem that most coaches welcome with open arms -- then the one at wide receiver is quite the opposite. The coaches say there's a lot of talent in the room, but it's untested, unproven talent. Which, until it's proven this season is really just a bunch of words.

[+] EnlargeKeanon Lowe
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsSenior Keanon Lowe should provide leadership for a Ducks' receiving corps that enters the 2014 season as a rather young and unproven group.
"We've got a lot of inexperienced guys," wide receiver coach and passing game coordinator Matt Lubick said. "So it's a good opportunity for guys to get experience and we're trying a lot of different combinations."

But one of those guys -- or preferably for the Ducks, many guys -- needs to step up, and step up fast, because the Ducks' season (as well as quarterback Marcus Mariota and any Heisman hopes he might have) completely rest on that.

On Monday, Mariota pointed out Keanon Lowe (referring to him as a "proven veteran" despite the fact that he only caught 18 passes last season), Darren Carrington, Devon Allen and Chance Allen as receivers that have stood out to him through fall camp.

"They've all made a lot of plays," Mariota said. "Now we just have to get these guys lined up in the right positions, lined up in the right formations and get our offense rolling."

Lubick is convinced the offense will roll. He's quick to admit how young his group is, but he also believes it's one of the deepest.

"Last year we played four guys because four guys were ready to play and then there was a big drop off," Lubick said. "This year, we feel pretty good. … If we played tomorrow, we would be able to play seven, eight guys."

Here's a closer look at some of those eight guys. Keep track of them as this depth chart works its way out.

Keanon Lowe
2013 statistics: 18 catches, 233 yards, 3 touchdowns
What Lubick says: "The thing that he does such a great job of -- through example that other guys are starting to do -- is the way he prepares. No one out-prepares that guy. And what I mean by that, any situation he's in, he's going to do the best that he can and if he's in the meeting room, he's going to sit in the front row and take notes. He's going to pay attention to every single word. He's going to know the spots. He's always going to be early. He's going to be the first in every drill so he can get extra reps. Our young guys see that and they're trying to do the same thing."

Devon Allen
2013 statistics: redshirted
What Lubick says: "Devon's attitude has been awesome. He was a guy who had tremendous success on the track that everyone knows about, but he never used that as an excuse to get out of anything that we required of him in spring football. And in spring football, we required everything out of him. He balanced track and football unbelievably. … Very mentally tough. He's one of those guys, never count him out from doing anything because he's always proving he can do it. And if you challenge him -- intellectually or physically -- he always rises to the occasion."

Chance Allen
2013 statistics: 5 catches, 98 yards, 1 touchdown
What Lubick says: "Allen has gotten a lot better. Another guy that the one thing he's really lacking is experience. He did a great job in the offseason conditioning himself. He's a very smart football player. He has taken a lot of reps, even though he hasn't had a lot of game reps, he has taken a lot of reps in the practice field and that shows. He's in the right place at the right time, which is very important for a receiver."

Dwayne Stanford
2013 statistics: redshirted
What Lubick says: "He has put a tremendous amount of time in off the field. All of our guys are here in the summertime, but we also give them breaks. He decided to not even go home on those breaks we do give them, because he wanted to stay here and get better. It's very important to do well. He's his own worst critic. He takes this very serious. … If there's a weakness, he wants to know what it is and he's going to do his best to improve it. He doesn't want to avoid it."

Jonathan Loyd
2013 statistics: DNP
What Lubick says: "It's a hard situation when you haven't played football for four years. … His effort is unbelievable. He has put a lot of time in on his own to catch up to speed. In the spring, he was kind of thinking through things which when you think you can't play fast. Now he knows what he's doing and he's playing a lot faster."

Other storylines to keep track of:
EUGENE, Ore. -- As the Oregon football players filed into the annual media day last week, one thing was visibly clear from the start: One of these things was not like the other ones.

Yes, each player sported his green uniform. And all -- except one -- wore matching green shorts with their number on the thigh.

That one, redshirt senior Johnathan Loyd -- who will play as wide receiver on the 2014 team after exhausting his basketball eligibility at Oregon after last season -- was wearing black Jordan basketball shorts. He got the Nike part right, but the sport part wrong.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Loyd
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesJohnathan Loyd is shifting his focus from basketball to football as he prepares to line up at wide receiver for Oregon.
“It’s a part of me,” Loyd said. “It’s my personality.”

And though he’s not going to be playing any real basketball at all during the season, he’ll certainly still have that basketball part to his play and personality. But the more time he spends playing football, the smaller that part will be.

And he certainly noticed the basketball to football difference between day one of spring ball and day one of fall camp.

“When I came into spring, I was more in basketball mode,” Loyd said. “It’s definitely a different type of pace you have to play at. Because football, you play as hard as you can, then stop, as hard as you can, then stop. Basketball is more constant movement, you have to tempo yourself so you’re not out of control.”

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said he saw that kind of trepidation out of Loyd in the spring.

“The guy had a great attitude in the spring,” Helfrich said. “But you could tell that he hadn’t played football for five years and it’s not like he’s showing up and playing intramural flag football. He’s showing up and playing elite-level, Division-I football. There’s rust. There’s uncertainty, which then makes him slower than he really is in how he plays.”

Loyd said that what he needed to get rid of that rust was just a lot of repetition in order to build the football muscle memory and get rid of the basketball mentality. That point never hit during spring ball, but after two weeks of being thrown to by quarterback Marcus Mariota in the summer, it finally just became instinctual.

“I was able to play football rather than just think about playing football,” Loyd said.

With more free time in the summer, Loyd was able to get more film study in. He and fellow wide receiver Keanon Lowe watched Oregon tape as well as NFL film -- mostly Steve Smith and Wes Welker.

Loyd attributed much of his summer growth to Lowe, who helped remind him to exert total energy on each route because he’d get a break soon. Unlike basketball, there was no turn-around fast break or zone to retreat into. And while that might’ve taken Loyd a bit longer to grow accustomed to, he is used to it now and ready to fight for a spot at wide receiver, a spot he legitimately has a shot to earn some important reps at considering the lack of experience as a whole in the unit.

That’s not too bad for a football player who stills wears his basketball shorts.
Byron Marshall, Thomas TynerScott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall and Thomas Tyner will give the Ducks two potent options at running back this season.
Fall camp is underway but there’s still quite a bit of work that needs to be done. This week, we’ll be outlining a few storylines to keep track of as the month wears down and the opener against South Dakota approaches.

Today, we start off with one of the more heavily discussed topics of the summer: the situation at running back.

The top dogs in the race are Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. Though, there are names mentioned outside of those two as a possible tempo change throughout the game -- Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit, Tony James. But don’t get too distracted. This is a two-man game right now.

Marshall has the experience factor -- he was the only 1,000-yard rusher on the team last year as he led the Ducks with 168 carries and 14 rushing touchdowns. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said that Marshall’s next step would be “cutting it loose.”

There shouldn’t be any hesitation considering he knows his main competition is coming off strong year-end performances. Last week, Helfrich spoke about how Tyner took more time to grow accustomed to the college game, but Helfrich was happy with the progress he made during the season. Tyner ended up toting the ball 115 times for 711 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. So, there’s definitely a benefit to getting 50 extra carries, but there’s also a benefit with year-end momentum, which Tyner had.

But to think that the Ducks could only have one special running back would be shortsighted, especially considering the obvious lack of experience the Ducks have at wide receiver. Helfrich has made no bones about the fact that the team is looking for whatever offensive formation works best for the Ducks. If that means two running backs, then so be it. And if these two backs are as good as everyone is lauding them to be then two backs could be the way the Ducks go.

“I like that we have two running backs because all the pressure isn’t on either one of them,” left tackle Tyler Johnstone said. “I think they’re just as talented, either one of them. They can platoon. If we have two running backs of their caliber, they’re always going to well rested and they’re always going to be explosive.”

Plenty of teams have had success going with a tandem at running back and experienced success. In 2005, USC used Reggie Bush and LenDale White to amass 3,042 rushing yards. Two seasons later at Arkansas, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones rushed for more than 3,000 yards in a season. This season, Texas could employ something similar with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown and Georgia may do the same with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

But what none of those teams have is Marcus Mariota.

Throw Mariota into that equation and the Oregon run game gets pretty difficult to stop. Could run game coordinator Steve Greatwood get really creative this season? Absolutely. Could either Tyner or Marshall explode so much during fall camp that they force the hand of the coaching staff into choosing a featured back? Absolutely. It's still early, but it's something to keep track of.

Realistically, this story line won’t play itself out for the public until the Michigan State game. The Ducks aren’t going to give too much away in the season opener, knowing that Mark Dantonio and his staff are going to see that game tape. In 2013, the Spartans finished in the top three nationally for rushing yards per game (86.3), yards per rush (2.84) and rushing touchdowns (8).

So come week two, we’ll get a much better sense of what the Oregon run game will actually look like this fall. If anyone truly believes we’ll know anything much sooner, they’re overreaching. Helfrich is going to keep his cards close to his chest and only show them when he must. And he’s going to need to against the defending Rose Bowl Champions.

Either way, it’s something to keep an eye on this fall camp to see if any hints are dropped regarding what exactly the Duck run game will look like this fall.
Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

SportsNation

Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    40%
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    22%
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    10%
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    6%
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    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,451)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.

Notebook: IMG 7v7 Championship 

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
10:00
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 National Championship held at IMG Academy over the weekend featured some of the top 7-on-7 teams from all over the country and even a few teams from Canada. The event, which included 12 prospects ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN 300, showcased some of the best talent you will find in a single tournament. Led by Alabama verbal commits Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker, the Florida Fire from South Florida defeated Tampa’s Unsigned Preps 20-18 in the championship game to take home the title.

Quarterbacks shine

There were several high-profile quarterbacks in attendance, and they lived up to the hype for the most part. Deondre Francois, who recently transferred to IMG Academy, made numerous impressive throws. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound signal-caller has a top three of Oregon, Auburn and Florida State and is planning to make his decision at the end of July.

I'll be off for the next week, so before I leave, I figured I'd check in with how the Ducks are doing on the recruiting trail in the 2015 class. So far, the Ducks have five commits, two of whom are in the latest ESPN 300 rankings. This is a breakdown of offers, position by position. If a player is committed elsewhere, that school is listed following his name.

QUARTERBACK:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 6
RUNNING BACK:

Oregon commits: 1
[+] EnlargeTaj Griffin
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTaj Griffin is Oregon's highest-rated pledge in the 2015 class.
Offers: 7
WIDE RECEIVER:

Oregon commits: 1
Offers: 5
ATHLETE:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 5
TIGHT END:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 5

OFFENSIVE GUARD:

Oregon commits: 1

  • Zach Okun (Newbury Park, California/Newbury Park)
Offers: 7
OFFENSIVE TACKLE:

Oregon commits: 1
Offers: 7

DEFENSIVE END:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 10
DEFENSIVE TACKLE:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 5
INSIDE LINEBACKER:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 4
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 6

CORNERBACK:

Oregon commits: 1
Offers: 6
SAFETY:

Oregon commits: 0

Offers: 4

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
2:30
PM ET
Ain't no party like an S Club party.
Over the past few weeks we examined the Ducks, position-by-position, evaluating the talent. But since I was in Eugene last week for the NCAA Track & Field Championships, I figured I'd stop by the football offices to check in with one of the guys who knows that information best, offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Wednesday, we went through quarterback and running back highlights. Today, we're on to wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line.

WIDE RECEIVER
  • On Devon Allen: He was actually a late offer for the Ducks who was offered after Chip Kelly left for the NFL. There were a few spots open (initially there had only been one spot for a receiver). "It all kind of worked out that we offered him, and this is where he wanted to be. I knew he could be fast. I had no idea he could go 13.1 in the high hurdles."
  • Frost actually was at Allen's race last Saturday when Allen won the 110-meter hurdle national title. Frost said that he doesn't think Allen "looks like he'd be a track guy, he's built more like a football guy, he's thick."
  • On his mindset on the receivers: "We felt good about receiver even losing the guys we did, with Bralon [Addison] back and some young guys we think are really talented. We're just going to have to have some of those young guys step up quicker than they would've had to otherwise."
  • The first receiver that Frost brought up after Allen was redshirt freshman Darren Carrington. "He has to grow up quick, but he has it in him to be that guy." The next three receivers he mentioned were redshirt sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt sophomore Chance Allen and early enrollee Jalen Brown. Frost said that he thought Brown was "in over his head a bit" from a conditioning standpoint this spring, which limited his reps, but he's up to speed now, and Frost could see him being a contributor in the fall. So it sounds like after Keanon Lowe and D. Allen, there's certainly a pecking order of things, but the competition is still very much open.
  • It's the youngest crop of receivers Frost has ever had, so I was curious if there were any way he could speed up the learning curve or provide a catalyst (other than just more and more live reps). "Sometimes there's just no replacing experience. But all those guys are competitors. … They're going to get their shots early. You see it all the time in sports, when people get their opportunities some of them reach out and take it with both hands and others struggle a little bit. We're just hoping we have a bunch of guys where the former happens."
  • Frost said something interesting about indicators regarding whether a young guy can play early -- it's typically more based on mental and emotional maturity than talent.
TIGHT ENDS
  • Look for these guys, like the running backs, to be more involved in the pass game. "We have three, which is more than we've had going into a year that I can remember. … We have three guys that we trust to go out there and do it, and there's probably going to be times that a couple of them -- if they're playing well -- deserve to be on the field, and we can play with two tight ends."
  • Pharaoh Brown's injury isn't going to limit him through the fall. Frost said it's just a matter of keeping him healthy through the season. "He's really talented."
  • Frost called John Mundt’s freshman year a "roller coaster" but said that when he was on, "he did some exceptional things."
  • Frost thought Mundt and Evan Baylis' biggest areas of growth over the past year has just been confidence. No surprise there.
OFFENSIVE LINE
  • I asked Frost about senior Hroniss Grasu taking the blame (for the line as a whole) for the losses last season. Grasu had said in the spring that he thought the group lacked toughness and got outmuscled in those games, and that's why the Ducks lost. "I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. I think we had two losses against teams that played really good games against us." Frost though the turnovers were a bigger problem in the Stanford and Arizona games. "If you play a team that does things right and you give them the ball that many times, that's a recipe for losing."
  • He wasn't surprised that Grasu said that, because he's that kind of a guy. He said it speaks to Grasu's leadership that he's willing to shoulder that kind of blame.
  • The line returns all five starters and considering the weight gain, the general consensus with everyone is that the Ducks should be just fine. But, I wanted to make sure to ask about a few backups who were getting significant reps during the spring season. Frost's thoughts: Redshirt junior Andre Yruretagoyena had his best spring season yet. He said the staff has high hopes for redshirt freshman Jake Pisarcik. He was impressed with redshirt junior walk-on Matt Pierson at right tackle.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
2:30
PM ET
Way back on the radio dial a fire got lit inside a bright eyed child. Every note just wrapped around his soul, steel guitars to Memphis all the way to rock 'n roll.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon football can now claim a 2014 national title. Sort of.

On Saturday, redshirt freshman wide receiver Devon Allen won the 110-meter hurdles at the NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.

[+] EnlargeDevon Allen
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesDevon Allen says football is still first, but he plans to continue running track at Oregon.
Allen’s time of 13.16 seconds was the second-fastest ever recorded in college track and field and helped the Oregon men’s track team win its first team title since 1984.

“Off the last hurdle, it was pretty even,” Allen said. “And I know I’m a good sprinter and I could sprint off the last 15 meters, so I was just hoping that I had got it. … I felt like I had it when I leaned across the finish line.”

Allen said he has dropped 20 pounds from the end of the fall season until now, which has helped in football and track. He said that after this full year of participating in both sports, he has confidence that he’ll be able to continue during his time in Eugene.

Even with his recent and phenomenal successes on the track, football will continue to be his No. 1 sport, he said.

“I had a big day today,” Allen said. “But it’s still football first for now. We’ll see how my season goes.”

Summer lifting and conditioning begins in two weeks for the Ducks football team, but Allen isn’t completely leaving the track quite yet. He’ll compete at USA Track & Field Senior Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, California, from June 26-29.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
2:30
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Happy Friday the 13th!

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
2:30
PM ET
Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids.
During the next few weeks, we’re going to go through Oregon’s roster, position by position, examining what talent was lost to graduation or the NFL and what that leaves the Ducks with in 2014.

We’re well into the defense now, past the front seven and into the secondary. We finish off the defense on Wednesday with the safeties.

Who was lost after the 2013 season: Brian Jackson, Avery Patterson

Lost production: 151 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 9 pass breakups

Who returns in 2014: Redshirt senior Erick Dargan, redshirt sophomore Reggie Daniels, redshirt freshman Juwaan Williams, redshirt freshman Tyree Robinson, redshirt junior Issac Dixon, redshirt sophomore Eric Amoako, redshirt junior Bronson Yim, redshirt junior Bobby Dunn, incoming freshman Khalil Oliver, incoming freshman Mattrell McGraw

Statistics of returning players: 40 tackles, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups

Outlook: Here’s where fans are allowed to start feeling not as confident in the defense, as this is one of the few positions where the lost statistics are greater than the returning statistics.

Replacing both starting safeties is not something a coach wants to do, especially in a league as pass heavy as the Pac-12. However (and yes, there’s always a however), Dargan has stepped into the starting role with ease. Early on in spring, quarterback Marcus Mariota said he didn’t like throwing against Dargan. So if one of the best signal-callers in the country doesn’t want to throw against Dargan, there’s a decent chance every quarterback the Ducks see this fall will feel the same way.

The biggest question comes at the starting spot opposite Dargan. Is a redshirt freshman or a redshirt sophomore really going to be starting in the senior-laden secondary? Yes. Does that mean everyone should panic? No. But if an opposing quarterback is deciding between throwing against Ifo Ekpre-Olomu or a younger safety, he's going to pick the safety. The young safeties are going to get picked on more simply because they fall into the “Not-Ekpre-Olomu” category. That will get them more opportunities to succeed -- or fail. Either way, it’s definitely a position group to watch closely.

Other spring position reviews:
On Tuesday, Mel Kiper Jr. released his top 2015 QB prospects.

The list is building on his 2015 Too-Early Big Board, going position by position. But for these breakdowns, Kiper noted:
  • This isn't a straight top 10 QB list because I've split them into seniors and underclassmen. I think it's important to rank seniors alone since they are the only players I can guarantee will be a part of the 2015 NFL draft process.
  • In some instances I've included more than 10 players; if two or three guys are extremely close on my board, I simply tacked on the names.

But no conference is as well represented on the quarterback list as the Pac-12, which snagged five of the 11 spots. The SEC and Big Ten have two on the list, while the ACC and Big 12 each have one QB represented. Of the five Pac-12 quarterbacks, two are seniors and three are underclassmen.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
2:30
PM ET
Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band.

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