- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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Five things to watch in Oregon’s season opener against Eastern Washington.
1. Vernon Adams Jr.: Adams, a graduate transfer from EWU, got to campus late and earned the starting job after two weeks of practices. He needs to fill (at least parts) of the shoes left behind by Marcus Mariota while leading a complicated offense against his alma mater. There are two reasons Oregon probably isn’t going to reveal too much of its offense. First, we know that they’ve kind of molded the offense to Adams’ strengths and in Game 1, the last thing they want to do is make him feel like he’s in over his head and can’t function with the group. Second, the Ducks have Michigan State in Week 2. Even if it were a veteran quarterback, they wouldn’t be giving away too much of their playbook.
2. True freshmen making their college debuts: The Ducks have four true freshmen listed on the two deep for the Eastern Washington game -- wide receiver Kirk Merritt, defensive end Canton Kaumatule, cornerback Ugo Amadi and punter Blake Maimone. Not listed on the two-deep but still expected to play against the Eagles: linebacker Fotu Leiato and defensive back Taj Griffin (though, expect most of his reps to come on special teams).
3. A young secondary vs. Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp: The Ducks secondary is young this fall. Sophomores Chris Seisay and Arrion Springs were listed as the starters at corner while junior Reggie Daniels and sophomore Tyree Robinson will start at safety. The two-deep consists of two sophomores and two freshmen. But young doesn’t mean inexperienced or untalented. It just means they’re young. And they’re going to be going up against junior Cooper Kupp, a legit FCS Offensive Player of the Year candidate who has recorded 37 touchdowns over the past two seasons with the Eagles. Yes, he was a big beneficiary of Adams but should still be a huge factor in the passing game with Eastern Washington quarterback Jordan West. Oregon’s young secondary will have a good test in its first weekend.
4. Oregon’s new offensive line: The Ducks offensive line went through more changes last season than a junior high girl on her way to her first school dance. Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood joked that it’s always good to prepare for the worst and though he wouldn’t necessarily call last season “the worst” officially (he’s a bit superstitious), it was darn near close. Because of the infinite lineups, several Ducks who played quite a bit are back but Oregon is also breaking in a few new faces. Notre Dame transfer and center Matt Hegarty has worked on his chemistry with Adams while left tackle Tyler Johnstone, who spent last season as a coach of sorts, is back protecting the QB’s blindside. Sophomore Tyrell Crosby will be opposite Johnstone while Cameron Hunt and Matt Pierson fill out the right and left guard spots, respectively.
5. The pass rush: Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said that he better understands what his group is good at and how they grasp the defense and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich says that anytime you do something a second time, it should be done better. Put two and two together and it means the pass rush should be a bit stronger and more consistent in Year 2 of Pellum’s DC tenure.
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