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Key position battles in Oregon fall camp

8/7/2012
Bryan Bennett is battling for the quarterback spot with Marcus Mariota, who had an impressive spring. Jim Z. Rider/US Presswire

Every season comes with roster questions no matter the program. The three-time defending league champion Ducks lost some key pieces after 2011 but there is an abundance of talent waiting in the wings.

Not all of the key position battles involve a departed star, however. There are key returners at every spot on the field. With fall camp kicking off today there are a few key spots up for grabs.

Not being named a starter in Chip Kelly's system is not a dream killer though. Especially on defense, where the Ducks rotate more players than any team in the country.

Quarterback

Sophomore Bryan Bennett returns with the only game experience among the contenders but redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota impressed this spring.

Ducks fans have seen Chip Kelly make tough decisions before at the quarterback spot. In 2010 he chose Darron Thomas as the starter over fan favorite and senior Nate Costa. Thomas led the Ducks to the BCS Championship Game in his first year.

The Ducks will certainly have a first-year starter in 2012. The question is who it will be. Bennett and Mariota both have the talent and skill to step in for Thomas with no drop off outside of experience.

The system makes the Ducks go but the right quarterback can turn Oregon into an unstoppable force. Whoever emerges from the tight competition over the next 28 days will be ready to go.

Strong Safety

The rover position is an important piece on the Ducks' defensive unit and filling the shoes of the departed Eddie Pleasant is a big task for defensive coordinator Nick Alioti.

Avery Patterson brings experience and speed to the competition after starting his career at cornerback. His cover skills top the other two candidates but he is much smaller at 5-foot-10, 185-pounds.

Junior Brian Jackson has made a name for himself on special teams as a hard hitter who makes key plays. His combination of size (5-foot-10, 205-pounds) make him a slight favorite entering camp.

Sophomore Erick Dargan may be the ideal fit at 5-foot-11, 210-pounds but he lacks the experience of the other two. A strong performance during fall camp will increase his playing time but Patterson and Jackson will likely emerge as the two leaders before the opening kickoff.

Cornerback

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Josh Huff caught 31 passes and had two touchdowns in 2011.

Sophomores Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu battle for the two cornerback slots entering the fall.

All three played well and gained valuable experience as freshman in 2011 but the growth they display during camp will be a big key for the Ducks' defensive unit.

Mitchell likely has one spot locked up while Ekpre-Olomu and Hill will battle it out for the other side of the field.

All three are capable of starting on any other Pac-12 team not named USC and all three will get plenty of run, especially against the likes of Washington State and USC.

Tight End

Sophomore Colt Lyerla is the veteran of the group -- though he was absent at the Oregon media day -- and will be the starter, but a defensive line convert and three athletic freshman will battle it out for the second tight end spot.

Former defensive end, Koa Ka'ai (6-foot-4, 249-pounds) played tight end and ran track in high school. His experience and athleticism were enough to have the coaches move him to offense after the 2011 season.

Evan Baylis (6-foot-6, 232-pounds) has been in Eugene since the spring, so he may have a slight edge over Pharoah Brown (6-foot-6, 230-pounds) and Terrence Daniel (6-foot-6, 249-pounds).

Wide Receiver

Junior Josh Huff is the only sure fire starter. Rahsaan Vaughn and Will Murphy are the only senior wideouts on the roster. After that, not much is known at this point.

Eric Dungy and Daryle Hawkins have some experience, but not much. Freshmen BJ Kelley, Tacoi Sumler, Devon Blackmon, Chance Allen, Bralon Addison and Dwayne Stanford will all compete for their spot in the rotation.

Sumler, Kelley and Blackmon are all coming off of redshirt years while Addison, Stanford and Allen are all true freshman and could redshirt in 2012 if they don't emerge in fall camp.

Kicker

Senior Rob Beard and junior Alejandro Maldonado will have an ongoing competition as both have plenty of experience.

Beard held the kicking duties during Oregon's 2010 season while Maldonado held it for much of 2011. Maldonado is best remembered for his misses, including the botched 37-yard attempt at the end of the USC game.