- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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The first day of spring practice is more than a month away, but it’s never too early to take a look at what Oregon must do this spring to be a championship contender in the fall.
We’ll be doing different countdowns looking at players, position groups and position battles in the next month, and we’re starting this week with the five position groups that need to improve the most. We finish off the first countdown of our spring football series with a group that needs to replace a lot of yardage after 2013.
No. 1: Wide receiver
2013 review: With quarterback Marcus Mariota registering the highest QBR in the Pac-12, the Oregon wide receivers found themselves in a pretty favorable position. Mariota increased his passing yards per game from 205 yards per game in 2012 to 281 in 2013, which means the wide receivers were targeted more and in bigger spots. In 2013, Oregon led the Pac-12 (and finished No. 6 in the nation) with 68 percent of its receptions going for a touchdown or first down. The Ducks also led the conference and finished in the top 10 nationally in yards per reception (14.8). Mariota was a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award for college player of the year and the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year. However, no quarterback can do that alone. Every quarterback in that group also had solid receivers as targets, which the Ducks certainly had in 2013.
Why they must improve: The Ducks lose their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers in Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins. Huff recorded a team-high 12 touchdowns on 62 catches and 1,140 yards, and Hawkins scored three touchdowns on 23 catches and 347 yards. So just between those two, Oregon is looking to replace 40 percent of its receiving yardage and 47 percent of its receiving touchdowns. Bralon Addison at slot receiver and Keanon Lowe at wide receiver each return, but finding someone to fill that other wide receiver spot will be important this spring. Dwayne Stanford, who redshirted last year after undergoing knee surgery, and B.J. Kelley (appeared in eight games, made one catch) are two players who could be in contention for that position. Stanford has the height advantage at 6-foot-5 (Kelley is 6-2), but Stanford needs to prove that he’s better than his freshman statistics, when he recorded 11 catches in 13 games. The Ducks need a big-time receiver to step in, and while there’s certainly an arsenal, no player is proven yet.