- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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The first day of Oregon’s spring practices is April 1 (no, we aren’t fooling you), which means we’ve got about three weeks until the Ducks take the field again. Last week we counted down the top five Oregon recruiting classes and this week we’re taking a look at the top five players to keep track of during spring ball.
No. 1: WR Bralon Addison
2013 Statistics: 61 receptions | 890 yards | 7 TD | 68.5 yards per game
Why to watch him: The Ducks lose their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers in Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins which means someone must step up if the offense is going to continue to be one of the most dominant in the nation. The Oregon offense has so many of its pieces in place to not only be as good, but better than it was last season. Quarterback Marcus Mariota returns. The offensive line is pretty much locked up. The top two rushers return. But the big question mark is whether or not a receiver will step up to provide a deep threat.
Mariota's passing yardage improved by nearly 1,000 yards from his redshirt freshman season to his sophomore season. His TD count remained about the same (32 in 2012, 31 in 2013) and his interceptions dropped from six to four. Mariota, who chose to come back to Eugene this season instead of heading to the NFL, should see another increase in his passing yardage if players such as Addison step forward.
In 2013, Oregon's top four receivers accounted for 72 percent of the receiving yardage and the season receiving touchdown total. However, Addison is the only player of those four who returns. He's going to need to use that experience to not only step up as a player but also lead the other younger receivers. Senior Keanon Lowe also returns. He played in 12 games and started three for the Ducks, but averaged just 19.4 yards per game.
Addison might need to make major strides quickly, as Oregon will have a major test on Sept. 6. Michigan State allowed just 165.6 passing yards per game last season (No. 3 nationally). The Spartans defensive backs referred to themselves as the "No Fly Zone" and backed that up. They held Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan to zero passing TDs and just 143 yards in the Rose Bowl, 44 yards below his season average. Hogan completed just 10 passes.
The Spartans will provide a good measuring stick for Addison to show how much offseason progress he made. And as the season progresses, Addison and Mariota will face three of the top five passing defenses in the conference. This spring will be crucial to the development of his game and to see how much chemistry he and Mariota can build. Mariota is expected to have a great season, but his passing totals will only go as far as players such as Addison take him.