There is no position on the Oregon roster heading into the season with more question marks, and cause for hope, than at wide receiver. The Ducks return a wealth of talent, but not since Jeff Maehl has there been consistency at the position. Stepping into the limelight joining the fold are the much anticipated
trio duo of redshirt freshmen, adding their names to the rotation of players battling for all of fall camp for the right to play come September..
Wednesday news struck that one of the big signees from last year’s class has decided to transfer, Tacoi Sumler. He leaves for opportunities to play a bit closer to home, being from Florida. But Sumler’s departure hardly leaves Oregon’s depth or quality at the position bare. While it still is a question whom exactly will provide that consistency from game to game, the wide receiver group retains tremendous athletic ability, potential, and depth. Their talents go far beyond simply catching the ball.
Everyone is accountable in an offense. For a big play to occur in the Oregon offense, loads of things have to go right: the center has to snap the ball on target, the quarterback has to make the right read, as does the running back, as do the linemen and receivers. Every block has to be effective, each “J-Step,” cut, or stalk block crisp in its execution.
Now, linemen are supposed to block, quarterbacks are coached to read-and-react, running backs are expected to carry the ball up-field. Receivers are expected to not only catch the ball, and even run the ball in some situations, but are also expected to lay blocks on corners, safeties, and linebackers alike.
To what extent other receivers around the country are held accountable, though, varies on the ability, and philosophy of players and coaches alike. While Chip Kelly has been around at Oregon, one thing about the Ducks that has put them ahead of nearly every other school in the nation offensively has been simply their receiver’s abilities to block, and block effectively.
A quality block by a wide receiver sealing the edge is often the difference between a 10 yard run and a 30 yard run. During his three years as a starter, LaMichael James set the all-time NCAA record for most 30+ yard runs. Sure James is a special talent, but without receivers skilled at retaining a block on the edge, many of those don’t happen.
Oregon wide-outs’ great blocking is no secret, nor does it involve misdirection, or any “trickeration” from the Oregon coaching staff, but it still plays one of the largest parts in the exclusivity of the Ducks’ attack.
Part of the receivers’ workman-like attitude comes from their emotional tie to the Oregon offense, or “buying-in,” while the rest stems from outstanding technique and preparation.
Technique comes from countless repetitions in practice, often seemingly over-extensive sometimes, sure a senior receiver driving a green-thumbed freshman cornerback to the back of the end-zone is probably a common scene during the early weeks of practice, but that confidence in relying upon “stalk-blocking” technique can only come through repetition, as many players and coaches will agree.
The amount of success in receiver blocking also depends on the friendliness of an offense’s schemes. For instance, pro-style offenses tend to have run concepts paired with tight ends and fullbacks, often drawing defenders inside of receivers. This usually leaves receivers in important one-on-one situations on only one side of the field, rendering exterior leverage out of the question for most traditional offenses. This leaves the receiver’s primary role to catch the ball, any blocking added to the run game is simply a bonus.
The opposite end of the spectrum, of course, is the A-11 offense, that literally scripts advantages for blockers, ensuring that regardless of size or ability, the blocker has a significant angle of leverage.
Oregon falls back within acceptable limits (at the moment), but still utilize many schematic advantages, gained by consistently showing multiple receiver looks, as well as enacting various screen combinations on the exterior parts of the field. But that doesn’t mean the blocking scheme stops there; nearly every running play Oregon successfully executes for big gains are set up by linemen, but sprung by receivers.
While the Oregon offense has long been known for its prowess on the ground, the receivers get their proverbial “bone” tossed to them with another staple of the Oregon offense in the bubble and slip screen concepts. Not surprisingly, the bubble screens showcase the Duck receivers’ overpowering blocking technique better than the long runs do for the untrained eye.
As the Duck offense continues to evolve, utilizing faster and stronger linemen, keen quarterbacks, and even faster ball-carriers, a constant has truly emerged. Whether it is the automatic five yard bubble screen, or the outside zone run being cut up, look for receivers to be leading the way for the charge for the Oregon offense for a long time to come.
As long as Oregon continues to attack utilizing the entire field sideline-to-sideline spreading out defenses, receivers will continue to be a vital part of the entire game on every play, regardless of whether or not the ball is actually thrown their way.
And so Oregon enters the season perfecting the skill of blocking, sealing the edge. One less receiver on the depth chart to do it now that Sumler has left, but plenty still left to fill out the depth chart. Receivers Coach Scott Frost maintains a very simple, yet poignant mantra that his guys must buy-in to earn playing time–“No Block No Rock.” If they can’t block, they won’t get thrown the ball. Put in the work, earn a reward.
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