With ‘the decision’ made, the receivers’ time to shine has finally come

Outside the state of Oregon, Chip Kelly naming Marcus Mariota starting quarterback barely caused a ripple. It made a clear announcement, however–Oregon is finally going to be a two-headed monster on offense. Mariota, the purer passer of the two quarterbacks vying for the starting position, won the job by his decision making, accuracy and cool demeanor. The coaching staff has made it apparent that they want to throw more by electing Marcus to run the team, and with the lack of proven depth at running back, no argument can be made against their decision.

Assuming, of course, that the receivers take a giant leap from last year.                                    

After the decision was announced on Friday, the rest of the team’s depth chart was released as well, and it raised a few eyebrows; as Josh Huff, Keanon Lowe and Daryle Hawkins (a converted quarterback) were named the starters for Saturday’s season opener against Arkansas State. While Huff has shown glimpses of greatness in his first two seasons, albeit suffering through a leg injury all last season, Hawkins and Lowe have been primarily used in mop-up duty during blowouts.

For the last 18 months, fans have been waiting in great anticipation to see the trio of talented redshirt freshman (B.J. Kelley, Tacoi Sumler and Devon Blackmon) take the offense to a whole different level, conjuring up memories of great receivers of the past.

So far, that dream is beginning to fizzle.

Early on in fall camp, Tacoi Sumler left the school, citing a desire for playing time and home sickness. Devon Blackmon has been completely unheard from, which begs the assumption that his grasp of the offense is not where it needs to be. Kelley, the fastest of the three and an anchor for Oregon’s track team, is the only one to crack the two-deep.

With all due respect to Lowe, the former Jesuit High star, and Hawkins, who spent his freshman season as the third string quarterback, Oregon needs more. With 15 scholarship receivers on the squad, including another touted group of freshmen that made a splash in camp (including Bralon Addison, who also made the two-deep), the coaching staff should be able to find 4-5 guys that they can consistently count on.

The receivers, who under Chip Kelly have been asked to do more downfield blocking than receiving, have an opportunity with Mariota under center to finally become the stars of this team. We all know what Josh Huff can do, and what DeAnthony Thomas will do. After that? It’s a mystery. In any spread offense, be it Mike Leach’s air-raid or Dana Holgorsen’s run-and-shoot style, the receivers are vital, and need to be in order to succeed.

Under Kelly, technique and statistical sacrifice have been the name of the game. Now, that’s going to change, and change in a hurry.

The talent is there for Wide Receivers Coach Scott Frost to sift through. A group that is littered with 4-star recruits should not have trouble finding speed to put on the field. Consistency, however, has been the missing ingredient in the passing game, be it dropped balls by receivers or inaccuracy from the quarterbacks.

With Mariota under center, the hope is that the latter problem should be fixed. Last year, the best options in the passing game were tight end David Paulson, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and De’Anthony Thomas, who is most effective when splitting time between running back and receiver.

Realistically, Oregon needs 2-3 receivers with break-away ability to be on the field at all times. Keeping the defense honest and not letting them crowd the line of scrimmage will be vital this season, as the Ducks look to replace perhaps the best player in school history, do-it-all running back LaMichael James.

LaMichael, now with the 49ers, had an innate ability to slither through traffic unlike any other player we’ve see, rendering moot the opponents lack of respect for the receivers. Kenjon Barner, set to replace James as the main ball carrier, relies more on pure speed than anything, and will need solid targets on the outside to draw attention away.

Despite the lack of big names popping up on the depth chart, there is reason for optimism. Bralon Addison, the do-it-all true freshman, has been the talk of fall camp, as he has been compared to De’Anthony in his ability to avoid tacklers and create plays. While lacking blazing speed, his football IQ, loose hips and tackle-breaking abilities have vaulted him into the discussion as perhaps the breakout player this group needs.

Dwayne Stanford, another true freshman, has also been getting attention from the coaching staff, being called out as a potentially dominating red-zone target (he stands a shade over 6′-5″, the same build as departed Rose Bowl MVP Lavasier Tuinei.) Other players, such as the aforementioned Devon Blackmon and B.J. Kelley have the tools to be successful, assuming they put it all together. Also, the tight ends, especially true freshman Pharaoh Brown, have been receiving rave reviews from the coaches and players alike, potentially adding another weapon to Mariota’s arsenal.

Make no mistake, Oregon’s offense will still live and die with the running game. But, with a quarterback under center who has “special” written all over him, this is going to be a different Oregon team than what has been seen since Dennis Dixon was running the show. Assuming Josh Huff returns to his freshman year form, and DAT remains healthy, the Ducks stand a dynamic receiver or two away from having the most complete, dangerous offense in the country.

The time for the receivers to step up is now. And, finally, the ball will be coming their way consistently.


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Joel Gunderson

Joel Gunderson

Joel Gunderson grew up in a small town, where the only thing he did for fun was worship the Oregon Ducks. He later moved to Eugene, where he studied journalism at the U of O. After working in radio, he married the woman of his dreams and settled down. Joel now spends his days studying Journalism and the fine world of grammar, all the while worshiping the ground that Charles "Chip" Kelly walks on! Follow him on twitter @gundy85

  • as a ny giant fan, that has gotten to watch the development of one of the best qb’s in the nfl, and simultaneously one of the best recieving corp as well, what has been learned fist and foremost is that route running is the true difference maker in getting the timing and same page between reciver and qb, is the most important factor in how good a passing game can be. Yeah, speed is a basic requirment, but that alone is not enough, it requires a qb who can read a defebse at the line, corectly and quickly make adjustments and communicate it to the recievers and rest of team, and then recivers who run precise routes and whose body language communication is known by the qb, so that the qb knows what the recivers are going to do, and exactly how they are going to run a certain route, and thus where to throw the ball for a particular reciver running a specific route. That is what a mike leach understands very well, such that he is a teacher of the passing game art, and that oregon being a different focused spread run first team has not been its forte in past. They could learn that but until we see a shift in the focus of the gme plan, the true downfield reciving attack remains a show me idea. A truly great passing game takes tons of emphasis and practice to evolve and grow into- so much chemistry is required to be developed, knowldge of defenses and understanding of route running precision and communication.


    Just one opinion – BUT – I am not a fan of this article. My specific issues stem from –

    1. It is a complete slap in the face to Lowe and Hawkins. If you honestly think you’re more informed or capable of deciding who is the teams best bet is than our actual coaches…. that’s just, scary. Obviously who plays will fluctuate a ton throughout the season, but seriously, Hawkins and Lowe don’t suck. They’re totally capable (regardless of the HS star rankings) or THEY WOULDN’T BE PLAYING. To discredit them before they’ve even had a chance to prove themselves (this season) is wildly irrational.

    2. Hype is dumb. Josh Huff was a SPECIMEN as a true freshman. He made a solid impact as a result. His sophmore year wasn’t as good. How is that possible?? Point being there are a TON of variables each year (player to player, game to game, snap to snap) that make each players season long impact basically impossible to realistically quantify in advance. To sit here are speculate like you know better than our coaches, based on hype and HS rankings is really donkish imo.

    3. Dennis Dixon THRIVED (until getting hurt) with a huge range of receivers. If you recall, multiple boss receivers busted their knees up to end their season and nothing changed. We are more than capable with this years stable of players to thrive regardless of who is out there. I trust (as you should too) that our coaches have the situation under control.

    Go Ducks!

    • Joel Gunderson

      I never once said I know more than the coaches, and I hope for all our sake that Lowe and Hawkins work out…my point is that championship teams are not starting converted qb’s at receiver (yes, it happens, but it’s rare). If Oregon wants to take the final step, we need these highly ranked receivers to pan out. I love Lowe and what he represents, but we saw it with Cameron Colvin…the 4 and 5 star receivers have not panned out here, and they need to.

  • ICamel

    Keanon Lowe will be a stud at receiver for the Ducks…………bet on it!

  • oregon111

    #1. hopefully the ‘era’ of Hoffman, Butterfield, Delany, Murphy is over,

    #2. DT was off on a lot passes last yr, MM will be much better

    #3. when I see BB keep the ball on a zone read, I am thinking TD,
    when I see MM keep the ball on a zone read, I am thinking stretcher

    #4. the new era of passing will come in a week, but it go as fast as BB transfering next week and MM getting snapped in half on his 1st carry

    • pdxsiskiyou

      Why do you see stretcher? According to the 2012 roster MM is taller and heavier, (6’4″ 211 lbs.), than BB, (6’3″ 204 lbs.). MM is also faster than BB, (Hand-timed 40 average of 4.38, at the PACIFIC ISLANDS ATHLETIC ALLIANCE (PIAA) combine in May, 2010), Rodrigues is a couple of pounds heavier than MM, but overall MM is the largest and fastest of the five QB’s.

  • Hopefully Lowe and Hawkins have improved their game and they earned the starting position because they are out performing the young “potential” we have on the team. As opposed to the young guys not grasping the system.

    I dont’ think we need 2-3 players with crazy breakaway ability, honestly what teams have that. If we had 1 guy who was going to be all Pac and be a 1st/2nd round draft choice that would draw a ton of attention and make space for the 2nd and 3rd WR’s to get open. (not that I would argue with 2-3 #1 type picks in our WR’s.

    Question – I’m the token fan who now lives in TN and can’t get a whole lot of news. I know practices are closed but any news on Bayliss? I thought he looked great in the spring game and coaches back then were saying how quick he picked everything up. He’s not on the 2 deep. Injured? Or are Lyerla, Koa, Brown, etc all just performing that much better?