Oregon Football is often defined by one word: Speed. Whether it is the grueling tempo that the offense uses, or an individual player racing past an entire defense, the Ducks do it fast.
Over the last few seasons, observers would see LaMichael James, De’Anthony Thomas, or Kenjon Barner breaking a long touchdown run on the highlights and might assume the whole team was comprised entirely of over-caffeinated jack rabbits. However, the Ducks leading receivers over that span were often players like Jeff Maehl, Lavasier Tuinei, and Drew Davis. Productive, valuable, and talented as they were in Eugene, none of them possessed true breakaway speed.
This season, first-year head coach Mark Helfrich will be wearing the headphones and first-year offensive coordinator Scott Frost will be calling the plays, and both will be beneficiaries of perhaps Oregon’s fastest all-around team. For the second year in a row, making up much of the expected speed on offense this year will be the wide receivers group.
One of the deepest and most diverse position groups on the roster, the Ducks are flush with skill, size, and speed. We will have to wait to see exactly which players will be featured most prominently, but the guess here is that the coaches will employ myriad personnel combinations throughout the course of the season.
We covered the big receivers in a previous post, so for now, let’s look at the burners.
Below are five fleet receivers who can go all the way on any given play.
#1 Josh Huff, Sr 5’11″/205 (2012: 32 rec, 493 yds, 7 tds)
Josh Huff exploded onto the scene rushing, receiving, and returning his way to over 1,000 total yards and 5 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010. The former high school running back gashed opposing defenses for big touchdowns and showed the big-play ability that had been missing in the Ducks’ arsenal. After being slowed by nagging injuries at various points in his career, Huff has remained a steady force in the lineup and enters 2013 as a projected starter, when healthy. In addition to blazing speed, Huff has also demonstrated his ability to dominate defensive backs as a run blocker.
#23 B.J. Kelley, So 6’2″/181 (2012: 6 rec, 103 yds, 2 tds)
At 6’2″ and the ability to run a mid-10 second 100-meter dash, B.J. Kelley has the size and speed of an elite receiver. Now, he just needs to turn that potential into production. The former 4-star prospect out of Fresno, California, who possesses sub-4.5 second 40 speed – redshirted in 2011, before seeing action in 11 games in 2012.
After gaining some momentum in Spring ball and the expected jump in performance from year one to year two, Kelley could find himself firmly entrenched in the lineup. In order to do so, he will need to fight off a group of talented younger players all vying for a prominent role.
#7 Keanon Lowe, Jr 5’9″/181 (2012: 22 rec, 244 yds, 3 tds/ 250 KR yds)
Lowe, an Oregon native, grew up rooting for the Ducks and big-play wide receiver Keenan Howry. This season, the junior has a chance to see significant playing time and leave his own mark. One of the most reliable receivers on the roster, Lowe displayed the ability to run crisp routes and make tough catches. Entering his third full season in Eugene, expect Lowe to have a solid grasp on the Oregon offense and as result, should be in on the majority of offensive snaps in 2013.
#11 Bralon Addison, So 5’10/189 (2012: 22 rec, 243 yds, 3 tds)
Picked by many to be a “breakout player” this season, having Addison on the field with Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas is flat out unfair to opposing defenses. Toss in Colt Lyerla, add a dash of Mariota, Hawkins, and Marshall and you get a recipe for Pac-12 defensive coordinator nightmares.
It is always impressive when a true freshman can make an immediate impact at the collegiate level, and Addison accomplished that and then some. His most impressive moment last season may have been his two return-less, yet clutch, punt-return chances in the Fiesta Bowl. Both punts had “muff” written all over them, but Addison displayed sure hands on the big stage. Watch for #11 to make some big plays this season and cement his role in the offensive scheme.
#6 De’Anthony Thomas, Jr 5’9″/176 (2012: 92 att, 701 yds, 11 tds/ 45 rec, 445 yds, 5 tds/ 29 ret, 611 yds, 2 tds)
Listed as a running back, Thomas has lined up everywhere on the field and has led the Ducks in receiving yards two years running. If you haven’t seen his explosive speed in person, watch any of the numerous highlight videos out there. His burst jumps off the screen and he seems to be moving at a completely different speed than everyone else. Like Snoop Lion once summarized: “I’ve never seen anyone move that fast on grass.”
Thomas’ straight-line speed is not best observed over a 100-yard sprint. Rather, what sets the Momba apart are his breakneck acceleration, field vision, and ability to change directions and weave through a defense at full speed.
Currently at 3,992 all-purpose yards and counting, Thomas should see more touches than ever. That should again prove valuable for the Ducks, as his 246 combined career rushes and receptions have averaged 9.54 yards per touch.
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