With the dog days of summer behind us, the Ducks have officially begun their season, diving into fall practice. Comfortably installed in their new digs, Helfrich and company have high expectations from fans and the media for this upcoming season. This month of practice will be crucial for the coaching staff to identify talent and ultimately decide who will play on Saturdays. While returning veterans have some spots locked up, other positions are open for the taking, and fall practice is where the jobs are won or lost. Here is a look at those who have gone above and beyond expectations in fall camp and possibly solidified starting jobs.
The Ducks are deep at the receiver positions, with plenty of experience returning. Josh Huff, Keanon Lowe and Bralon Addison are three players who are expected to carry the load among an impressive roster of talented and speedy receivers. However, since fall camp has opened, a veteran receiver who has been overshadowed by others over the years has started to come out of his shell and excel, possibly forging a starting spot for himself.
Daryle Hawkins (WR): This 6-4, 202-pound senior receiver out of Omaha, Neb., has made an early impression on the coaching staff this fall. Last season in 13 games, Hawkins caught 25 balls for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns. Expect Hawkins’ totals to rise in 2013 with good YAC (yards after catch) ability created by using his physical frame to break tackles.
For Hawkins, fall camp has been highlighted by lots of reception opportunities that have resulted in completions from quarterback Marcus Mariota, including back-to-back days with long touchdown passes. Coach Mark Helfrich was asked about the play of Hawkins, who was recently married. Helfrich immediately responded, “We should have gotten him married earlier. He’s made a ton of plays.” This bodes well for Hawkins, who brings experience to what might be his year to shine.
Offensive Honorable Mentions:
Eric Dungy (WR): After only five catches for 41 yards last season, Eric, the son of former Indianapolis Colt’s coach Tony Dungy, appears physically improved from last season. This fall he has made some impressive plays in traffic and has rarely dropped the ball. He seems in high spirits and mentally focused.
Devon Allen (WR): This freshman, known for his speed and hands, has already made the highlight reel multiple occasions on the fall camp reports. He shows a high football IQ, with plays that include breaking up an underthrown ball which Dior Mathis could have easily intercepted. Allen has progressively looked more comfortable day by day, which could be a sign of good things to come.
Ricky Havili-Heimuli (DT): With the losses of Dion Jordan, the third overall pick in the NFL draft, and key contributors such as Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, the Ducks lost plenty talent on the field.
Coming into fall camp however, senior defensive tackle Ricky Havili-Heimuli has arrived in tremendous condition, ready to get after it. As Rob Moseley, editor of Goducks.com, tweeted “Wow does Ricky Havili-Heimuli look ready to dominate this fall.” Havili-Heimuli, who has only one career sack, will be expected to carry a far bigger load defensively. For him to come into fall camp in such good shape is a great sign for things to come. He was said to be dominating defensive drills this fall, wrapping up offensive players with ease. Helfrich continued the praise for Havili-Heimuli, as he was later quoted saying, “Ricky’s really playing well, practicing well.” A senior, he has not gotten an overwhelming number of reps during his career, but may have finally put himself in a position for a breakout year.
Avery Patterson (S): As we saw last season, Oregon’s secondary has major depth. Injury after injury prompted all kinds of personnel changes in 2012, but the Ducks played like no one missed a beat. Now that everyone has had the chance to heal, Oregon’s secondary could be lethal. Avery Patterson – who took over after John Boyett went down with a season-ending injury – excelled at safety, helping fans forget about Boyett’s injury. As we saw in the 2012 season, Patterson has the flair for big plays as two of his three interceptions were returned for touchdowns. Unfortunately, the injury bug caught Patterson when he tore his ACL against Cal midway through the season.
Fast forward to fall camp and Patterson is back to his old ways, intercepting passes in scrimmage and showing his ball-hawking skills. Even though this might not mean much, it is encouraging to see one of the Ducks’ best defensive players back on the field making plays. Patterson, another senior, brings extensive knowledge and experience to a secondary that will make opposing teams change the way they attack through the air.
Joe Walker (LB): This sophomore transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College has turned heads since he got here last winter term. He has acclimated himself to his new surroundings and playbook, allowing a smooth transition to fall camp. Compensating for the loss of key linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, Walker brings a dynamic skill set to Nick Aliotti’s defense. He is known as a gym rat and has already dramatically improved his strength since his arrival. Though coaches have not yet seen much of him, they still use glowing terms to describe his skills. Aliotti simply stated, “He’s special.” We will just have to wait to see how special.
The Ducks brought in a tremendous recruiting class this year, but even more exciting are the grizzled veterans who, even after three long years on the team, are still working to get better day in and day out. This type of leadership will rub off on the younger players as the Ducks prepare for what could be an unforgettable season.
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