The Oregon football program is not regarded as a defensive juggernaut. An elite defense wasn’t the catalyst behind the evolution of the Oregon brand. In this new era of Oregon football, where fans expect championship runs, the offense seems almost to have become an after-thought. Improving the defense has become the focal point of radio pundits and TV personalities. Let’s be honest, though, if not for fielding one of the most explosive offenses in college football history, Oregon’s program is not what it is today.
It’s the offense that landed Oregon in four straight BCS games and has led them to a ridiculous 57-9 record over the past five seasons. Of course, none of that would’ve been possible with a sub-par defense, but don’t lie to yourself, when you think Ducks football you think LaMichael James, DeAnthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota. Don’t forget for a moment what propelled Oregon into the national spotlight; head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff certainly haven’t.
Early on in the 2015 recruiting cycle, the Ducks are pursuing a larger number of recruits than they ever have, prior to June. By all accounts, it’s offensive players who are garnering the most attention.
The top targets? See five-star recruits Kyler Murray, Taj Griffin and Christian Kirk. Murray is a quarterback out of Texas who many consider the best dual-threat signal caller in the country. Griffin is a running back out of Georgia who just last weekend visited Eugene with his parents. This dynamic back is widely considered an Oregon lean. Then there’s Kirk, a wide receiver, also from Georgia, who has had the Ducks near the top of his list since his freshman year of high school.
Should Oregon miss out on the aforementioned three? No worries; there’s a long list of other skill-position players clamoring for an Oregon offer. Look no further than Travis Waller, a four-star recruit from Anaheim, California, who 247Sports ranks as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. Apparently, the coaches are confident enough in their chances with Waller, should they offer, that they’re willing to wait it out and see what happens with Murray, who’s scheduled to visit unofficially (see: on his own dime) next month.
What about the linemen? The coaches have not forgotten about them. After all, they need someone to block for their star skill players, whoever those end up being. The sole Oregon commit thus far is Zach Okun, a 310-pound four-star rated offensive guard out of Newbury Park, California.
Meanwhile, the Ducks are the leaders in the clubhouse for a couple four-star recruits in 290-pound OG Cody Creason and 285-pound OG Shane Lemieux, either of whom could commit on a moment’s notice. They’ve also offered and had serious interest reciprocated from Chuma Edoga, Henry Roberts, Andre James, Zack Bailey and Tim Lynott, all four-star rated offensive linemen.
Helfrich knows where his bread is buttered. Would he take a five-star defensive tackle from SEC country? Of course, but realistically, it’s the elite skill players who are more likely headed to Eugene, where recent history has shown that those types will have sufficient opportunities to shine.
Helfrich may or may not end up being a great head coach. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever be considered a Chip Kelly-esque genius. And it might not matter. He is building a team that has a chance to be more talented, on both sides of the ball, than Kelly ever had. Adding elite offensive skill players is the first step in that process as it allows Oregon to continue being Oregon.
The Ducks are already well on their way with blue-chip recruits such as QB Morgan Mahalak, RB Thomas Tyner, RB Royce Freeman, RB Tony James, WR Jalen Brown, WR Darren Carrington, WR Devon Allen and WR Charles Nelson, all of whom will be freshman in 2014 other than Tyner, who will be only a sophomore. If Oregon is able to add such prospects as Murray, Waller, Griffin and/or Kirk to their 2015 class, the near-future may be even brighter than the recent-past.
Top photo by Kevin Cline