As a college football season, this is the worst time of the year. We haven’t had football in months, and our patience has run thin in anticipation. Spring games are fun and all, yet they are like giving a sip of water to someone who hasn’t had a drink in days: It’s just not enough. The only news that has come from the football team has dealt with what your ticket smells like and how Marcus Mariota is going to work on his short game this fall.
The lack of competition in the offseason has forced me to fabricate my own. In the offseason, players’ stock goes up and down, as countless players fight for limited spots. I once heard a great quote about the offseason — it’s the only time of the year that you have 100 percent control, where you get out what you put in. Here I highlight three players who have seemingly squeezed out every last ounce of opportunity in the offseason, and have spring-boarded themselves into the mix come fall.
As a disclaimer, players that are returning leaders of the team are not eligible for this list. While players such as Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Hroniss Grasu certainly didn’t have bad offseasons, their status on the team is the same as it was when the season ended — they are already at the top.
The first medal is going to need a long ribbon, as it’s going around the necks of two different defensive linemen: Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. The Oregon defensive line is a sometimes maligned group, overshadowed by the flashy offense and speedy defensive backs. They generally receive the most attention when they have a poor outing.
That being said, the news that trickled out this offseason regarding these two has been nothing but positive. While Armstead certainly came into the program with high expectations, his first two seasons were a bit hampered by nagging injuries. Since last season ended, Armstead made the wise decision to discontinue his efforts as a dual-sport student, and now is solely focused on football.
As you can read here, his decision seems to be paying off, as he feels much more comfortable within the program and hopefully that translates into more success on the field.
With Buckner, you will find another defensive linemen hoping to take advantage of the progress made this summer. He has been a solid contributor for the Oregon defense, but with the departures of many key players up front, he has a great chance to stay on the field and start causing chaos for Pac-12 backfields.
The homegrown hero. The master of misdirection. Whatever you want to call him, lots of people have been gushing over Thomas Tyner this summer.
Ever since he had the coolest 18th birthday ever, Duck fans have been on the edge of their seats in anticipation for Tyner to become the latest in a long line of successful Oregon running backs. Tyner has benefited from his first offseason in the program, as many have raved about his improved strength and conditioning, among other things.
Given the promise he showed toward the latter end of the season — namely his 22-carry, 140-yard performance in the Civil War – along with his summer improvements, has many wondering if the two-headed monster of Tyner and Byron Marshall can rival that of the LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner team that went all the way to the National Championship game.
If you have the pleasure of going to a game at Autzen Stadium this year, look to see how many No. 24 jerseys are in the stands, as Oregon fans will be screaming for one of their own on the field, Tyner. By combining a veteran-laden offensive line, an unproven batch of receivers and two potential All-American running backs, this could be a historic year for Oregon’s ground game.
The gold medal goes to one man, one myth, one legend. A player that could be one of Oregon’s biggest weapons but is currently one of its biggest question marks. Someone whose first game as a starter could also be his first game as a Duck. That would be wide receiver Devon Allen.
Let’s look at the chain of events that has expectations for this youngster going through the roof.
First, Bralon Addison suffered a torn ACL during spring workouts. While it was a huge blow to Oregon’s offense, it presented quite the opportunity for Oregon receivers. With no proven playmaker out wide at receiver (apologies to Keenan Lowe, an outstanding possession-type receiver), playing time is there for the taking.
Second, I know I dissed the Spring Game from a fan’s point of view earlier, but as a young player it’s a great opportunity to impress your coaches. And impress he did, as Allen scored two touchdowns and showed that he could step into the role of Mariota’s go-to option in the passing attack.
Lastly, in the spring and summer, Allen collected track accolades like they were candy on Halloween. He started by winning the 110-meter hurdles, while Oregon won the 2014 Outdoor National Championship in front of the hometown crowd at Historic Hayward Field. Not content with just beating people of his own age, Allen traveled south to Sacramento and won the same event at the 2014 USA Track and Field Championships.
If you want your coaches to notice you, winning a gold medal certainly will get it done. At the recent media days for the program, Mark Helfrich spoke highly of Allen, figuring that he will be a key contributor to the offense this year. While these expectations for a player who still hasn’t stepped on the field may be too high, Allen, and the other inexperienced receivers, will certainly need to contribute this season.
For all the players mentioned above, not only do they have incredible opportunities this fall, but they will need to take advantage of them if Oregon is to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. And with fresh talent being portrayed as game-changers before the football season even begins, it looks like the Ducks are off to a good start.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck