It’s no secret that the Ducks have lost an abundance of talent following their national title run last season. Quarterback, the offensive and defensive lines, and the secondary were all hit with key departures this offseason. But Oregon doesn’t have to rebuild anymore. The Ducks can reload.
Reload they have. After Arik Armstead declared early for the NFL draft, Oregon signed the 6-foot-7, 280 pound, five-star defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule. The Hawaiian native Kaumatule will almost certainly see playing time as a true freshman this season, and some fans, including myself, believe he will start opposite DeForest Buckner. The Ducks often play true freshman if they believe they can make an impact; and in fact, last season, the Ducks had 14 true freshmen see playing time. Kaumatule is the obvious choice for a true freshman to see the field, but who else could join him?
Royce Freeman certainly set the tone for true freshman moving forward. He rushed for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns on his way to becoming a freshman All-American. Freeman more than likely set the bar at an unreachable height for the freshman coming in this season, but that doesn’t mean others cant have an impact of their own. Five Ducks are already on campus for spring practice – Canton Kaumatule (DL), Zach Okun (OL), Ugo Amadi (DB), Alex Ofodile (WR), and Taj Griffin (RB) – and each is ready to show their skills to the coaches.
Honestly, I believe each of the early enrollees could see playing time as true freshman. Kaumatule is almost a lock to see time on the depleted defensive line. Okun could be in the offensive line rotation that lost three starters to graduation and another player to an early retirement. Defensive back Ugo Amadi has been called “electric” and “very powerful” by coach Mark Helfrich, and may be in contention for a nickel corner spot this season. Alex Ofodile steps into a loaded wide receiving core, and Taj Griffin is still rehabbing a knee injury; so those two might be less likely to see time as true freshman. But if you look at Oregon’s history, anything can happen.
Aside from the players who arrived on campus early, there are a few other wildcards who could see considerable time in their first year. My choice is Kirk Merritt. Not that my opinion means much, but I’m very high on this kid and I’ll try to convince you as well. Merritt was the Nike SPARQ national champion. That means out all athletes Nike invited to the SPARQ training, which uses multiple drills to decide who’s the best overall athlete, none were better than Merritt. I believe that he will be far too explosive and versatile for the Ducks not to use right away. And with rumors of Charles Nelson possibly switching to defensive back, Merritt could step into the position Nelson had as a true freshman last year and have an early impact. Consider this, Nelson is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds while Merritt is 5-foot-11 and over 200 pounds with a 45-inch vertical jump… Merritt is going to stud. Bank on it.
While these true freshmen wont make or break the season for the Ducks, their contributions could turn the tide in Oregon’s favor in a few games. All eyes will be on the ESPN top-15 recruit Canton Kaumatule and his contributions to the defensive line. But while everyone is focused on the big name recruit, other freshman could surprise fans. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know who will step up.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline