This is the time of year where all the Pre-season awards land upon Duck football players. The number of those named has grown impressively over the years with the superb recruiting of Coach Mario Cristobal. But would you actually bet that each of the hyped players comes through with an outstanding season to confirm the early awards? Some, I believe will follow through, but others — I don’t know. I would be curious as to how sold you are on the players in question who are not named Kayvon Thibodeaux (because barring injury, Thibodeaux is a shoo-in for an outstanding season).
Bet on It:
While Verone McKinley III is a second-team Pre-Season All-Pac-12, I sense his knowledge of the Duck defense combined with his physical preparation has him poised for a monster season well beyond the early recognition. This one is more gut instinct for me, and I feel much more comfortable when he is in the game at safety. There is a high upside seething to emerge, and his leadership is crucial for this Tim DeRuyter defense.
A big name that everyone knows is No.7 CJ Verdell, who has high expectations for 2021. His vision is to be the first Duck to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, something that does not feel completely impossible given his will and assumed improved offensive line play. He is already one of seven returning FBS players to rush for 1,000 yards in both 2018 and 2019, but it might be tough for him to match the preseason projections.
I admire the pundits who give Alex Forsyth a first team Pre-Season All-Pac-12, but he does get pushed backward by nose tackles more often than I’d like. I am not disdaining the selection, but I am a bit lukewarm on it.
Mykael Wright is someone everyone loves, but I saw too many big plays against him at key moments. Perhaps he will explode this year to match the hype, but I see more downside to him than most do. In fact, I believe he could actually get bumped for some playing time by one of the other corners such as former 5-Star Dontae Manning, before it is over.
Noah Sewell: I know I’m going to be booed on this one, but I would much rather have the experienced Isaac Slade-Matautia at inside linebacker (who played at that spot before he was moved last year), than Sewell, and will feel that way until he quits over-running plays and leaving gaps open. The first touchdown scored by Travis Dye in the Spring Game was due to a busted coverage by the young linebacker, who also has to learn to pick up the running backs coming out of the backfield off his side.
Johnny Johnson (the magician) is someone who disappears in games, and I still label him the best candidate for having his starting and playing time reduced by the shimmering new freshman receivers. I’m not going with the preseason promotion, are you?
Big Upside Players that I’d Bet on:
Anthony Brown will end up Honorable Mention in the All-Pac-12 voting when the season is over. While he won’t have the gaudy numbers that other quarterbacks produce, his steady hand at key moments and his cool leadership will win everyone over by mid-season. Bet on it!
Everyone was surprised with the performance of DJ Johnson in his tight end debut, and as many of you know — I believe that “Greatness and Weakness Emerge Early.” We noted in the first game against Stanford that he could come across and deliver a vicious slice-block, or snag an errant pass with his fingertips. He is not mentioned in the early Pac-12 awards, but I believe you will see him on the first or second team all-conference at the end of the 2021 season. Bet on him!
I am looking forward to seeing the pulling talents and blocking in space by TJ Bass in his second year with the Ducks at left guard. He surprised me with his rapid transition from JC to being a starter, and I think there will be another leap up in his performance this fall. I’d wager on this young man!
While it is foolish to base a future All-Pac-12 freshman team selection only on a Spring Game, I am going to stick my neck out and declare that Troy Franklin will achieve those honors by season’s end. There is an excitement surrounding him that I do not sense from other receivers, and I believe he will be in the middle of some very big explosion plays this fall. Bet on him!
Terrance Ferguson, and Moliki Matavao as freshmen tight ends impressed me enormously as I took in the 2021 Oregon Spring Game many times in replay. I loved what I saw of Ferguson snatching the ball out of the air with his hands, and not waiting for it to come to his body and trap it. Near the goal line I watched Matavao double-team with the tackle to drive the defensive end backward and at the perfect moment Moliki peeled off and nailed the linebacker. Perfect combo-blocking and timing!
The blast of the defenders backward made it easy for the running back to score by simply cruising with the surge into the end zone. Matavao has never played a-down-in-anger for the Ducks, yet he blocks like that? Whew! I would bet on both these players!
All this betting talk does get my gaming blood pumping for the upcoming season. If you wish to place some bets on the games as I do, you can check out an online gambling guide that will lead you to the best licensed bookmakers.
The real question for devoted Duck fans is how convinced are you of the players I’ve listed above? Am I a bit too pessimistic on some players and over-my-skis-hyped on others? Summer is the best time to reflect upon the upside of Oregon football as….
“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (Mr. FishDuck)
Top Photo by Eric Evans, UO Athletics
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Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks, a season ticket holder at Autzen Stadium for 35 years and has written reports on football boards for over 23 years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, have a daughter Christine, reside in Eugene Oregon, where he was a Financial Advisor for 36 years and now focuses full-time on Charitable Planned Giving Workshops for churches and non-profit organizations.
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