Over the next few weeks, before spring practice starts on March 30th, we'll be taking a look at each section of the team, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and looking at any battles that will be taking place. Today we look at the wide receivers and tight ends.
As we entered this offseason, many Duck fans were uneasy about the receiving corp. As recruiting wore on and Oregon could not seem to lock up any receiver talent, panic started to set in. Yet with some surprising signings in the week of signing day, Oregon ended up with a strong receiving class, which seemed to calm down the doomsdayers. Some of these players may end up seeing the field in 2009, though not necessarily this spring.
Oregon typically has three receivers on the field, as well as a tight end, so for the purposes of this article, I'll be assuming that base formation.
Going into spring practice, Oregon is looking very thin at wide receiver. The top outside receiver will be Jamere Holland. Though Holland only caught 4 passes last season, he is a very promising player. After transferring from USC, Holland battled injuries into fall camp, and had to fight for playing time. However, by the end of the year, he was seeing playing time. He's a speedster, and protypical outside receiver that can go deep and stretch the defense. He was also fairly successful and running end arounds last season, and the spring will be a great time to assess how well he will replace Terrance Scott.
Opposite Holland will be...uhh...Rory Cavaille? You may remember him from his 2 catches against Utah State. While he will most likely be taking snaps in spring, it is doubtful that he'll see much playing time in the fall. If either Lavasier Tuinei or Tyrece Gaines show up in time for fall camp, it is likely that they take this spot, at least for spring ball. The likely starter next fall at this position will be DJ (Drew) Davis, who competed with Jaison Williams last season for a starting spot, and made some good plays before going down for the year with a torn ACL. With most of the talent either not around or on the sidelines, it will be interesting to see how the backups respond in this role.
The slot position is solid with Jeff Maehl returning.We know what he can do, and will see more of the same.
At Tight End, Ed Dickson is back and I'm hoping that he continues the momentum that began in the last few games of last season. While quiet for much of the year, he broke out against Arizona and OSU. With the lack of talent at the receiver position during the spring, I'll be looking for Kelly to get the tight end involved, especially consiering the depth at this position.
At receiver, there will be few notable names. Mike Mackie and Garrett Embry will see some snaps in spring, but will have a hard time competing once fall begins. Chris Harper and Aaron Pflugrad will see some time at the slot position. Harper will be competing at QB too, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up fitting, especailly considering the constant transfer rumors. Pflugrad has talent as well, and became a fan favorite his freshman year when he was conscripted due to massive injury problems. However, he had problems cracking the depth chart last year. If he doesn't prove himself this spring, he may have problems getting on the field again this year.
But where Oregon lacks depth at receiver, it makes up for it at tight end. Oregon is absolutely loaded at this position. Malachi Lewis is the first backup, and he is very talented. He is small for a tight end, but that could fit into the Oregon offense nicely. Backing him up is NaDerris Ward, a transfer from Georgia, who is a much more traditional tight end, at 6-5, 266. And rounding out the group is receiver turned tight end, Dion Jordan. Jordan, a redshirt freshman, is 6-7, and up to 240 pounds, has moved over from receiver and will most likely be starting by his junior year.
The challenge is going to be how to get all these tight ends on the field. With all this talent, Kelly can't afford to ignore the position as he did last year, when the tight end was forgotten about for large stretches of time.
With injuries and some of the most promising players unavailable, it will be a time to test depth and experiment, especially with the tight ends. It will be great to see Holland in a premiere role, and hopefully Tuinei or Gaines as well. If the receiving corp is racked with injuries like it was 2 years ago, this spring will provide some good playing time to the lower parts of the depth chart. But what could be most fun is seeing the tight ends. Oregon has consistently had great tight ends, and it will be one of the most talented groups on the field during the spring. I hope Kelly can learn to make good use of the entire unit.