Outside of the offensive line, the position that most Duck fans seem to be worried about going into next season is at wide receiver. The Ducks have to replace Jeff Maehl, who tied Sammy Parker's season and career receptions marks last year, and D.J. Davis, who was a solid receiver and exceptional blocker. To put in perspective just how good D.J. was at blocking, he shared offensive player of the week honors for the USC game, despite not catching a pass.
The main problem will be replacing Maehl, who was Darron Thomas' go-to receiver. He averaged almost 6 receptions per game, almost double any other player on the team. He caught over 1/3rd of Oregon's first down passes. This is some pretty staggering production, and I don't think any of Oregon's receivers will be able to make that up on their own. Instead, the Ducks will rely on a number of players stepping up. Darron Thomas will need to be at the top of his game to find the open man, as he won't likely won't be able to look to his first option only.
Despite the question marks at the position, I've been getting pretty optimistic about the position over the last couple weeks and think that Oregon's receiving corp will, on the whole, not lose much this season and may increase productivity as young talent steps up as the season progresses.
The receiving corp will be led by senior Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon's 3rd leading receiver last season despite missing 2 1/2 games due to injury. Taking into account the injury, Tuinei was 2nd on the Ducks in receptions per game. At first I was apprehensive about Tuinei. He flew under the radar last season, and the injury certainly didn't help things. But after rewatching some games from last season and hearing the reports out of fall camp, I think he's up for the challenge. He's one of the sneakier receivers I've seen in a while. At 6'5" he can get up the field in a hurry, and he has a knack for tiptoeing up the sidelines to get a first down. He also has the size to go over the middle. He may not blow people away with his athletic talent, but he'll get the job done. As of now, it sounds like Tuinei will be starting at the slot position, like he did last season.
The other returning receiver will be one of the Ducks most exciting players, Josh Huff. Last year he was 5th on the team in receiving, and also 5th on the team in rushing. Though Huff has been battling injuries over the spring and fall, it sounds like it's not expected to hold him out. He played all over last year, and will be holding down one of the outside spots this year. With his talent, it will be exciting to see how the coaching staff uses Huff, and how he responds to the challenge of leading the receiving corp.
The last starter for the Ducks is Justin Hoffman. A former walk-on from Churchill High School, Hoffman saw the field a lot last year, and caught passes against Washington, Arizona, and Oregon State. Despite being pushed by a lot of young talent, Hoffman has held onto his starting spot, and could end up being a very dependable target for the Ducks. He does everything the coaches ask of him, blocks well, and has great quickness, as he was the top receiver in the shuttle run and the 375-lb. squat. While "former walk-on" is scary, Hoffman has earned his spot through hard work and athleticism, and I'm excited to see what he can do this season.
Though Tuinei, Huff, and Hoffman should start most games, the Ducks have a lot of talent waiting for their chance to play. The next top choices for backups are Daryle Hawkins in the slot and Rahsaan Vaughn on the outside. Hawkins, a former QB, has the athletic ability to excel in the position, and JC transfer Vaughn has stepped right into the backup position.
I expect this to be the main rotation for a bit, but expect to hear a number of other names mentioned this season. Nick Cole and Eric Dungy have been battling for playing time, and we should expect one of the Ducks highly touted receivers to see the field this season. Devon Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler have immense talent and could earn some playing time by the end of the season.
While the Ducks may a bit inexperienced at receiver, I'm feeling really good about the position. With a coach like Scott Frost, strong blocking is essentially guaranteed. Replacing Maehl will be tough, but there's enough talent to make up for the loss, especially with young players pushing the upperclassmen.
It should be one of the more interesting positions to watch this year, and I can't wait to see what the Ducks can do.