High-profile transfers Vernon Adams and Matt Hegarty are both starting week 1 against Eastern Washington. Vernon Adams and Jeff Lockie were locked in pre-season football to determine the winner and the two-time Walter Payton Award finalist won out. Adams will start against his former team in week 1. To me the biggest transfer of the off-season was Hegarty who shores up the weakest position on the Oregon offensive line after the spring game. That position did not look good at all and having the experience that Hegarty brings will be huge, especially early on against Michigan State.
Sticking with the offensive line the foundation tackle Tyler Johnstone who missed last season due to injury will be guarding Adams' blind side. Matt Pierson and Cameron Hunt will play the guard positions and stud sophomore Tyrell Crosby will be on the right side. Sophomore Doug Brenner is backing up both the left guard and center position. Brenner, Haniteli Lousi, Jake Pisarcik, and Evan Voeller all need to be exceptional through practices because last year we saw how injuries can impact an offensive line's efficiency.
Tight ends are Evan Baylis who had a solid performance in the Rose Bowl and Johnny Mundt who we last remember tearing apart Tennessee. Even though Pharaoh Brown made the practice reports for making plays in the pre-season he is not listed. First, I hope he makes a full recovery. Second, I hope he makes it back sometime this season. I'll be watching this group closely in the first game to see how well they play since this group is probably the least proven on offense.
The receivers are insanely deep and talented. I never thought that Oregon would have this solid a group of receivers. Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson, and Byron Marshall are all starting. Marshall was the leading receiver last year and we all know Charles Nelson is one of the most dynamic players Oregon has had since De'Anthony Thomas although what Nelson lacks in the amazing speed Thomas carried through his cuts he makes up for in his physicality. Dwayne Stanford really dedicated himself in the off-season to be better and the fact he beat out Bralon Addison who was fantastic two years ago and performed well in the spring game says a lot. Kirk Merritt is a freshman who was ranked as the fourth best all-purpose prospect out of high school. Merritt making this squad is a real testament to his talents receiving but especially blocking, a role that is probably the most important for receivers.
At running back the Ducks will obviously be missing Tyner but we all knew Royce Freeman was coming back. Behind him, surprising to a lot of people, is Kani Benoit who is down to 210 pounds. Benoit had a real natural ability of finding running lanes. His top-end speed was held back by some extra size and this off-season he looks to have lost almost all of it. He was impressive in the spring game and obviously had a great fall in order to be the backup. Benoit has a solid frame that will let Freeman keep a reduced workload in order to make it through the whole season without the drop-off he had last year. Tony Brooks-James, the young LaMichael James, is listed as third on the chart but will play a much more specific role and not make the same moves and plays that Benoit and Freeman make. Surprising to me is that Taj Griffin who some call the fastest guy they've seen at Oregon isn't on the depth chart. New running backs to college typically struggle with blocking the most. Maybe he had problems blocking and thus would be a liability on offense. I sincerely doubt that we won't see him this season. He may be like Charles Nelson who is slowly added more and more to the weekly game plan.
The only non-senior in the defensive front seven is Henry Mondeaux but his backup is senior Tui Talia. DeForest Buckner and is backed up by TJ Daniel or Canton Kaumatule. Kaumatule has been said to be as strong as Buckner is already, which is crazy. Alex Balducci who I last remember getting run over by Cardale Jones is a surprising 310 pounds. He moves exceptionally well for someone that size. The defensive linemen are all above 275 pounds.
These linebackers might be as good as the receivers in terms of depth. Tyson Coleman, Rodney Hardrick who knows the defense better than anyone, Joe Walker who was one of the best defensive players by seasons-end, and Christian French make up the starting four at linebacker. Their backups are Torrodney Prevot, Johnny Ragin III, Jimmie Swain, and Ivan Faulhaber or Eddie Heard. This group is very senior-heavy and while the backups have a lot of talent this group will need to get better across the board for there to not be a huge drop-off after this group departs at the end of the year. Our linebackers are all over six feet tall and all weigh over 235 pounds.
The starting defensive backs are somewhat predictable. Reggie Daniels is the returning starter but Tyree Robinson played every game last season and did well. Chris Seisay filled in for Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in the playoffs and exceeded expectations of what we could expect from a freshmen against some of the best teams in the country. Arrion Springs played in 9 games and was one of the best cornerbacks in the country coming out of high school. Ty Griffin who has played corner for all of two weeks has proven through his athleticism that he should back up Chris Seisay. Ugo Amadi who was a great high school prospect was all over practice reports and backs up Springs. Juwaan Williams who has playing experience is backing up Reggie Daniels and Khalil Over is backing up Tyree. The shortest defensive back is Ugo at 5'10".
Watch List for Game 1:
Kirk Merrit #33
Jalen Brown #15
Evan Baylis #81
Kani Benoit #29
Canton Kaumatule #99
Henry Mondeaux #92
Christian French #96
Arrion Springs #1
Ugo Amadi #14
Ty Griffin #11