Craig Loper, EDN Sports Featured Writer
What do LaMichael James, Josh Huff, Terrence Mitchell and De’Anthony Thomas all have in common?
Besides the obvious speed and athleticism, each had a tremendous impact on the field for the Ducks as either true or redshirt freshmen. So that got us thinking. Which freshmen (true or redshirt) will have a significant impact for the Ducks in 2012 while they make a run at a fourth-straight BCS bowl game appearance?
First up, let’s look at a couple of redshirt freshmen who will be on the field for the Ducks for the first time in 2012.
With the quarterback battle between Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota still in the air, Mariota isn’t a definite lock to be on the field, so he’s out of the question.
Who else will be a game-changer for the Ducks in 2012?
B.J. Kelley is a name you need to know, right now. As a senior at Central high school in Fresno, CA, Kelley caught 51 passes for 1,223 yards (24.0 yards per reception) and 17 touchdowns.
At 6’2″ 175 pounds and De’Anthony- Thomas-like speed (he recently ran a 10.84 100m for the UO track team), Kelley will give the Ducks the vertical deep threat at receiver that they have lacked the last few years. And although head coach Chip Kelly isn’t known for many shots down the field, it doesn’t hurt having a weapon to do so.
With speed like Kelley’s, defenses will be forced to keep a safety out of the box. All the better for Kenjon Barner and the Ducks’ elite rushing attack. Look for Kelley to make explosive plays down the field in second and short and third and long situations.
Next up is another redshirt freshman that won’t garner as much attention as Kelley this year in spring practice, but will be another intricate part of the Ducks’ offense.
Tyler Johnstone hails from Hamilton high school in Chandler, AZ. At 6’6″ 275 pounds, Johnstone will most likely replace Darrion Weems at left tackle. But look for him to rotate at guard also, as offensive line coach Steve Greatwood has been known to make many substitutions along the front five.
Johnstone is an athletic lineman with the speed and quickness needed in the Ducks’ fast-paced offense, and with veterans like Nick Cody, Hroniss Grasu and Carson York, Johnston shouldn’t have a hard time catching on. He’s also a U.S. Army All-American.
Now for a true freshman.
Last year is was De’Anthony Thomas who took the Pac-12 and nation by storm, sharing the Pac-12 freshmen offensive player of the year with USC’s Marqise Lee. So why not another offensive weapon to go along with the already scary Ducks offense?
The Ducks’ running back depth took a hit when LaMichael James declared for the NFL draft and Tra Carson decided to transfer. And with coach Kelly using De’Anthony as an all-purpose player, Byron Marshall will have to play as a true freshman to provide Barner rest at the running back position.
At 5’10” 195 pounds from Valley Christian High School in San Jose, CA, Marshall is another all-purpose-like player whose running style will remind Duck fans of Jeremiah Johnson.
Marshall was another U.S. Army All-American out of high school who received scholarship offers, among the notable, from Notre Dame and USC. Marshall rushed for 914 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior while being injured for most of the season.
In the Ducks’ system, depth at all positions is essential, and that’s exactly what these freshmen will provide in 2012.
So before your friends hop on these freshmen’s bandwagons next season, you can say you read it here first.
Follow Craig Loper on Twitter at @cloperII