Tomorrow marks the start of final stretch of practices before Oregon Ducks Football finally returns. We’re less than a month away and we have questions that need to be answered and holes in the two-deep to be won.
The Ducks will have to replace seven total starters on offense and defense, but return their entire receiving corp and have one of the premiere group of defensive backs in college football.
There are questions, of course. Who starts at running back? What about replacing Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso at linebacker? While the media is shut out from practice, I’ll do my best to predict the two-deep the Ducks will run with on August 31st against Nicholls State.
2013 Oregon Ducks Football Depth Chart
Offense: 8 Returning Starters
- QB: Marcus Mariota*, Jake Rodrigues
- RB: Byron Marshall, De’Anthony Thomas
- WR: Josh Huff*, Daryle Hawkins
- WR: Keanon Lowe*, B.J. Kelley
- WR: Bralon Addison, De’Anthony Thomas*
- TE: Colt Lyerla*, Pharaoh Brown/Koa Ka’ai
- LT: Tyler Johnstone*, James Euscher
- LG: Mana Greig, Cameron Hunt
- C: Hroniss Grasu*, Karrington Armstrong
- RG: Hamani Stevens, Andre Yruretagoyena
- RT: Jake Fisher*, Everett Benyard
Defense: 7 Returning Starters
- DE: Taylor Hart*, DeForest Buckner
- DT: Wade Keliikipi*, Alex Balducci
- DT: Ricky Havili-Heimuli, Arik Armstead
- DE/OLB: Tony Washington, Christian French
- ILB: Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker
- ILB: Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick
- OLB: Boseko Lokombo*, Rahim Cassell
- LC: Terrance Mitchell*, Dior Mathis
- RC: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu*, Troy Hill
- SS: Brian Jackson*, Erick Dargan
- FS: Avery Patterson*, Issac Dixon
Special Teams: 3 Returning Starters
- P: Dylan Ausherman, Alejandro Maldonado
- PK: Matt Wogan, Alejandro Maldonado*
- KO: Alejandro Maldonado*, Matt Wogan
- LS: Drew Howell*, Tyler Johnstone
- H: Dustin Haines, Jake Rodrigues/Jeff Lockie
- KR: De’Anthony Thomas*, Thomas Tyner
- PR: De’Anthony Thomas*, Bralon Addison
So… now that we have that established let’s jump right in.
The offense returns star quarterback Marcus Mariota and behind him is the battle between Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie. We saw glimpses of both guys in the 2013 Spring Game. While Lockie was the better quarterback on paper, Rodrigues was the more impressive. It’s difficult to put a name on paper this early, but Rodrigues should be the slight favorite.
Then at running back we have a three-headed monster in Byron Marshall, De’Anthony Thomas and true freshman Thomas Tyner. Who wins this battle? After seeing Marshall and Thomas in action all of last season, it makes sense to go with Marshall as the starter and not constraining DAT to one position. As for Tyner, even the highly-touted Jonathan Stewart had to play a season on the bench while helping on special teams before having his number called. Tyner’s time will come, but not next season.
At wide receiver we have returning starters Josh Huff and Keanon Lowe, but there’s also Thomas who split starts with Daryle Hawkins. Huff and Lowe have their starting spots secure, but the battle for the third starting job will be between Hawkins, Thomas, Bralon Addison and B.J. Kelley. I see Addison and Thomas splitting starts throughout the season, much like Thomas and Hawkins did in 2012. But for day one, I see Addison being the starter.
At tight end we might have the most difficult battle to call. Colt Lyerla is the clear starter, but behind him is a heavy group of future stars. There’s Pharaoh Brown, Koa Ka’ai and Evan Baylis who all have a legitimate shot of winning the backup job. Based on most depth charts out there, it seems Brown is the early favorite. But I’ll go with a tie between him and Ka’ai, similar to the tie they had when they announced the starters last season.
Oregon has three future NFL stars in LT Tyler Johnstone, C Hroniss Grasu and RT Jake Fisher. They do have to replace LG Kyle Long and RG that was split between Nick Cody, Mana Greig and Ryan Clanton. Greig should move into the starting LG position and Hamani Stevens who was one of the team’s top reserves last season should start at RG.
Moving to defense, the Ducks will have to replace over half of their front seven including three linebackers now playing in the NFL. But they have the entire secondary back – a secondary that led the nation in interceptions last season.
Starting with the defensive line, the Ducks return two-of-three starters with the lone absence being DT Isaac Remington. Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi are back from monster campaigns last season, but that other starting job will be the big position to watch. The favorite is Ricky Havili-Heimuli, but Arik Armstead is hot on his trail. I’ll give the edge to the senior.
Moving to the linebackers we have the biggest unknown of the Ducks. I don’t want to call it a weakness or a concern, because I think this unit will be a major surprise (IN A GREAT WAY) by the end of the season, much like in 2011 when the Ducks were forced to replace three starters in drop end Kenny Rowe and linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger. The Ducks have a talented, young group in 2013 that includes Tony Washington, Tyson Coleman, Derrick Malone and returning OLB Boseko Lokombo. Those will be your four starters. But don’t count out transfer Joe Walker and sophomore Rahim Cassell to battle for a starting spot.
The last feature of the defense is the impressive Oregon secondary. Oregon returns Avery Patterson, who battled injury last season, and Brian Jackson at the two safety positions. At left and right corner are two of the best in the business in Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. There isn’t much question at who backs up Mitchell and Ekpre-Olomu, but there is a battle for time at both safety positions. Issac Dixon and Erick Dargan are the two front-runners, but Oshay Dunmore and Reggie Daniels are both battling for playing time.
Lastly is the Oregon special teams, which has been a problem for the Ducks over the past two seasons. There is, of course, the kicking woes that need not ever be relived. But the Ducks also struggled with punting throughout the season. Jackson Rice ranked 92nd in the country in punting average at 40.0 yards per attempt.
This season the Ducks will welcome in transfer Dylan Ausherman, who sat out last season while redshirting, at punter. At kicker the Ducks will have a battle between returning starter Alejandro Maldonado and true freshman Matt Wogan. Drew Howell will return to his long-snapping duties and Dustin Haines will fill Rice’s role as holder. Thomas will return punts and kicks, and my sleeper pick for the other kick returner will be Mr. Tyner. I made the comparison between Tyner and Stewart earlier, and like Stewart I expect we’ll see the youngster on special teams to start his career.
Of course my depth chart isn’t perfect. I’m curious what you guys think and if there’s anything you would change.