Spring football practice is officially underway in Eugene Oregon, and the Oregon football team is in a position to contend for a Pac-12 title and possible spot in the BCS playoff. Following the spring practices, the Oregon Ducks will host their annual spring football game on May 3rd. In recent years, relatively unknown Ducks have become future stars after showcasing their talents during the spring game. Marcus Mariota took the starting job away from former Oregon quarterback Brian Bennett after he stole the show in the spring game; so who is the next to emerge as a potential starter for the 2014 Oregon Ducks?
The Ducks return plenty of starters in 2014. Key position players remain on offense, and the defensive side of the ball is a mix of experienced leaders and young raw talent. Here are the top three position groups to watch come May 3rd.
Replacing depth lost in the secondary.
Over the past few seasons, the Oregon secondary has been a strong point of the Ducks defense. With two year starters Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson preparing for hopeful NFL careers, who will be the next to fill their voids at the safety positions? Long time reserve Erick Dargan will more than likely get a chance to start in 2014, but that still leaves one position up for grabs. It looks like Dominique Harrison, Issac Dixon, Reggie Daniels, Tyree Robinson and Chris Seisay will all be fighting for that second starting safety position. With five players battling for reps, the spring game will be a huge opportunity for any of those players to grab the spot. Switching to cornerback, the Ducks got a huge boost when All-American senior corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu decided to stay at Oregon for his final season. With the number one corner spot locked up, look for veteran third corners Troy Hill and Dior Mathis to fight for the second starter spot.
Who will step up at wide receiver?
With the loss of senior Josh Huff, the Ducks will have to find someone else to step in and fill the missing spot. Braylon Addison will be the number one receiver, that is a lock, but there are several young Duck receivers who can step up and emerge as the number two option. With Dwayne Stanford, B.J. Kelly, Keanon Lowe, and Eric Dungy all having seen game action in the past, one of them will surely take the lead on the second wide receiver spot. However, talented redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and early freshman enrollee Jalon Brown will look to showcase their skills in the spring game and attempt to open the eyes of the coaches. All six names mentioned will likely see the field during 2014, but where they will be positioned on the depth chart is yet to be determined. A few big plays could give one of these young receivers a leg up in the depth chart race heading into the 2014 season.
Defensive line lacks experienced depth.
Starters at defensive end Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner remain on the Oregon defensive front, but aside from them, there is no much depth on the line. The Ducks lost three starters, Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi, to graduation last year. Replacing them will be key for the Ducks defense headed into 2014. Alex Balducci rotated in as defensive tackle last year when Hart and Keliikipi were injured, so look for him to start at defensive tackle in 2014. But where does the depth come from? Sam Camp will look to step in when needed, and he has more experience than any other Ducks reserve lineman, but Cody Carriger and Stetzon Bair will look to step up when they get the opportunity. Also, with the addition of junior college transfer Tui Talia, there should be plenty of players attempting to fill the number two positions across the defensive line.
Spring practices will allow the Ducks to find depth, while giving players plenty of opportunities to make their names known. However, nothing can compete with making plays during the actual scrimmage in Autzen Stadium. Nothing will be set in stone following the spring game, but plays made will certainly grab the attention of coaches – just ask Marcus Mariota. It is a long shot that there will be big changes to starting positions, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but several key reserve roles seem to be up for grabs. With the secondary, the defensive line, wide receivers, and other positions looking to add depth, the Oregon spring game will be a great opportunity for reserve players to showcase their skills and earn a coveted spot on the 2014 depth chart.