When you become a perennial top-10 team in college football like the Oregon football team has become the past five years you have to rely on new faces stepping up.
With a revolving door of personnel it’s increasingly important for first-year players to step in and grab a spot. With a loss of talent due to graduation and the NFL Draft (not to mention injuries) there are positions that are open for both true and redshirt freshmen to step up.
The Ducks’ recent string of success has had no shortage of newcomers making an impact. Even when a position appears safe locked, there are ways for first-year players to contribute well past expectations like De’Anthony Thomas finding a role in the Ducks’ spread assault when the running back position was being spearheaded by LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.
Of course James himself made a tremendous impact in his first year following the suspension of LeGarrette Blount in the 2009 opener. He only went on to become the school’s most decorated football player. Well, most decorated as of the end of the 2013 season.
Perhaps the ultimate newcomer to step in for the Ducks has been the chilled-Hawaiian quarterback Marcus Mariota. Since becoming the starting quarterback as a freshman, Mariota has been heralded as one of the top players in the country, and now as a junior is aiming to become the Ducks’ first Heisman winner.
So who will step up to the plate and hit a depth chart home run this season? Lets take a look at the three most likely candidates based on skill and position need.
1. WR Darren Carrington
This one should be a given now following Bralon Addison’s potentially season ending ACL injury. Before spring training opened up it was looking like wide receiver strength was going to be a pleasant surprise for the Ducks. Addison is a highly skilled receiver who was going to step into the hole that 2013’s leading receiver Josh Huff left with Keanon Lowe playing opposite of him.
Now with Addison out there is an opening at the top of the depth chart for a receiver to step in. This is where the 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman Darren Carrington comes in.
The former 4-star pass catcher has the size and skills to become a favorite target of Mariota. He has the potential to be one of the best receivers the Ducks have had in some time.
Carrington’s biggest challenge is outright winning the coveted number 2 WR job from B.J. Kelley and Dwayne Stanford , but even if he doesn’t win a job as a wideout, he’s all but guaranteed to become a regular in the slot. Playing as a slot receiver for Carrington could actually prove just as fruitful for production with his size and skill.
2. DB Tyree Robinson
A treat or a headache, depending on how easily you get confused, will be watching the Robinson twins finally play together on defense for the Ducks in 2014. Tyree in particular will be the newcomer with linebacker brother Tyrell dressing for nine games last season despite a lack of playing time. Things could really become confusing if the Robinsons and Amoako twins are both playing at once.
Tyree will be looking to make an impact in the secondary first and foremost. He came in as a 4-star recruit in 2013 and was listed as an athlete. In high school he played a lot of safety which is where he could end up playing during the 2014 season. He was ranked as the number 12 safety in the nation as a recruit.
One thing that’ll help Tyree patrol the center of the field on a regular basis is his lanky frame. He stands at 6-foot-4, which is outstanding size for corners and safeties. It’s entirely likely he could be used almost like a scat back in the secondary, lining up in both safety positions and as a nickel or dime back. One thing is certain though, Tyree Robinson will be a name heard often.
3. RB Royce Freeman
News about 5-star recruit Royce Freeman has been pretty slow coming out of spring practices so far, and sure, why should he be making noise? He’s playing behind one of the best running back duos in the country, right? Thomas Tyner appears to be the likely starting back for the Ducks with Byron Marshall taking the sidekick role.
If healthy, Tyner and Marshall could give the Ducks a potential top-5 rushing assault by year’s end. So where does the man-child Royce Freeman fit into all of this?
Remember when we started this adventure to figure out the top three newcomers for the Ducks, and we talked about De’Anthony Thomas? Well, a similar situation will give Freeman the opportunity to shine this year. It’s being reported that Byron Marshall will be the running back that’ll fill Thomas’s cleats as a scat back. This coupled by the Addison injury means Marshall will be getting the ball in a lot of unconventional ways.
With Marshall occupied finding the rock through the air it opens up the true number two running back position on the depth chart. So who’ll be the back that’ll spell out Tyner when possible? That’s where the bruising Royce Freeman comes into play. It sounds crazy to say, but the big back could find himself rushing for upwards of 800 yards this season. Combined with Tyner, the Ducks will have their biggest backfield yet which will prove most valuable against Stanford and Michigan States’ front seven.
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