Five Ducks Who Could Deliver Big In 2013
By John Baker
The graduates are off to the NFL, CFL or life after football. The returning stars are well-known among Oregon Ducks football followers and on the national stage in most cases. Fall camp is opening and the football world wants to know what kind of coach Mark Helfrich will be following in Chip Kelly's footsteps. Oh, and the most advanced, stylish and sophisticated football complex in the world just opened its stealthy black doors.
What more is there to talk about? Plenty, my friends. While the talk in the offseason has centered around quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back-receiver De'Anthony Thomas, tight end Colt Lyerla and a cast of characters in the secondary that can all run, hit and ball hawk, there still are 22 positions to be manned and you may not know much about some of the names that may start to leak out as the season begins.
Fortunately, as fall camp beckons, you're going to be fed a few names. It would be wise to keep an eye on them this fall as their work at the end of the 2012 season, spring workouts and summer work have propelled them into a position to not only play major snaps, but make major contributions. Here are five players who could blow up this season for the Ducks.
DT Arik Armstead: Everything about Armstead has been flavored with a feeling of anticipation. From his surprise signing at Oregon to his freakish athletic ability to it becoming obvious in preseason camp last year that the young man would see the field as a true freshman, Armstead has kind of seethed "special." Now, coming off a season where he recorded 26 tackles and a pair of sacks, the expectations had grown — and so had Armstead. Now standing 6-foot-8 and weighing about 280 pounds, Armstead little resembles the freshman of 2012. Given he has some experience to go along with his physical gifts, it's not hard to project him to double his total tackles and make double-digit tackles for loss this season. A nice complimentary piece to the Armstead puzzle? He'll play on a defensive line that returns plenty of talent and bodies so Oregon's defensive coaches will be able to keep all its front four rested and ready to go. Armstead was the prize of last year's recruiting class and demonstrated that he was worthy of the high school accolades and early college success. Now, teaming with an athletic and big defensive line group overall, his time to shine already may have arrived.
TE Pharoah Brown: To my mind, Colt Lyerla is the best returning tight end in the Pac-12 — a total package of speed, agility, power and ball-catching prowess. But he's not alone on the Ducks roster with those traits at tight end. In fact, throughout the spring work and summer conditioning, Brown's name was one of the few that kept coming up. Brown has good size (6-6, 235) and very good speed. What's more, like Lyerla, the guy will block well in the running game. Oregon has sent its last three tight ends to the NFL and Lyerla is on his way there, too, but don't be shocked if Brown, who is wonderfully athletic, makes more than a few plays for the Ducks offense this season before succeeding Lyerla.
WR Keenan Lowe and Bralin Addison: Josh Huff, DAT and Lyerla are going to get a lot of the attention in the passing game from opposing defenses, something that should make these two receivers shiver with excitement. Lowe is a starter at one wideout spot, while Addison is a reserve, but if we've learned anything about Oregon's offense and the way Mariota runs it, where you are on the depth chart is irrelevant. Both Lowe and Addision had 22 catches and three scores in 2012, numbers that figure to bump up, most likely significantly for at least one of them. Oregon has so many weapons and some younger receivers behind these guys who want some run, so it's a tough road to call out two of Oregon's lesser-known receivers. However, these two have proven their ability to not only make tough, crucial catches, but to turn those into big plays as well. Here's betting at least one of these guys doubles his catch and touchdown total from a year ago.
G Hamani Stevens: Boy, would the Ducks like to see this guy solidify one of their open guard spots. A big-time recruiting get when he signed in 2008, Stevens then departed on a two-year Mormon mission in the Philippines. Since his return to the program in 2011, Stevens has been in search of the form that had programs all over the country panting after him. At 6-foot-3 and about 300 pounds, Stevens has begun to demonstrate the strength and quickness that made him so coveted five years ago. When he puts his athleticism in tandem with the quickness and strength, he's capable of earning Pac-12 honors this season. Oregon is set at center and the two tackle spots, so the opportunity for Stevens to step in seems to be staring him in the face. Here's betting he opens some eyes in 2013.
LB Boseko Lokombo: No area of this football team has as many unanswered questions as the linebacker corps. Gone are Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. Their replacements still are uncertain after a spring of up-and-down play and nagging injuries. But if you want to hang a hat on one guy poised to step from the shadow of the three departed linebackers, Lokombo is your man. He's played in 40 games for the Ducks during three seasons and always seemed to be stuck behind an all-conference linebacker, which limited his time. However, when Lokombo got on the field, he produced: 108 tackles, 10 TFL and 4 sacks during his career. Now, the 6-foot-3, 233-pound bundle of energy and explosiveness will lead the Ducks linebacker corps. While there are questions at the other spots, Lokombo will provide a tough-as-nails presence from sideline to sideline. He had to wait for his chance and now it is here. An all-conference nod is within the realm of possibility for him this season.