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August 6, 2012

Questions for Oregon to answer

Going into their 2012 fall camp, the Oregon Ducks are strong on paper. Ranked in the top five nationally by most prognosticators and picked to win the Pac-12 north, the Ducks should be solid on both sides of the ball as well as special teams.

But even the best of teams have situations that are not perfect, and Oregon will have some questions to answer before they make their run at a fourth consecutive BCS Bowl game.

As fall camp kicks off for the 2012 Oregon football team, Duck Sports Authority takes a look at the top three positions that have depth charts most up for grabs, all of which are on the offensive side of the ball.

1. Wide receiver

Lavasier Tuinei was the leading receiver for the Ducks in 2011 with 48 catches and 10 touchdowns and his graduation leaves a void. The second leading receiver, De'Anthony Thomas, will still catch the football but will do so more from a running back position compared to last year due to the early departures of LaMichael James and Tra Carson in the off-season.

Most of the answers will likely come from relatively untested players. Junior Josh Huff had 31 catches and two touchdowns last year, senior Rahsaan Vaughn had 14 catches and a touchdown, and junior Daryle Hawkins five catches and a touchdown.

Two sophomores have a chance to earn snaps, Eric Dungy who caught two balls in 2011 and Keanon Lowe who will have a chance for his first reception as a Duck this season.

A talented crop of redshirt freshmen also have to be considered, with Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley and Tacoi Sumler coming off their redshirt years looking to move up the depth charts.

Scott Frost will certainly have plenty of talent to choose from when filling out the 2012 game charts, but none of them have separated themselves from the pack yet.


2. Quarterback

The departure of starter Darron Thomas makes this unit high on the question mark list. The answer will come from a short list: Sophomore Bryan Bennett or redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Simple logic would give the nod to the more experienced guy. Bennett appeared in eight games in 2011 passing the ball 46 times, completing 25 for 369 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 216 yards on the ground on only 23 attempts. These appear to be very solid numbers and are reflective of his solid performances. But in the two-man race, it might not be enough.

Mariota went head-to-head this year in spring camp, and although all practices were closed to the public and media, all reports coming out of them indicated that the redshirt freshman was playing very well. The coaches and players commenting said the competition was very even.

The winner of the battle will have an excellent backup, but at this point quarterback is the second biggest question mark for the 2012 Ducks.

3. Tight End

Will the Ducks miss graduated starting tight end David Paulson? Of course they will. Paulson was a highly productive receiver with 31 catches and six touchdowns last season, an outstanding blocker, and a team leader setting the example on and off the field.

The real question is: Who will step up for Tom Osborne? Colt Lyerla is one of the prime candidates after catching seven balls last year, a whopping five of them for touchdowns. But Lyerla was a true freshman last year and though very talented, was not ready playbook-wise.

Christian French would have been another option coming off his redshirt season, but he was moved to defensive end following spring camp.

Another option is true freshman Evan Baylis. Normally DSA would not consider true freshmen for the depth chart, but Baylis was able to enroll early and participated in spring camp, earning glowing reviews from Coach Osborne.

Redshirt freshman Koa Ka'ai, moved from defensive line after spring camp, true freshman Pharaoh Brown and walk-ons senior Stewart Jennings and junior Brian Teague offer the coaches with more options at this position.

The Ducks have the personnel and schedule to be a very good football team in 2012. If they can answer their three biggest questions, they have every chance for a great season and another BCS Bowl game.


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