Devon Allen, one of Ducks' starting WR
Oregon wide receiver Chance Allen. (Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)
Oregon Ducks wide receiver Chance Allen (20) catches the ball against Stanford Cardinal cornerback Wayne Lyons (2) during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Oregon Ducks 26-20. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
EUGENE - One of the biggest questions marks from those beyond the walls of the Oregon Ducks football program is at the wide receiver position where five of the top six on the two-deep depth chart have little to no college experience.
Inside those walls, however, UO's coaches feel like they are sitting on a combustible well-kept secret set to erupt at Autzen Stadium.
“We were excited coming into fall camp but it was unproven," UO coach Mark Helfrich said of the team's young receivers. "Now I think we’re more excited but it’s not game-proven. But usually what happens (on the practice field) happens (on the game field).”
Only one of three things will prove to be true this season regarding the wide receivers:
1. The coaches are liars and these guys are brutal.
2. The receivers looked great in practice but come game day they will choke under pressure, trip all over themselves in front of a packed house, and allow Marcus Mariota's passes to bounce off of their helmets.
3. They are going to be dynamite.
Smart money is on option No. 3. But the developments certainly will be intriguing.
Not since 1996 has Oregon returned such a green group of wide receivers. Senior Keanon Lowe's 233 receiving yards last year are the lowest amount for the top returning producer in nearly 20 years. The loss of junior Bralon Addison (83 career receptions, 1,133 yards, 10 touchdowns) to a knee injury, coupled with Josh Huff entering the NFL, left the Ducks potentially dangerously thin at wide receiver.
The recently released two-deep depth chart includes six receivers. Three have never appeared in a college football game. Two have combined for 204 career receiving yards. The other is Lowe.
Not exactly confidence inspiring for a team with national championship aspirations. But behind closed doors the coaches have watched some of these guys develop over the past year, or two.
What they say they've witnessed is a very dynamic, talented group of hard workers who have developed a level of consistency during practice that they believe will translate into game day production.
“They’re very explosive,” Mariota said.
Offensive coordinator Scott Frost, the former wide receivers coach in his sixth season at Oregon, went as far as to say that this wide receiver group is the deepest he's seen in some time. That's a mouthful considering that Oregon has whiffed on several wide receiver recruits over the last several years. In fact, ten wide receivers signed from 2007 to 2011 did not pan out at Oregon.
“The thing we can’t make a mistake on is that we can’t recruit receivers that aren’t tough,” Frost said. “That’s not saying anything bad about anyone but as much as we expect our receivers to work, as much as we expect them to block, you’ve got to be mentally and physically tough to come in here and get into the type of shape you have to, and do the type of things we ask a receiver to do.”
These new receivers have allegedly answered the call and have reversed what was an extremely high rate of recruiting failure at the position. But as we all know, the Ducks survived just fine during those years of poor recruiting at the position by winning three conference titles.
So imagine what Oregon might be able to do in the passing game should high-end recruits actually pan out at wide receiver.
The jury is still very much out because we can’t base everything on coach-speak. After all, at some point they publicly said they felt very good about the 10 wide receivers that ultimately flamed out. But at least according to the depth chart, recent recruiting classes are producing talent at the position.
Oregon landed Addison, Dwayne Stanford and Chance Allen in 2012. Darren Carrington and Devon Allen came aboard in 2013. Charles Nelson and Jalen Brown are true freshmen.
Only the injured Addison and Brown are not listed on the two-deep depth chart.
Inexperience will lead to mistakes.
"Some of the talented guys we have are really young," Frost said. "So inevitably there might be a mistake, or two.
But long-term, Oregon is pleased with what they have at wide receiver.
"They’ve worked extremely hard," Helfrich said. "They’ve practice extremely well...They are making a ton of plays. Again, now we have to do it when the lights come on.”
Here's a look at the two-deep depth chart at wide receiver:
WR: Dwayne Stanford (6-5, 201, RSo): Stanford's development has been slowed by injuries. He missed all of last season. As a true freshman in 2012 he caught 11 passes for 106 yards. He's not as fast as the rest of the group but certainly isn't slow. He is said to run consistently good routes and should make for a great red zone threat.
- or - Darren Carrington (6-2, 191, RFr.): He is listed as an 'or' with Stanford. “Tough to decide because they both deserve to play,” Frost said. Redshirted last season. Scored a touchdown in the spring game where he showed of his dexterity and hands by snagging a pass along the sideline of the end zone, barely keeping his feet in bounds. Described as a freak athlete who gets in the air quickly to grab passes and can do so in a variety of contorted ways.
Slot: Keanon Lowe (5-9, 186, RSr.): The old man of the group, Lowe, was a redshirt on the 2010 national championship game team. He will be a three-year starter and hopes to greatly improve on his career numbers of 40 receptions for 477 yards and three touchdowns. Regarded as an elite blocker at the wide receiver position, consistency wit catching the ball has been an issue in the past. Will retrun kickoffs.
Charles Nelson (5-8, 170, Fr.): A true freshman, Nelson notably beat out talented redshirt junior B.J. Kelley to appear on the two-deep depth chart. Nelson is reported to be super quick and clearly has picked up the system in a hurry. He's also a backup on kickoff return.
WR: Devon Allen (6-0, 185, RFr): Maybe the most talked about among the young receivers. Allen, who won the 110-meter high hurdles at the NCAA track meet last spring, is a burner who has also demonstrated abilities in other areas.
"I'm getting better at running routes and blocking, and making plays when I need to," Allen said.
Frost said Allen simply did everything the right way to earn his job.
“Obviously he’s a world-class athlete," Frost said. "He has a world-class work ethic. He’s really smart. He’s tough. He’s done all the right things. The best thing that we can hope for is that his best days have been in scrimmages and games when the competition is high. So I hope that carries over to the football field for him.”