Coach Frost talks Addison injury
EUGENE - Oregon coach Mark Helfrich did his best Chip Kelly impersonation on Friday when he evoked the team's policy not to discuss injuries by declining to either confirm or deny the existence of a torn ACL in the knee of his best wide receiver, Bralon Addison.
Be that as it may, one thing that cannot be denied is that the Ducks potentially have a serious problem at the wide receiver position.
Addison, injured during a spring workout on Wednesday, could miss the entire 2014 season while recovering from an injury that can take from six-to-12 months to heal, leaving the Ducks scrambling to find adequate pass catchers to maintain balance within the offense.
With a checkered track record of hitting on wide receiver recruits there's no guarantee that the Ducks have enough playmakers on the roster to maintain momentum as a potential national title contender next season.
But it's early.
Oregon already faced the offseason challenge of replacing Josh Huff, headed to the NFL. Now the Ducks return just one wide receiver who had more than 200 receiving yards last season, fifth-year senior Keanon Lowe (233). His totals will be the lowest for the team's top returning wide receiver since the 1996 season when Jibri Hodge entered the year coming off of gaining 208 receiving yards in 1995.
The next most productive behind Lowe was Chance Allen who had five receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown.
With Addison, the Ducks had a legitimate No. 1 receiver coming off of a breakthrough season in which he caught 61 passes for 890 yards and seven touchdowns, all second behind Huff (62, 1,140, 12).
Replacing more than 120 receptions, 2,100 yards and 19 touchdowns will certainly put to the test Oregon's recruiting prowess over the past few years at a position that has been spotty at best during the past 10 years.
Since 2004 when the Ducks signed five-star recruit Cameron Colvin, the No. 2-rated wide receiver in the nation at the tme, the Ducks have signed 27 wide receivers. Ten could be said to have panned out with the jury still out on five of those landed in the last three recruiting classes (out of six).
Addison, signed in 2012, has delivered. He will probably deliver again down the line.
“He’s going to make a hell of a lot more plays around here before he’s out of here,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “But we have a lot of other guys on scholarship and we have a really good quarterback to throw to them.”
In other words, no excuses. Next man up. But there has to be some concern.
The failure of the 2011 class is magnified by Addison's injury. That group included three high school receivers, B.J. Kelley, Tacoi Sumler and Devon Blackmon. Many expected them to be stars by now, prepared to dominate by 2014.
Instead, only Kelley, a redshirt junior, remains on the team, and the jury is still out on him.
"We're waiting on B.J. Kelley to be the guy we expected him to be," Frost said.
What Oregon needs to do is catch lightning in a bottle - twice.
The Ducks did that last year when Addison emerged opposite Huff to give the Ducks their most potent duo at wide receiver since Jeff Maehl and Drew Davis in 2010.
Can it happen again?
It could be the most fascinating story of the 2014 season.
Leading the list of potential stars are Kelley, redshirt sophomores Dwayne Stanford and Chance Allen, redshirt freshmen Darren Carrington and Devon Allen, and true freshman Jalen Brown, who enrolled in time for spring drills.
Stanford showed promise in 2012 but was out last season because of injuries. Chance Allen has been talked about by players since his arrival and he showed flashes last season. Frost talked highly of Carrington and everyone has raved about Devon Allen. Brown is a wild card.
The truth is, it's impossible to evaluate this group given that practices are closed.
But Lowe, at least, has a favorable impression of the receivers he's been entrusted to mentor. He's called it the most talented group he's seen since his freshman season in 2010 when Maehl, Davis, Huff and Lavasier Tuinei were the teams top wide receivers.
"I couldn’t be more excited about this group," Lowe said. "I think we have a lot of guys that compete like we’ve never had before in our meeting room.”
But the guy who has to make the biggest inroads is Lowe, who is regarded as a great role player and amazing blocker, but he's never received the number of targets afforded a top-flight receiver.
With Addison out, Lowe naturally will improve on last year's numbers, but he must do so with impact as a worrisome threat for defenses or the Ducks could be in serious trouble.
Remember, this is an offense that over the final four games of last season produced fewer than 20 points in three contests (special teams and defensive touchdowns do not count) while going 2-2.
The last thing the Ducks need is deficiencies at wide receiver, allowing teams to gang up against the run while not worrying about an outside deep threat to stretch the field for quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has Heisman Trophy potential.
Granted, the Ducks are deep at tight end. But going with two on the field too often certainly could dilute the team's overall speed factor.
Frost said Lowe has had a great offseason and is faster, has better hands and is playing better than he's ever had.
Lowe said even before Addison's injury that he's excited for the opportunity to contribute more as a pass receiver.
Now it's a must.
“There’s a lot of opportunity," he said, "and I know for a fact hat we all realize that and I just think that pushes us harder."