After coming up short against Auburn in January, Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks head into the 2011 season ranked #3 in the country and are fully expected to once again be a legitimate contender for the National Championship. Heisman candidate LaMichael James and dual-threat QB Darron Thomas are the leaders returning to what will once again be a dynamic offense. While those headliners remain, the Ducks lost 5 starters on offense from last season’s 12-1 squad and will need to replace some very talented contributors. Lets take a look at who the Ducks will miss the most from last year and who is expected to pick up the slack.
Jeff Maehl: The QB and RB positions are stacked with playmakers but the WR corps started and ended with Jeff Maehl. As Darron Thomas’ go-to guy in 2010, Maehl hauled in 77 catches for 1076 yards (14.0 yd/catch) and 12 TDs. The drop-off after Maehl is severe; DJ Davis (who is also gone) was the #2 on the team and had 42 catches for 470 yards, finding the end zone just three times. There is nobody on the Ducks roster this year that will come even close to Maehl’s usage and production last season, so look for the targets to be spread around amongst a few very intriguing options. Senior WR Lavasier Tuinei will be locked into a starting job and should improve on his numbers from a year ago. JUCO stud Rahsaan Vaughn brings sub 4.4 forty speed to the table and will see plenty of snaps. He’s been plagued by injuries this off-season but Josh Huff looked like a potential game-changer in limited action last year as a freshman. He should be ready to play against LSU in the season opener. The tight end position could be the place to look for a serious uptick in production in 2011. David Paulson has been put on the preseason watch list for the Mackey award and will be a reliable target all season for Darron Thomas. Uber-athletic five star recruit Colt Lyerlas has lit up fall practices and is expected to step in right away. It might take some time for Darron Thomas to establish comfortable rapports with his pass catchers this year but it seems he certainly won’t lack for options.
3/5ths of the O-Line: 1st team all Pac-10 center Jordan Holmes is the biggest loss from last season’s team, but RG C.E. Kaiser and Bo Thran were also starters on what was statistically an absolutely dominant front five. Mark Asper and Carson York both return with plenty of experience and will be counted on to help the new line with continuity. Highly touted JUCO transfer Ryan Clanton has won a starting job and will pair with Asper on the right side. Senior Darrion Weems was a 4-star recruit out of high school and will finally have his chance to be locked in as a starter. Redshirt Frosh Hroniss Grasu surprised some people by winning the starting center job but he was a highly touted recruit that appears ready to step in and take on major responsibilities. The depth on the line this year looks to be phenomenal, and the Ducks will be well prepared for any injury situation that might arise during the season.