Young wide receiving corps must step up for Ducks to succeed
The buzz going into fall camp for Oregon was whether the offensive line could replace two NFL draftees and continue to churn out 1,000-yard rushers.
However, another big concern was the relative inexperience at wide receiver for the Ducks. With no seniors slotted to start tonight (excluding Ed Dickson at tight end), the receiving corps is going in with 14 starts combined — and 13 of those are by junior Jeff Maehl.
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich says it’s a mystery how the players will react to their first big game, and the only thing the team can do is have faith in the preparation process.
“You play to their strengths,” he said. “You try to get guys comfortable and confident with the system then go out there and play. You really never know until it’s a live situation and the lights are on and TV cameras and fans are surrounding you. But those guys have stepped up to fill different gaps.”
The unit lost Terence Scott and Jaison Williams to graduation and Aaron Pflugrad to Arizona State, but former USC standout Jamere Holland will help fill the holes. Holland drew rave reviews from the coaching staff for his standout play during spring practices, but to make up for the absence of Williams and Scott — two of Oregon’s leading receivers last year — every Duck will need to step up.
“I think we had a really good camp,” Maehl said. Maehl, who averaged 10.8 yards per reception last year, also scored five touchdowns. “Jamere has had a great camp and as a group, we’ve grown tremendously.”
But the unit took a hit last week when the team learned senior Rory Cavaille would miss the opener against Boise State with a shoulder injury. Cavaille isn’t likely to miss much time beyond this week, but he had impressed with his improvement from last fall and a week ago had been penciled in to start at the inside receiver spot.
“It brought me to tears,” Maehl said. “Rory was a guy who was a former walk on, then earned a scholarship and he was slotted to be that starter on the inside, and to see him go down like that hurt the whole group.”
Ready or not, the Ducks and their wideouts will be thrown into the mix against the Broncos’ defense that includes All-American Kyle Wilson. It’s a challenge that has posed some problems.
“They’re very physical in the secondary,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “They have one of the premiere corners in the nation in Kyle Wilson, and in terms of what kind of defense they put on the field, they will be well-coached and present a lot of problems for us.”
Maehl says that whatever the Broncos bring, the receivers will be ready.
“We get a lot of options in our reads,” he said. “We usually have two to three options per route, and it’s our job to decipher what coverage they’re in and find the open hole. As a receiver, it’s really nice to have that. You get the opportunity to make yourself open.”
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