As Oregon football prepares for the first of its 15 spring practices Tuesday, The Oregonian is revisiting the Ducks’ roster, position-by-position, by highlighting one player along the depth chart with something to gain this spring.
Today’s position: The receivers
The player: Jalen Brown (6-foot-1, 188-pound redshirt freshman)
What’s at stake: A starting job at a position that remains loaded in the long-term but short-handed entering spring and fall camps.
How he fared in 2014: Brown was the only prep of Oregon’s 2014 recruiting class to enroll early but he didn’t enjoy the benefits from the head start when a back injury limited his production last spring. The injury returned last August, and effectively kept him sidelined for a redshirt season.
Reasons to buy: With Devon Allen nursing an ACL injury suffered in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and Darren Carrington possibly ineligible for half a season stemming from a reported failed NCAA drug test, an opening emerges for Brown to win the playing time he appeared headed for as a true freshman last fall. Before suffering an injury during fall camp that caused him to miss a dozen practices, Brown was one of the top three or four players at the position, receivers coach Matt Lubick said last October. Consider that when you realize how deep and talented UO’s receiving corps was last season. The praise stemmed from how quickly he learned the playbook and for his skill in the air, adjusting to the ball. Despite his slow start, Brown made a good impression with Oregon’s coaches to the point he made the 70-man travel squad during the season’s final two months.
“He’ll have a chance to become a four-year starter,” Lubick said in October. “He’s going to have that opportunity. I think he understands that, too. He’s knows he can play here, and not only play here but be really good here.”
Reasons to sell: Back injuries are nothing to brush off lightly. A less direct critique of Brown himself is that several receivers boasting four-star recruiting rankings have entered Oregon but done little to justify the hype. With Devon Allen, Darren Carrington, Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and Dwayne Stanford, Oregon is on a good run of success translating prep success to college. Can Brown be the next to follow them, or will he get lost in the shuffle?
Who’s he competing with? Proven commodities who are expected to be fully healthy this spring include senior Byron Marshall (as he comes off a 1,000-yard receiving season), junior Dwayne Stanford and Carrington, his looming ineligibility notwithstanding. In the second tier is Bralon Addison, a standout who’s yet to go full speed after tearing his ACL one year ago in April. Then comes a group of untested young guys such as Jeff Bieber, Austin Daich, Chayce Mayday, early enrollee Alex Ofodile, Zach Schuller and Chris Tewhill. Allen isn’t expected to be back until the summer at the earliest as he rehabs his knee injury.
What must Brown accomplish this spring? Oregon demands its receivers to block and know a variety of positions, both at the slot and wideout positions. Continuing to improve at both those mental and physical tasks is a must, then. With the departure of Keanon Lowe, Oregon lost its best receiver with regard to blocking. Filling his role is a surefire way to keep Brown on the field.
– Andrew Greif