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Is there a catch to UO season?

Ducks try receiving by committee, rather than with a star


EUGENE — Just as an offensive line makes a running back, receivers make a quarterback. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice, Tom Brady had Randy Moss, and former Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas had Jeff Maehl and, in last season’s Rose Bowl, Lavasier Tuinei.

Through Oregon’s first two games of 2012, though, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota has yet to find a favorite target.

“I don’t have a specific go-to guy,” Mariota admits.

Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich says Oregon does not have a superstar catching passes. His hope, though, is that with wideouts Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins, Eric Dungy, Keanon Lowe, B.J. Kelley and Rahsaan Vaughn, the Ducks have enough depth to make up for that.

“I don’t know if we have a Randy Moss,” Helfrich says. “But there’s more guys with consistent strengths (than in the past) who are stepping up. Collectively, their strengths and the way that we can game plan around them ... hopefully at the end it’s a better product.”

Not having a set go-to wide receiver creates more competition inside practices.

“We have a lot of guys who can play, are ready to play and, most important, deserve to play,” Lowe says. “We’re all out there working hard in practice every day.”

Dungy says none of the receivers can take playing time for granted.

“If I go in for a series, I might not go in again for two or three more series,” he says. “So the one time I get in, I’m not going to lope. I’m not going to take any plays off because I know my snaps are going to be limited.

“I don’t have any problem with it. Everybody deserves time. We’ve all been practicing hard and competing, so we all deserve it.”

In Oregon’s 42-25 win over Fresno State last Saturday, Mariota connected on 19 of 27 passes for 166 yards. Most of his completions were bubble screens or short crossing routes. The receivers generally were well covered after 10 yards, and Oregon did not complete a deep pass.

Mariota says that was because of Fresno State’s defensive scheme. “They were dropping back a little, and we just had to take the (short) stuff,” he says.

The receivers say they can stretch the field vertically, when the opportunity presents itself.

“It’s there,” Lowe says. “We’ve got a lot of fast guys in our receiving corps. We haven’t really opened that up yet in our offense, but it’s all good.”

Huff is Oregon’s leading candidate to be a vertical threat. But, after catching two passes for 22 yards in Oregon’s opener against Arkansas State, Huff left the Fresno State game in the first half with a knee injury. He says he’ll be fine.

Huff is coming off a disappointing sophomore season in which he only caught 31 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns. He says the main problem for him in 2011 was consistency in everything — practice, route running and catching the ball.

“I was very inconsistent last year,” he says. “That took a lot of balls away from me. This year, I’m working on being more consistent with everything I do and being in the right place at the right time.”

Huff says Kelley, a redshirt freshman, also could become a big-play threat.

“B.J. Kelley has the vertical threat we need,” Huff says. “He’s able to eat the coverages up with his speed. He’s a big-play maker. He made plays all during fall camp, and I’m looking forward to seeing him get loose.”

Running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, as well as tight end Colt Lyerla, have the ability to take some of the pressure off the Oregon receivers.

“Any time you can distribute the ball, whether it’s vertically or horizontally, that’s a benefit,” Helfrich says.

After watching Oregon’s wideouts struggle to get open against the Fresno State defensive backs, how the receivers will fare against Pac-12 defenses?

“I have all the faith in the world in my guys,” Huff says. “We get better every day. The sky is the limit for us.”