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For UO receivers, every game is a block party

Wideouts don’t lead team in receptions, but they clear space
by: JAIME VALDEZ Josh Huff and his fellow Oregon receivers sink their teeth into being good downfield blockers — and the result this season was a Rose Bowl berth.

Where would the Oregon Ducks’ offense be without De’Anthony Thomas? That’s a hypothetical, and coach Chip Kelly doesn’t deal in hypotheticals. Thomas, only a freshman, leads the Ducks in receptions (42), receiving yards (571) and TD catches (nine). He and tight end David Paulson and Thomas arguably are the Ducks’ two most important players who catch the football, and neither is considered a wide receiver. Thomas is listed as a running back. The wideouts say they have done well at their primary role —which, in Oregon’s run-oriented spread offense, is blocking. “We lack consistency, but we try every week to perform better,” wide receiver Josh Huff says. “I see bright spots. We’re working on our consistency. “On a grading scale — I’ve seen growth in our receiving corps — I’d say we’re about a B.” Since Kelly’s arrival in 2007, the UO running game has been atop the Pac-10 or Pac-12 in all five seasons. This year, the Ducks are 11-2 and headed to their second Rose Bowl in a three-year span, with a BCS national title game berth completing a strong three-year run. After the season-opening loss to LSU, Kelly said the Ducks were still searching for their go-to receiver, and he noted that none of the wide receivers had stepped to the fore. Since then, Lavasier Tuinei (40 catches, 441 yards, eight TDs) has produced a solid senior season, and he has battled Huff, each trying to outdo the other in the blocking department. The other starting wide receiver, Justin Hoffman, got on the field for his blocking prowess. “We have three excellent receivers, with me and L.T. and David,” says Huff, a sophomore from Houston. “If both of us have a bad game, D.P. will pick it up. Vice versa. It’s a lean-on-me thing.” And a put your body-on-the-defenders thing. “Last year, everyone was starting to realize we were starting to block very well,” says Tuinei, a 2010 season regular along with the since-departed Jeff Maehl and Drew Davis. “Huff really stepped it up this year. He had nine pancakes (blocks) in one game (versus Arizona); I don’t think a lot of people know that. We try to pancake these DBs.” Various Oregon players have enjoyed their moments this season catching the ball. The clutch Paulson has 30 grabs for 429 yards and six TDs, and the speedy Huff has 29 receptions for 416 yards and two scores. Hoffman, from Churchill High, has 10 catches. Running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner have combined for 32 receptions. Junior-college transfer receiver Rahsaan Vaughn has 14 receptions, and true freshman tight end Colt Lyerla has five TDs on seven receptions. Even converted quarterback Daryle Hawkins has taken some significant snaps at receiver. In-state products Will Murphy (West Albany) and Nick Musgrove (Churchill), who began their careers as walk-ons, wound up playing some, too. But true freshmen Devon Blackmon, Tacoi Sumler and B.J. Kelley redshirted. “(The) young guys weren’t ready,” Huff says. “We got a couple of (recruited) scholarship receivers playing, but at the same time, they weren’t working as hard as the walk-ons. You’ve got to work harder than the next man. This whole team is about competition.” Redshirt freshmen Keanon Lowe and Eric Dungy have not taken many snaps at receiver in games. Dungy has a TD catch, though. Lowe, from Jesuit High, and others have contributed on special teams, too. “You want players like that,” Tuinei says. “They’re helping the team in any way they can.”