At wide receiver, Oregon graduated two of the surest pairs of hands in recent history. Lavasier Tuinei led the Ducks with 48 catches and 10 touchdowns and tight end David Paulson spent four years moving the chains clearing down field defenders… a loss head coach Chip Kelly was quick to point out might be Oregon’s toughest player to replace.
The most likely candidate to replace Tuinei and his numbers will be senior Rahsaan Vaughn. He was a junior college transfer last season and he got his feet wet with Division I ball and is ready to step up his play significantly.
“I’m looking forward to be the player I can be as a senior,” Vaughn said. “I’m going to go out in fall cmap and do my best to separate myself from the rest of the receivers.”
But if he doesn’t for some reason Vaughn doesn’t get that separation, Oregon has the likes of sophomore Eric Dungy, redshirt freshmen Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley and Tacoi Sumler, junior Daryle Hawkins and someone named Josh Huff is still on the roster. Huff has been battling injuries recently, but if he finds himself healthy, Huff will have a breakout junior senior.
“Spring ball and practices are over and it’s time for the real deal and it’s about time,” said Dungy. “We have a lot of talented receivers so it’s not going to be just one guy. Whoever gets in there is going to produce and do well for the team.”
Wunderkind De’Anthony Thomas – although seen as more of a running back in 2013 – will likely remain a serious weapon in the Oregon passing arsenal. As a receiver the speedster was second on the team last season with 46 catches and nine touchdowns and led the Ducks with 605 receiving yards. Kelly isn’t going to throw those numbers away.
Oregon has been Tight End U in recent years from Tim Day to Ed Dickson to Paulson and now – apparently to Colt Lyerla.
Lyerla was delayed in joining the Ducks for fall camp due to personal issues but has begun participating in workouts. Once again, the schedule will work in Oregon’s favor, TE coach Tom Osborne will be able to get everybody on the field and establish his pecking order before heading into conference play.
Despite the delay, expect Lyerla to be near the top. Playing behind Paulson, the sophomore from Hillsboro showed glimpses of becoming a special player last season. His seven catches for 147 yards works out to 21.0 yards per catch, reeling in five for touchdowns. The 6-5, 238-pounder appeared in all twelve games for the Ducks and will be a load for opposing Pac-12 defenses and just one more toy for Bennett or Mariota to play with.
Lyerla has all the talent in the world, but the Ducks will still miss the likes of Paulson, who seemed to have always made the big play just when the Ducks needed it.
“I would argue that the loss of David Paulson is the biggest loss to this team because of the value he had to this team,” Kelly said. “There are unproven guys at the tight end spot that haven’t really played in games and it’s similar to where we are at the quarterback spot.”
Other than Lyerla, the remaining candidates are mostly unknown. Jennings Stewart is a senior who appeared in seven games last season and junior Brian Teague appeared in six games.
Evan Baylis, Pharaoh Brown and Terrence Daniel, a trio of incoming freshman – all listed at 6-6 – will join the competition for playing time behind that group. Special teams is frequently where a player makes his first appearance and that may well be the case for these three. A redshirt is another option.