The lethality of the Duck offense and head coach Chip Kelly’s willingness to roll the dice on fourth down does a disservice to one of the best punter’s in the nation, Oregon’s Jackson Rice.
A finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the nation’s best punter last season and perhaps the preseason favorite to win the award in 2012, Rice averaged nearly 46 yards per punt and pinned the opposition inside their own 20-yard line 17 times. The senior was named second-team All-Pac-12 last year and was responsible for Oregon placing first in the nation in net punting with an average of 41.45 yards.
While the punting duties clearly belong to Rice, there will be much more competition at place kicker. Alejandro Maldonado ended the season as the kicker in 2011, but he will once again have Rob Beard challenging him for the spot as well as newcomer Dylan Ausherman – an outstanding junior college kicker.
Maldonado was 7-of-12 in field goals, including a crucial 30-yarder that gave the Ducks a seven-point lead late in the Rose Bowl. He also made 77-of-78 PATs. He took over early last season after Beard went down in the season opener and was restricted to kickoff duties.
The return game belongs to De’Anthony Thomas. He showed how dangerous he can be on kickoff returns with two touchdowns, including a 96-yarder that brought the Ducks back in the USC game. He averaged 27.3 yards per return and he should improve on that mark if teams dare to actually kick to him.
Who will return punts will be one of special teams coordinator Tom Osborne’s fall tasks but he can choose from a pool of players that includes Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Avery Patterson, Troy Hill and Terrance Mitchell as well as Thomas and Barner.
~ Don Smalley