The Oregon football team heads into 2012 with a handful of returning receivers who played on the Rose Bowl-winning team of 2011.
It's a deep and talented group, but the question right now is, who will step up as the go-to guy for whichever quarterback wins the starting job this fall?
Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett are vying for the top spot at QB, and whoever emerges will have a whole lot of options at his disposal. Here's a look at the Ducks' top five returning receivers from last season, based on 2011 statistics (in parentheses):
1. De'Anthony Thomas (46 rec., 605 yds, 9 TDs)
Technically, he's a running back, but Thomas made a huge impact on the Ducks' passing game as a true freshman in 2011, finishing second on the team in receptions, just two catches behind senior Lavasier Tuinei. He'll likely see more carries out of the backfield in 2012, but expect him to get his fair share of passes, as well, and expect him to take those receiving opportunities and run (really, really fast) with them.
2. Josh Huff (31 rec., 430 yds, 2 TDs)
Huff is a major talent who's shown far more potential than production thus far, and that's saying something since he caught 31 passes last season, tying tight end David Paulson for third most on the team. Clouding Huff's situation is the fact that he's awaiting trial on July 12 for his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving (Huff has pleaded not guilty). Depending on how things shake out, he'll likely face some kind of suspension from coach Chip Kelly. But if he can get on the field and stay there (he was hampered by a stress fracture in his left leg for much of last season), Huff could be a significant contributor in 2012.
3. Kenjon Barner (17 rec., 184 yds, 3 TDs)
Despite being LaMichael James' top backup at running back the past three seasons, Barner managed to leave an imprint on the Ducks' offense, whether carrying the ball or catching it. His 17 receptions in 2011 tied James for fifth most on the team, and his 184 receiving yards tied for sixth. He'll enter 2012 as Oregon's top running back, but in the Ducks' spread-option offense, he'll still see plenty of receiving opportunities.
4. Rahsaan Vaughn (14 rec., 184 yds, 1 TD)
Vaughn is in position to take a big step forward in the Ducks' offense this season, after catching 14 passes as a junior last year following his transfer to Oregon from the College of San Mateo. With a full year in the Ducks' system under his belt -- including four starts in 2011 -- and with Lavasier Tuinei gone and Josh Huff facing potential disciplinary action to start the season, Vaughn has a real chance to earn a top spot this year.
5. Colt Lyerla (7 rec., 147 yds, 5 TDs)
No, that's not a typo -- Lyerla, as a true freshman, caught just seven passes in 2012, but five of them went for touchdowns. With the departure of David Paulson, Lyerla takes over as the Ducks' top tight end, and at an athletic 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds, he's sure to be a much-used weapon in Oregon's offense.
Adam Sparks has been following Oregon Ducks football since 1990, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
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