One of the first things Chip Kelly said at today’s press conference was that “it doesn’t really benefit (Oregon) to anoint someone today” in regards to competition for playing time. That said, there are important battles to be had on the practice field between now and September, with some crucial ones not necessarily in the forefront.
Quarterback (Bryan Bennett, Marcus Mariota)
The title of this section aside, the race between the sophomore Bennett and freshman Mariota figures to get the most press time and speculation over the next three weeks. Both fit the mold of a dual-threat gunslinger that Kelly employs in his offense and the two have shown flashes of potential – Bennett during the last year’s game against Arizona State and Mariota during the 2012 Spring Game – to the Oregon faithful.
Kelly did make a point to say that he wasn’t opposed to playing two quarterbacks, but that he’s always had a starting quarterback separate from the pack in past competitions.
Wide receiver (Daryle Hawkins, Keanon Lowe, Will Murphy, Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley)
The wide receiver position was one of inconsistency last season, though 2011 senior Lavasier Tuinei was the offensive MVP of last year’s Rose Bowl victory. With Tuinei gone, junior Josh Huff appears to be the one Duck firmly entrenched in a starting role, with upperclassmen Rahsaan Vaughn, Hawkins and Murphy trying to hold off the athletic freshman trio of Blackmon, Kelley and Tacoi Sumler for playing time.
Look for a fair amount of fluidity during the first few games, and don’t count out true freshman Bralon Addison and Dwayne Stanford either.
Defensive end (Tony Washington, Isaac Remington, Arik Armstead)
With long-time starter Terrell Turner now pursuing life after Eugene, there is a sole spot on the defensive line up for grabs between the three players mentioned above. Odds are that Armstead won’t be given a starting nod — at least immediately — though Kelly has proven himself unafraid to play freshmen off the bat. There’s also the possibility that Taylor Hart or another defensive tackle could slide to the outside, so this battle figures to remain unsettled for awhile.
Strong safety/Rover (Brian Jackson, Avery Patterson, Erick Dargan)
Eddie Pleasant successfully made the transition from linebacker to safety during his Oregon career and is now competing for playing time in the NFL. He leaves a sizable hole in the defensive backfield and this may be the position battle with the least amount of clues available.
Jackson is the prohibitive front-runner to fill Pleasant’s shoes, though Patterson has experience playing both corner and safety and could use his experience to win the job. Dargan, a redshirt sophomore, is the dark-horse in this competition; he’s a playmaker and could get a shot if he shows continued improvement in camp.
Placekicker (Rob Beard, Alejandro Maldonado)
Beard started the 2011 season as Oregon’s kicker, but a nagging quad injury forced him to cede the job to Maldonado for the majority of the season (Beard did resume kickoff duties late in the year). Questions about his range have dogged Maldonado during his career, which only grew louder after a missed field goal as time expired against USC. Both players have competitive streaks and are capable kickers, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who kicks first against Arkansas State on September 1.