Mariota excited about potential of young WRs

By Steve Mims / The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Spring games

Oregon

When: 11 a.m. May 3

TV: Pac-12

Oregon ST.

When: 1 p.m. May 3

TV: Pac-12

EUGENE — Now likely without his top four receivers from last year, Marcus Mariota remains confident that he has more than enough targets.

“I look forward to seeing all the young guys step up,” the Oregon quarterback said after practice on Monday. “We have a lot of guys on the outside and no matter what, we will be able to get the ball around. Those guys will make plays.”

Mariota lost his top playmaker when wide receiver Bralon Addison suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in practice last week. Addison is expected to miss most if not all of the 2014 season.

“It is tough,” Mariota said. “It is one of those things that happens in football. All we can do now is get behind him and try to be that support that he needs when rehabbing.”

Addison was expected to be Mariota’s top target in the coming season after he ranked second on the team with 61 catches for 890 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore.

“It’s hard to replace somebody like Bralon Addison; he is a special talent,” Mariota said.

“We have a lot of younger guys starting to step up, so hopefully we see that out of these guys.”

Without Addison, Oregon loses its top four receivers from last year who combined for 168 receptions. The top returnee is senior Keanon Lowe, who had 18 catches for 233 yards and three touchdowns.

“He’s huge out there,” Mariota said of Lowe. “He’s that steady factor for guys outside. No matter what, younger guys look up to him. He is an awesome role model. He will teach those guys the right way to do it.”

The only other returning wide receivers who caught a pass last season are Chance Allen with five catches, Blake Stanton with two and B.J. Kelley with one. Dwayne Stanford had 11 catches as a freshman before missing last year because of injury. New additions next season are redshirt freshmen Devon Allen and Darren Carrington and true freshman Jalen Brown.

“I think any one of those guys can step up and be that guy,” Mariota said. “There is a reason why they are here. They have the ability and talent to go out there and produce. These guys really look forward to stepping up and are motivated out there. I look forward to seeing them play.”

Carrington injured his hand during spring practice and said he is not sure if he will be able to practice again before the preseason sessions. He said he is only able to run along the sidelines during practice while staying mentally ready.

“It is really frustrating because coming in as a freshman, I got banged up in my first fall camp, so I was looking forward to getting some playing time in the spring game (on May 3),” Carrington said.

Now Carrington hopes to be fully healthy to compete for time in the fall.

“Bralon, to me, is our go-to guy here,” Carrington said. “So with that happening, I think a lot of us young receivers have to step up and make plays. We definitely have those playmakers that have the potential to make plays and have a breakout season like Bralon.”

Potential has always been the word used to describe Kelley, the 6-foot-2 speedster who has just six catches in two seasons.

“In his particular case, consistency,” is where Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said Kelley needs to improve. “He is a guy with obvious incredible natural ability from a speed standpoint, but putting it together play after play after play. If it is lining up, blocking, whatever the assignment is, being locked in and rolling. At times, he has looked great. The other day he had a big play at the end of our scrimmage to score a touchdown but five others where he either had assignment errors, missed alignments, or busts or things that can’t happen.”

The wild card in the mix is Johnathan Loyd, the point guard in basketball who joined the football team last week to play for one season.

“He’s done well for a guy that hasn’t played in a few years,” Mariota said of Loyd. “He has come out and tried to learn as much as he can. I am excited to see where he’s going. He has good hands and is nice with it after the catch. He gets yards. No matter what, that dude is an athlete and he’ll find his role on the team.”

Oregon also returns three veteran tight ends, although Pharaoh Brown has been injured in the spring. Johnny Mundt was the leading receiver out of that group last year with 16 catches as a freshman; Brown had 10 and Evan Baylis had four.

“They have gotten better, particularly Evan at the line of scrimmage, and Johnny is more comfortable with everything he is doing,” Helfrich said. “He needs to cut it loose. He is not the fastest guy in the world, so when you have hesitancy combined with that, you have to play faster. With those two and Pharaoh and a couple other guys, I expect big things out of that position.”