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Oregon Ducks Playmakers to watch this season

No Chip, No Problem

The Oregon Ducks, even without Chip Kelly, rank No. 3 in ESPN’s preseason power rankings. As you may know, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has taken over Kelly’s job as head coach.

Seeing as how Helfrich ran the offense, the offensive scheme will look very similar. I’m sure the play calling will be different, but this will still be a fast-paced offense ready to put up the numbers.

It also helps that Kelly leaves Helfrich with a ton of talent through his recruiting.

Here are five players that you can’t help but keep your eyes on:

De'Anthony Thomas Ducks

De’Anthony Thomas may be the fastest player in all of college football (Photo: Oregon Football)

De’Anthony Thomas

De’Anthony Thomas will be a Heisman candidate this season. Similar to last year, he might not be listed as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart. Byron Marshall was impressive throughout the spring, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands the starting role.

This doesn’t mean that Thomas will lose touches in any way. I think that if coach Helfrich chooses to go with Byron Marshall, it will be more about keeping Thomas fresh than anything else. Thomas is very versatile, and he will be lining up at running back and wide receiver, along with handling the kick and punt return duties.

That is a lot of stress on one’s legs to have this much of a work load. Marshall will definitely be in the mix, and you may even see freshman back — and Oregon native — Thomas Tyner a little bit (more on him in a few).

The “Black Momba” is probably the fastest player in the nation. Match that with his elusiveness and versatility and that leaves you with an amazing talent to go with your arsenal.

As Jason Quick Tweeted:

Thomas Tyner

Well, speaking of Tyner, this guy is an amazing athlete as well. One of the best athlete’s to come out of the state of Oregon –i in any sport!

Tyner not only broke records in the state of Oregon (3,402 rushing yards in his senior year), but he had a game that was so ridiculous, only two others in U.S. history have ever done better. The five-star back ran for 643 yards and 10 touchdowns in ONE GAME.  This placed him third all-time nationally for the most yards in a high school football game.

There is no doubt that Tyner will be a feature back for this Oregon team for years to come. As a freshman, you will see glimpses of him. Don’t change the channel during a blowout. Leave the channel right where it is so you can watch this guy do his thing.

Mariota is the definition of a dual-threat quarterback. (Photo: Oregon Ducks)

Mariota is the definition of a dual-threat quarterback. (Photo: Oregon Ducks)

Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota took Ducks Nation by storm last season. This is a fast team. Mariota is no exception.

Mariota’s speed, paired with De’Anthony’s on the outside wreaks havoc for defensive coordinators. You will see many two-back sets this season, as you have in the past. Marshall being an all-around inside game that keeps the front seven honest, then you can throw Mariota and Thomas on the outside for some picture-perfect option plays.

Mariota is a likely Heisman candidate as well. Last year, he threw for 2,677 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. He also ran for 752 yards on just 106 carries. That’s an average of 7.1 yards per carry.

If not for all the blowouts, he gets 1,000 yards rushing — easy. I expect him to boost both his passing and rushing numbers this season with Bryan Bennett gone –Bennett transferred to Southeastern Louisiana.

Arik Armstead

Arik Armstead is an absolute monster in the middle.

Travis Haney of ESPN ranks Armstead as number 18 on his Top 50 breakout players of 2013.  Here is what Haney had to say about the defensive tackle:

“You never know what sort of answer you’re going to get when you ask an offensive head coach about a defensive player, but newly promoted Mark Helfrich’s eyes widened when I brought up Armstead, the 6-8, 280-pound sophomore defensive tackle.

 As an offensive coordinator, he often had to scheme for Armstead in practice.

‘He’s a guy who doesn’t have any idea how good he can be,’ Helfrich said. ‘He’s so technically sound. The NFL will have guys fighting for him. They’ll want him as an offensive tackle. They’ll want him as a defensive tackle.’

Dion Jordan showed that, in this recent wave of offensive prowess, Oregon can also produce pro-ready defensive talent.”

Oregon is going to need Armstead to become the breakout player that Haney believes he can be. The loss of Dion Jordan will be tough to overcome.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will help bring recognition to the Ducks' defense.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will help bring recognition to the Ducks’ defense.

Armstead will need to be the man to hold down the defensive line. His stature alone should create problems for their opponents.

His length is unusual for a football player. At 6’8” he can get his hand on a lot of balls being passed up the middle — J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans comes to mind. He is like a center in the NBA — he makes guys think twice about coming his way, whether that is a pass or a run. Opposing teams will need to scheme against Armstead the same way Helfrich had to in practices.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had a great year as a sophomore last season. He was constantly tested while playing opposite of Terrence Mitchell at corner. He took that in stride, as he was named to the All-American third-team by the Associated Press.

Last year he led the Pac-12 in passes defended with 20. That number ranked sixth in the NCAA, and he also added four interceptions to go along with 63 tackles. Oregon’s other junior cornerback, Mitchell, only had 40 tackles and eight passes defended (both numbers being lower than his totals as a freshman).

The junior cornerback has been selected to the watch list of the 19th annual Bednarik Award for 2013, which is given to the college defensive player of the year. Like many other Ducks player, he is definitely a player to watch this season.

Playing on such a high powered offense, Ekpre-Olomu and Armstead will hope to make a name for not just themselves, but for Oregon’s defense as a collective unit.

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