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Ducks notes: Stars, depth shining, coaches say

EUGENE — The stars have shown up in Oregon's training camp, led by QB Marcus Mariota.

"He's been awesome," says coach Mark Helfrich, whose team falls into game-plan mode this weekend with Nicholls State on the schedule, Aug. 31 at Autzen Stadium. "He's had a few of those 'wow' moments, where everybody looks at each other. He's a special guy."

Helfrich also commended hybrid player De'Anthony Thomas, who, along with Mariota, could end up being a Heisman Trophy candidate.

But, what can Oregon's second-year QB improve on?

"Everything. I'm greedy," Helfrich says. "Mechanics, footwork, timing, knowledge, leadership. He still has some ability and desire and room to get better. He's a fun guy to coach, no question."

• A depth chart and news on redshirts should be coming by Monday.

As far as true freshmen, kicker Matt Wogan, who's engaged in a competition with veteran Alejandro Maldonado, will likely see first-year action, as will running back Thomas Tyner (assuming he's healthy), outside linebacker Torrodney Prevot and possibly tight end Johnny Mundt.

"Most important, it's special-teams driven," says Helfrich, of playing true freshmen. "If he's a key contributor on special team, he'll play."

• The two inside linebacker spots might have been the most hotly contested in training camp.

Don Pellum, linebackers coach, has his share of candidates to play alongside returning outside linebacker Boseko Lokombo. The names coming from his mouth: Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick, Rahim Cassell, Joe Walker, Tyson Coleman, Bret Bafaro and true freshmen Danny Mattingly and Tyrell Robinson.

Pellum says the Ducks will be able to put talent on the field, but what about instincts, which the departed Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso possessed?

"Anytime you lose guys who have played for two and three years, it's hard to replace them," Pellum says. "It's hard to replace the experience. That's the learning that will have to take place.

"We wouldn't practice something and (Clay, Alonso) would get in the game and recognize (a play) through recall. That's what you don't know with new players, don't know how vast their memory is to recall on adjustments. That's what we'll be looking to see in the early games — recognizing and making checks that we haven't seen, understanding the defense."

• Pellum had some comments on some linebackers.

On Lake Oswego's Coleman: "You'll know when he's in there (at inside linebacker), because he flashes, he's extremely explosive."

On Bafaro, from Hillsboro: "The first four or five days of camp, he was the most improved guy."

On Tyrell Robinson: "He might be my best athlete."

• The Ducks have some pretty good anchors on the offensive line, with tackles Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone and center Hroniss Grasu. It appears the two offensive guard spots will be manned by Hamani Stevens, Mana Greig, Everett Benyard and Jamal Prater.

"We're not concerned with who's starting," Stevens says.

So, what exactly do offensive guards do?

"It's the glue," Stevens says. "We're going to keep everyone together. Guard, you've got to be able to pull around, get to the outside linebackers (to block). We're the double (team). We can either help the center or help the tackle. We push it wherever it needs to go. At guard, we need a firm foundation to keep everyone solid."

• Oregon has its share of receivers, including Thomas and Bralon Addison, and returning starters Daryle Hawkins, Keanon Lowe and Josh Huff.

Asked about receivers, Helfrich mentioned the three returning starters first.

It's important to Lowe, a junior from Jesuit High, that he start again.

"I'm out here competing every day like the job's on the line," he says. "Because it is. It's football, you have to make plays and be on top of your game. It's not high school anymore. You have to compete; every day I'm out there I'm trying to earn my spot. Nothing's given to me."

The Ducks will have ample depth with receiver playmakers; if nothing else, having depth at receiver keeps players fresh.

"We run the most (during the game) in the country in this offense," Lowe says. "It's tough to stay in a drive that goes eight plays. On the eighth play, you're going to be gassed and need somebody to come in.

"I think we're deep, with about eight players who can play. I'm confident with our group."

• Helfrich had high praise for Matt Lubick, UO's new receivers coach.

"Those guys are technically the best I've seen," he says, of the team's receivers. "He's a really smart guy, a great dude, a strange guy. Ask some receivers about his singing at our getaway. Sharp guy. He understands football on both sides of the ball. He's demanding, and good players like that."

ª A lot of players have talked about the maturation of tight end Pharaoh Brown, the 6-6, 240-pound true sophomore from Lyndhurst, Ohio.

Brown agrees: He's a much better player — except when he's shelved with a lower leg injury, as has been the case during training camp.

"I think I'm ready now," says Brown, who had two receptions for 42 yards last year, seeing action in 12 games. "I'm way more caught up with the game. It's way slower now."

Brown played as a true freshman, and "at the moment you feel like you're ready, but once you improve, you say, 'Man, wish I woulda known this last year.'"

Brown has gained about 15 pounds and, as far as mental approach, "I know what to expect," and he understands the offense and his reads.

Brown, who had a boot on his left leg this week, says his injury isn't season-ending — it's not broken — but he isn't positively optimistic. "It's reality," he says.

Brown would get ample playing time, when healthy. The 6-4, 230-pound Mundt, from Modesto, Calif., has been impressive in training camp. But, the starting job belongs to junior Colt Lyerla.

"Who don't like a big, physical tight end who can catch and run at the same time?" Brown says, of Lyerla.