The University of Oregon football program dodged a major bullet two weeks ago when head coach Chip Kelly revealed in an 11th
hour decision to remain in Eugene as head of the Ducks rather than making the transition – as seems the trend amongst former Pac-12 coaches as of late (see: USC’s Pete Carroll and Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh) – to the National Football League with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Not only did Kelly’s decision provide a resounding testimony from the pulpit of the Pacific Northwest that Oregon is determined to remain a dominant power for the foreseeable future within both the Pac-12 and current BCS system, but also helped to secure a second-straight highly regarded signing class featuring some of the most outstanding prep talent in the country.
The effect of Kelly’s remaining with the University of Oregon cannot be overstated, and is the subject of an article released by Addicted to Quack
this past Saturday.
Writes the author of the piece:
Recruiting rankings are fun to look at but widely acknowledged as an inexact science. Boise State, Wisconsin, TCU, and Oklahoma State rarely recruit Top 25 classes, yet all four teams have been inside or near the Top 10 end of season rankings over the last several years. All four teams are credited with having innovative coaches who “coach up” their talent. The same can be said of Oregon, who has finished in the Top 5 in the country at the end of the season the last two years with classes of players who were not as highly rated as players at schools like Miami, Texas, UCLA, and Notre Dame. ESPN look at this phenomenon when it re-ranked Oregon’s 2008 class (which didn’t make its Top 25 at the time) as the #2 overall class behind Alabama. Clearly, coaching matters.
Of course, notes Addicted to Quack’s contributor, “class rank and recruiting analysis are not irrelevant,” with “research indicating that the more 4 or 5 star recruits you sign, the better their chances at developing into elite players.” And such thinking remains important for both Kelly and the University of Oregon, as, states the article, “Oregon’s last two classes … are now combing elite level recruits with elite level coaching,” with the end result being “Oregon is knocking on the door and recruiting players that are not only highly regarded by pundits, but who also fit their scheme perfectly.”
The Ducks Class of 2012 appears no exception to the rule, with this year’s grouping quickly coming to be identified by the acquisition of what many believe is one of the best up-and-coming prep defensive ends in the country, Arik Armstead.
Armstead, a 6’7”, 280-pound youngster out of Elk Grove, California, comes to Eugene not only an All-American at his position, but, writes the Sacramento Bee
, “a Top 5 national recruit, No. 1 in some circles, because of his size, athleticism and terrific upside.”
Also described by the Bee as the “all-time No. 1 Sacramento-area recruit in this sport – more than tailback Kevin Willhite of Cordova in 1982 when Willhite was the National Player of the Year by five publications and went to Oregon,” Armstead originally figured to end up a lock for the University of California, but was swayed by a last-minute visit by Kelly and staff to his home after Bears defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi left to join Steve Sarkisian’s staff at the University of Washington.
Some questioned whether a similar scenario might develop when Kelly’s name emerged as a leading candidate to take over the Buccaneers, and Armstead acknowledged as much, telling the Bee Kelly would not guarantee he would remain the coach of Oregon throughout Armstead’s entire college career. Still, stated the defensive end, Kelly’s “honesty and candor” was refreshing. “I liked that,” the Bee quotes Armstead. “So many coaches say different things or they say bad things about other programs. I’m really happy with my decision. Oregon’s a great school, a great program. I think I’ll really fit in there.”
There are some knocks against Armstead, the primary one being surgery had on a tender rotator cuff last fall that left Armstead healthy for only one-quarter of his senior season at Pleasant Grove High School. Yet, says head coach Joe Cattolico, Armstead insisted on playing both along the offensive and defensive lines despite the injury, playing “120 or so snaps each Friday night, and practices.” “I’m no math major, Pleasant Grove’s head coach concludes, “but that’s a big number.”
Kelly also made a splash at tight end with this year’s recruiting class, furthering extending a long tradition of excellence at the position by adding Evan Baylis. A 6-5, 225-pound youngster out of Aurora, Colorado, Bayless posted 33 catches for 456 yards and six touchdowns while a junior for Grandview High.
Grandview head coach John Schultz, talking to The Oregonian
, says the Ducks will be getting “one of the best players we’ve had come through Grandville High School,” with Bayless “a tremendous athlete who loves contact and just so happens to catch the ball very well.”
Given the depth and talent currently present at tight end in Eugene, there is a possibility that Bayless could be moved to the defensive side of the ball, The Oregonian writes. That is something, notes Bayless, he “wouldn’t complain” about, however, though, ideally, there is little doubt the 4-star recruit hopes to follow in the footsteps of former greats at tight end for Oregon such as Ed Dickson and David Paulson.
Hard as it is to imagine given the presence of backs such as Kenjon Barner and freshman phenom in 2011, De’Anthony Thomas, the Ducks also earned a written commitment from running back Byron Marshall, who many believe will contribute immediately upon his arrival on campus.
A 5-10, 195-pound ball carrier who averaged 9.38 yards per carry and scored 46 rushing touchdowns in his senior year at Valley Christian in San Jose, California, Marshall earned a name while playing in – get this – a Wing-T oriented offense.
Making the leap from the Wing-T to Oregon’s spread, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian
, very well could be compared to “trading in a 10-speed bicycle for a space shuttle,” but, says the charismatic Marshall, “I like [the Ducks] style of offense, the way they spread people out and use backs in multiple ways. It’s a really good system for me.”
A self-described combination of former Ducks tailbacks Jonathan Stewart and LaMichael James, Marshall adds, “I just think I’ll bring another very solid back to the school. With LaMichael leaving I feel like I have the power and speed to replace him.”
Interesting side note on Marshall – older brother Cameron Marshall just completed a career at tailback for Arizona State, where his career rushing totals exceeded 2,100 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Jake Rodrigues of Rocklin, California graduated from Whitney High School in December and enrolled at the University of Oregon in January in order to get a jump on learning the ins-and-outs of Kelly’s system at quarterback.
A 6-3, 210-pound passer who threw for 2,036 yards and 26 touchdowns while also adding 684 rushing yards and 15 additional scores on the ground as a senior, Rodrigues is currently recovering from a broken fibula suffered Nov. 22, but, writes The Oregonian
, could easily factor into a race to replace Darron Thomas under center this spring currently expected to pit Bryan Bennett against redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.
Says former high school head coach Mike Gimenez of Rodrigues, “[He] just makes throws that most guys can’t. He makes throws up the seam on a line that other kids simply can’t make. He makes throws on the run, off balance, he can throw the deep comeback, the deep outs. He can do it all.” “There’s not many guys like him around,” Gimenez adds. “The way he works and the physical gift he has makes him special. He’s a very big kid, fast and blessed with a rocket arm. And he’s a natural leader.”
Sticking thematically with what has been a clear pattern of signing athletic players who combine speed and skill with versatility, Oregon also should gain a great deal from the addition of Bralon Addison, former quarterback at Hightower High School in Houston, Texas who helped lead his program to an appearance in the states Class 5A Division I championship game as a senior last fall.
A former verbal commitment to Texas A&M, Addison surprisingly flipped his decision to sign on with the Aggies last week in favor of traveling to Eugene, where Kelly has already said Addison, recruited as a wide receiver, will likely see playing time at more than one position on offense, this according to Sean Meagher of OregonLive.com
The 4-star standout will be joined by 6-3, 191-pound former Oklahoma State verbal commit Chance Allen, a 3-star prep recruit described by AutzenZoo.com
as a “solid possession receiver who is capable of getting the ball at its highest point,” and the state of Ohio’s Dwayne Stanford, a 4-star Army All-American who rejected the chance to play for Urban Meyer at Ohio State after posting 32 catches for 720 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior at Taft High School in Cincinnati.
The Ducks defensive secondary was also a key area of focus for Kelly and his coaching staff during this past recruiting season, with Oregon seeking out and obtaining written commitments from 6-2, 185-pound Reggie Daniels, a 4-star safety ranked 16th
in the nation by Rivals.com, and twin cornerbacks Eric and Stephen Amoako out of Arlington, Texas.
A critical, though oft-overlooked need for the Ducks was also filled as Kelly nailed down junior college transfer Dylan Ausherman, a punter who, while playing at College of the Sequoias, garnered the attention of big-time college football programs, including, writes the Visalia Times-Delta
, current national champion, the University of Alabama.
There are plenty of other names which could be included in this review – players like outside linebacker Brett Bafaro of Hillsboro, Oregon and defensive ends Alex Balducci of Portland, Oregon and DeForest Buckner of Honolulu, Hawaii – that deserve mention.
All said and done, though, Oregon, according to Brian McLaughlin of the Sporting News
, ended up with the 21st
best recruiting class in the country, joining five other Pac-12 programs – Stanford, USC, UCLA, Washington and Calfornia – in the Top 25.
With 21 total commitments – three of which gained notoriety being included on the ESPN150 (Armstead, Marshall and Addison) – Oregon gained netted no 5-star recruits, but came away well-balanced with a combined 16 4-star / 3-star recruitments – a collection which left ESPN
’s Ted Miller ranking the Ducks with the second-best class in its conference behind Southern California, and with a grouping that sets up Oregon “nicely to enter the national title chase” once more in 2012.