Pads are popping, footballs are flying, and players are making highlight plays on the practice fields in Eugene.
Many of those responsible for the flair we've seen and heard about in spring ball are wide receivers, including Troy Franklin and Dont'e Thornton. As recruits, Franklin and Thornton were both Adidas All-Americans and were ranked inside the top 10 nationally at their position.
With their high rankings come high expectations--both from the coaching staff and the fans. The media hasn't been able to attend practices in person, but there's been no shortage of glowing returns on the Ducks' talented freshmen wideouts so far.
Wide Receivers Coach Bryan McClendon is one of the best in the business, and he's set out to mold them into instant impact players. He has a strong track record, having developed NFL talents like Deebo Samuel (49ers) and Bryan Edwards (Raiders) during his time at South Carolina.
Through just five spring practices, Franklin and Thornton are still adapting to the college game and fans are hoping to see them earn playing time this season. Their position coach has his eyes on certain aspects of their game before as they transition to the college game.
"The biggest thing that doesn't translate from high school to college when it comes to wide receiver play is the ability to be able to beat man-to-man," McClendon said in a press conference with the media. "Those guys are normally so talented and they're so feared--from week in and week out in high school, that not many people are just gonna challenge those guys in man-to-man situations a lot."
Franklin and Thornton were certainly feared in high school. Listed at 6'2", 170 pounds, Franklin glides effortlessly on the field, excelling on tunnel screens and stop-and-go routes.
During his last full season as a prep at Menlo-Atherton High School, he racked up 674 receiving yards and on 43 catches, averaging an impressive 15.7 yards per catch and scoring 9 touchdowns (Stats from Maxpreps). He was also a problem on special teams, ripping off long returns of 50 yards or more and the occasional house call.
Thornton also dominated, ripping through the best competition the Baltimore Catholic League had to offer en route to 1,074 receiving yards, 39 catches, and 16 touchdowns in his junior season.
Like Franklin, Thornton is also a threat to score on every play, but is a bit more physically imposing. Listed on the Oregon roster at 6'5", 185 pounds, he's got absolute burners, and anchored the Mount Saint Joseph 4x100 meters with his 4.4 speed during track season.
With both of these players now in Eugene, they'll be going up against elite talent like Mykael Wright (AP Pac-12 All-Conference first team), DJ James, and Dontae Manning (former 5-star). All of these players have had time to adapt to the college level and were highly-touted prospects in their own right.
"Once you get to college, every critical situation is a man-to-man situation--third down, short yardage, so you get an opportunity to really see what those guys can do early on in those situations every time practice comes around," the wide receiver coach said. "Just because they're typically faced with guys whose abilities match their own."
Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Aaron Feld will ensure their bodies are ready for game day, and McClendon will keep their technique sharp.
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Another aspect that factors into their transition is diving into the playbook, which is likely leaps and bounds more complicated than what they were accustomed to in high school. Their position coach noted that both players have done a great job understanding the x's and o's of Joe Moorhead's creative offense.
"I'm really impressed with how both Troy and Dont'e have been able to come in and they look like a fish in water," McClendon said of their comfort level. "They do a really good job of studying, making sure that they're right on their assignments, that they know what to do and how to do."
McClendon thinks that a firm grasp of the playbook will help turn them loose and reach their full potential.
"I feel like they've come in and been able to be really comfortable in that realm, so now they can just go out there and focus on playing well," he said. "Both of those guys are really coachable, they're really talented--and both of those guys have a really bright future ahead of them."
It's only April 12 and the Ducks have only had five practices. As such, the coach offered his praise with caution, but is encouraged by the fire his young receivers bring to practice.
"It's been really good to see those young guys come in and be able to compete right away," McClendon said of the freshman duo. "Obviously they still have a long way to go."
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