By Rob Moseley
You don’t play as a true freshman unless you’ve got a preternatural blend of talent and maturity. You also don’t play unless the need exists at your position.
For a handful of Oregon freshmen, the perfect storm of talent and need exists. Five true freshmen are listed on the pregame depth chart for the Ducks’ 2013 opener against Nicholls in Autzen Stadium on Saturday at 1:05 p.m.
“In the back of your mind it’s always, ‘What if I played my freshman year?’” tight end Johnny Mundt said. “That’s always the dream. You’ve got to be realistic, but in my case I’ve got my shot, so I’m really excited.”
Mundt, a former four-star recruit from Modesto, Calif., enters Saturday as the Ducks’ backup tight end behind Colt Lyerla. One true freshman, Matt Wogan, is listed as a starter, on kickoffs. Right tackle Cameron Hunt and SAM linebacker Torrodney Prevot also made the two-deep, and Tyrell Robinson is the No. 3 MIKE linebacker.
A couple of other freshmen in the class, like running back Thomas Tyner, cornerback Chris Seisay and receiver Devon Allen, look like they have the potential to help the Ducks this season, too, though perhaps not right out of the gate.
None has a chance to play earlier than Robinson, a linebacker whose twin, Tyree, plays safety. Robinson has practiced recently with Oregon’s first-team kickoff and kickoff return units. No matter how the opening coin toss goes Saturday, Robinson is in position to possibly be on the field for the first play of the game.
“When we first got in, they told us, ‘If you’re a freshman and you want to get on the field, special teams is the way to go,’” Robinson said. “So I just tried to bust my butt on special teams. And my hard work paid off.”
Should the Ducks kick off, it figures to be Wogan sending the ball down the field to the Nicholls returner. The big-legged kid from North Carolina also has been competing to be the Ducks’ field-goal kicker with veteran Alejandro Maldonado.
Maldonado has helped Wogan handle the up-and-down nature of preseason camp, the freshman said.
“There’s definitely been pressure, but I’ve limited it to taking it as not necessarily a bad thing, but good pressure,” Wogan said. “If I need to make a kick, I need to make a kick.
“All the clutch periods they’ve put us through, the first one I did horrible. And then the next one I did better, and the next one I did better. Every day I’ve just tried to make a progression and try to improve on something.”
Daily improvement was Mundt’s goal as well. He’s received more practice reps than expected due to the lower leg injury to Pharaoh Brown. But Mundt wouldn’t be listed as the backup to Lyerla for Saturday had he not made the most of those reps.
“The best thing I’ve done is just learn something new every day,” Mundt said. “Always moving forward, never taking a step back. If I do make a mistake, I want to learn from it. And every day picking something to work on, where I can just build on it. …
“I got a lot of reps, so I got a lot more time to learn and go through the plays first-hand, and not just watching them on the screen or watching other guys do it. It’s so much more valuable. When you do it in the meeting room with coaches, everything looks good on a white board. But when you actually see it in front of you, and you don’t have as much time to think it through, that’s when you really get things imbedded in your brain.”
In order to get himself up to speed, Prevot has been studying as much video as possible of former UO drop end Dion Jordan, the No. 3 pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Prevot hopes to contribute on special teams Saturday, and also in passing situations, where he can show off his specialty: getting to the quarterback.
“Pass rush, that’s one of my biggest deals,” Prevot said. “I know I can pass rush pretty well. I know our O linemen are the best, so it’s good to go against them and learn more.”
If Tuesday’s practice was any indication, Prevot will indeed have an impact rushing the quarterback. He gave Oregon’s offensive linemen fits in pass-rush drills, holding his own against the likes of all-America candidate Jake Fisher.
But Prevot’s most encouraging moment Tuesday might have been later in the day, during an 11-on-11 period. He dropped into coverage and swatted at the ball to break up a pass, a necessity from his SAM linebacker position, but not something Prevot has done much in the past.
“I’ve never covered before,” he said. “So this whole thing was brand new to me. These past few months, learning from the older guys, staying after practice, they’ve taught me a lot.”
Come Saturday, Prevot should have the chance to show off what he’s learned in a game, as a true freshman.
“I’m kind of nervous, honestly,” Prevot said. “I hope to do well.”