Josh Huff is in the clear, and he has become Marcus Mariota's favorite target.
Plagued by a DUII arrest, a speeding citation (found not guilty of both in January after numerous delays) a knee injury last season, a stress fracture the year before, Huff has had to fight through adversity throughout his productive Oregon career. Despite missing three games in 2012 he led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns (493, 7). Finally healthy and at peace with the challenges of fame, the media, and playing in the top college football program in the west, Huff seems ready to bust out in 2013 with a career year.
A big-play guy: Huff made a leaping, stretching, one-handed grab on this play in last fall's Civil War. Efforts like these increase a quarterback's confidence in a receiver, knowing he can go to him in a tight spot. (oregonlive.com photo).
"I feel a little bit more comfortable," he told a gaggle of reporters at the spring game after nabbing four passes for 60 yards and two tds, all from Mariota in two quick quarters of work. Indeed, Huff looked the most at ease he'd been in three years of interviews, joking and smiling, showing off a gold phone accessory and a tee shirt that read "Don't Hassle the Huff."
Josh Huff has always played hard. Watch his highlight tape and you'll see second effort, tough catches in traffic, and a devastating stiff arm of Desmond Trufant on the way to a 34-yard touchdown. Watch the highlight tape of any of Oregon's other stars, and you'll find The Huff laying down punishing blocks on the perimeter. Kenjon Barner ran for 1767 yards last season, 21 touchdowns, and on a majority of those magnificent runs, Josh Huff threw a key block. He's a tough and unselfish football player, deeply respected in the Oregon locker room. Receivers coach Matt Lubick says of the senior from Houston, Texas:
He's a leader by example. He's the most physical wide receiver I've ever been around. He tries to destroy the defender. And he's a playmaker as well.
Blessed with 4.4 speed in the 40, Huff has improved his numbers for receptions, yards and touchdowns every season, and he's poised for a big leap in 2013 for a number of reasons. The Ducks want to put the game in Marcus Mariota's capable hands to much greater degree in his sophomore season, and he'll be looking for his gutty, reliable number one target. Huff has played extensively for 3 seasons. with 35 game appearances and 22 starts. He's filled a variety of roles in the offense and returning kicks, understanding as well as any Duck player the Oregon philosophy and what they're trying to do offensively.
He'll get a big boost from Lubick, the Webfoots new receiver coach and passing game coordinator, who turned out two 1,000-yard receivers last year at Duke. The son of long-time Colorado State Coach Sonny Lubick, he's a master of receiving fundamentals who'll help Josh and the other Duck pass catchers to improve their route-running with techniques like the pressure step, improved footwork, driving off the line of scrimmage to create separation from the defender.
The tutoring has to be exciting for Huff, who has the opportunity to not only blossom in his senior year but move on to the next level. Nfldraftscout.com rates the Duck standout as the #3 receiver in the 2014 draft, out of 340 available. At 5-11, 205, he's a strong, fast slotback who's not afraid of contact. A star running back as a Houston prep, Huff runs exceptionally well after he gets the ball. He's a master at getting extra yards, turning a 5 or 8-yard catch into a first down.
C.J. White of the website draftpanthers.com offered this evaluation:
The thing I really loved in Josh Huff’s game is his ball security mentality. He plucks the ball from the air and immediately tucks it away as he explodes up field. Some of Huff’s best traits, balance and vision, are clearly byproducts of his previous years playing running back and returning kicks. He has adequate acceleration and above average top end speed to become an even better YAC (yard after catch) producer.
(Video courtesy of Mike Wines, Oregon Duck Soup and madmike1951)
Huff improved his hands and concentration last season, and the video shows him making some incredible plays in tight spaces. He absorbs contact well, has great strength to the football and body control. He seemed to be coming into his own and developing a powerful rapport with Mariota late last season, grabbing six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns at USC on November 3rd, 5 passes for 109 yards and 3 tds in a night game at California a week later. He had four receptions in the loss to Stanford, five in the Civil War for 62 yards, including that spectacular ball he dove for and tipped to himself.
Josh has grown as a pass catcher in other ways as well. His focus is better. He completes more of the routine plays that used to give him occasional trouble. He's learned to break off his routes and adjust back to the quarterback when Mariota has to leave the pocket and buy time, a refined wide receiver skill that led directly to one of his three touchdowns in the Cal game. The two have developed a trust factor that pays dividends in clutch situations, and Mariota is smart enough not to lock onto one guy.
All of his positive plays and the absence of injuries and controversy finally frees the sensitive, quiet role player to truly emerge in his final campaign as a Duck. The maturation of Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall, Colt Lyerla, Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe, as well as the new presence of explosive freshman Thomas Tyner, means the defense's attention will be hopelessly divided in preparing for Oregon. The Huff will have plenty of opportunities to slip into the back of the end zone, run unimpeded down the seam, and shake, bake and stiffarm his way to extra yards and big plays. He could have the kind of breakout season Jeff Maehl enjoyed as a senior--he's always had the speed and talent; now he has the health, comfort level and confidence.
Dale: On Moseley's farewell post at the RG, someone mentioned you as a worthy replacement for him. I made a mental note to check out your site, and do recall a screen name on the RG similar to your URL. Wow, I love this blog. You're a fine writer, and you know well the Ducks and football. I've spent today catching up on all your great posts. Love the links, highlight vids and scouting comments. I'll encourage others to visit here - my Duck fan son is probably growing weary of all the emails with links to your articles. I finally told him to just bookmark it.
Really enjoyed this one as Huff is one of my favorites. So mice to see him shine last year and look forward to even kore this fall. That reaching one-handed tip to himself was special, as was the KVAL interview. He's coming out of his shell, esp. with that gold handset.
Huge fan of The Huff. Especially since he did that ridiculous juke and score right in front of me at the Stanford game in Palo Alto 2 years ago. I'm not sure the Furd DB has recovered from his broken ankles yet. But I digress, I absolutely agree that this could be an amazing breakout year for Josh. Although I do recognize that he has been hampered a bit by some bad fortune. I'm hoping the juju is finished with him, as he definitely deserves a year where he can bring all of his talents to bear. IMHO, he can be a superstar at the next level too.
JH has everything it takes to become an All-American, if he can stay out of trouble and remain healthy. MM is going to have a lot of talented targets. I expect to see more passing this year.
@rgyle Rgyle, thank you for the incredibly kind words. Really gratified that you like the blog. It's been an incredible journey for me, very exciting to grow as a writer and interact with so many fine people. Special thanks has to go out to Scott Morgan, a Duck grad and longtime fan who serves as a volunteer editor, saves me from my spelling errors and forgotten prepositions.
I'm flattered anyone mentioned me in connection with the R-G job. I swear I had nothin' to do with it. :). What I do here is different from actual journalism; I don't have access to practice, players or coaches and have to rely on secondary sources and research. I try to amplify and comment rather than report, and we strive to bring some energy and make it fun.
The story on Huff was my favorite to do. He's a special athlete who just seems ready to put it all together, and yes, the one-handed catch and the deftly handled interview are successes from which he can draw a lot of powerful inspiration.
Really appreciate your interest and sharing DSH with your son. Part of the magic of sports is the opportunity to pass down our love and passion. I remember times when my old man and I couldn't talk much about anything, but we could talk about football. I'd give just about anything to watch one more game with him.
Also enjoy your frequent repartee with commenters. That takes time, much appreciated, hope it continues.
@goducks58 THAT was a great play, and a back breaker for The Cardinal. Simple curl pattern for a 59-yard TD in a very big game. Shows how explosive Huff can be. He's a tough runner for a wide receiver, exceptional balance and strength.
@duckified Helfrich and Lubick both like the passing game and have had huge success with it at the other stops in their careers. With a talent like Marcus operating the offense, the bevy of targets, and some concern about the running game, it sets up very well to be year the pass plays a bigger role in the offense, especially as teams gear up to stop the zone read plays. Ducks can exploit that tendency with intermediate passes that LOOK like running plays at the snap, similar to the two big catches Colt Lyerla made just before half in the Fiesta Bowl.
Appreciate your comments, always. Probably take 80 receptions, 1200 yards and 14 tds to make an A-A team, particularly with Marquis Lee playing in the same conference. Anything over 50, 800 is a successful year for Josh, especially with the other weapons in the offense. But you are absolutely right, he has the talent and experience to accomplish anything.
@rgyle The "talk about football" reference echoes a scene in "City Slickers" but it is nonetheless true. I would give anything to show this blog to my dad; he passed away in 2005.
@Dale Newton @rgyle Dale, in the short time I have been involved with this blog you have commented on every I have made and that is intensely gratifying because I love to talk about the ducks and I love the fact that I can talk to someone about them! I would love to be a part of something like this. I have written for two year with the Western Oregon Journal (a newspaper for Western Oregon University) and would always feel kind of Guilty if my stories were about the ducks. But this is the perfect setting for people like me where internet research and Oregon Duck football coexist in some kind of harmony!
In terms of Huff, I agree with @rgyle 100% because he had endeared himself to Oregon fans as a play maker as well as a high character kind of guy who works hard for the betterment of the team. He has given the Ducks everything he has the past few seasons and his effort WILL payoff in the end when he begins his NFL career as a WR. I love what he brings to the table and with Coach Lubick's help, he can only blossom in our system, especially with MM throwing him the rock!
@rgyle It's my intention to answer all the viewer mail personally, something David Lettermen would do if he could.
@Dale Newton @goducks58 I'm also tremendously excited that Coach Lubick is a part of the staff. His philosophy and preparation for the Wide Receivers are unmatched in college football, and that is exactly what Huff needs. Look at Connor Vernon, star of Lubick's last team, Duke. Not the most gifted athletically, yet was the only player in the history of the ACC to have more than one year of 70 receptions. Wow. The ACC is a WR factory. Think of the greats in the ACC, Andre Johnson, Megatron, Michael Irvin years back, Demarius Thomas, the list goes on and on, and Lubick's guy was the one who accomplished that feat.
@Dale Newton @goducks58 He's a Wide Receiver that runs and plays like a running back and I love that about him. He's extremely gifted and has run into bad luck a little bit in Eugene. I agree 100% with what goducks said about Huff deserving this final year to break out. This may sound dumb but when I still had a twitter, Josh Huff was one of the people I followed and I always would see his tweets about trying to get better, working hard, putting in the time to try and be the best. He has the attitude and the Physical skills to make him successful and now he has a lights out QB to help him, he is certainly poised to make a big splash.
@rgyle @Dale Newton I'm really enjoying the PAC-12 Network. I have Stanford, USC, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State on the DVR. Loved rewatching USC--what blocking. Stanford, like you said, was flukey, The Cardinal played a good game but man the Ducks were a half note off key all night.
Kind of funny they call it "fall camp," isn't it. Wonder what the players think, being asked about their progress in fall camp when it's 95?
@Dale Newton @rgyle Sounds like you got your dad's football love genes. And although my son and I do talk about a lot of things, it often comes right back to the Ducks (football and basketball mostly, but really any sport), or the Bears, and now the Eagles. Re the replays of games, last month I watched Fiesta Bowl for the 3rd time, USC and Civil war for the 2nd or 3rd time on my DVR. I'll be watching that flukey Stanford game again soon as well. What else to do until 'fall' camp this 'summer?'
God, he loved football. He used to videotape games and watch them three, four times in the off season. Especially loved the 49ers and Joe Montana.
@Mahunashizzle @Dale Newton @rgyle Appreciate it, Mahuna, and keep writing. Bring the passion and energy you feel for Duck football into the work you do at Western Oregon, and good luck with your career. Send me some links sometime; I'd love to read your work.
Duck fans love the Huff, and the consensus here seems to be that he will feeling the love this year. Looking forward to watching a great season from him.
@duckified @Dale Newton @rgyle We'll do the best we can. The great thing is, we're developing a community here and you guys are having some great discussions with each other. I especially like there is none of the message board name-calling and ridicule. I really value civility and dialogue. There's no reason what a sports discussion can't be passionate without vitriol.
@Mahunashizzle @Dale Newton @goducks58 Agree about Lubick--he got tremendous productivity at Duke out of guys who were far less talented than Josh Huff, and Huff, with the effort he makes, has to be very coachable.
Lubick should improve the entire wide receiver corps, and that will put a lot of pressure on defenses, especially with Marcus Mariota throwing the football. He's a terrific talent as a passer, strong arm, good touch, quick feet, poised, intelligent.