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.