Fourth in a series looking at lineup holes that are important even if they don't make headlines.
Everybody is talking about: Take a guess. When a team loses a potential Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, particularly in the sad and embarrassing way the Ducks lost Jeremiah Masoli for the 2010 season, the player who will step into replace him -- senior Nate Costa or sophomore Darron Thomas -- becomes a big deal.
Bigger shoes than you think: Tight end Ed Dickson
Oregon remains one of the conference's most veteran teams, at least in terms of returning starters: Including Masoli, it only lost six starters from its Rose Bowl squad. If things had remained as they should have -- Masoli deciding not to break into a fraternity and steal things -- this would have been about losing defensive end Will Tukuafu. Or maybe kicker Morgan Flint. But Masoli's departure makes Dickson's exit to the NFL even more important. Why? New starting quarterbacks tend to love veteran tight ends, particularly speedy ones who are 6-foot-5. It's a case of, when in doubt in the pocket, find the biggest guy out there wearing the same color jersey (which, for the Ducks, could mean lots of colors, of course). Even for Masoli, Dickson was a prime target, tying for the team lead with six touchdowns and ranking second with 42 receptions for 551 yards in 2009. And with the next quarterback less likely to run, having a variety of targets in the passing game will be critical.
Who's stepping in: Junior David Paulson did some nice things last year as Dickson's backup, catching 12 passes for 185 yards. He's got good hands and is a solid blocker and a better-than-you'd-think overall athlete. Still, a team needs more than one tight end and there are a couple of new guys who could push Paulson for the starting job. JC transfer Brandon Williams arrived in January. He had 56 receptions for 908 yards and seven touchdowns for Joliet Junior College. Also, incoming freshman Curtis White is one of the Ducks most celebrated recruits. He'll almost certainly be in the mix in the fall.