Oregon 2017 Outlook - QBs: Could Wilson, under Taggart, push Herbert?

Oregon 2017 Outlook - QBs: Could Wilson, under Taggart, push Herbert?

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Today: Quarterbacks.

Key loss: Senior Dakota Prukop started the first five games after transferring in from Montana State, and played quite well, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 1,215 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions. Nevertheless, Prukop proved unable to elevate UO's offense with his play. Still, he should be remembered as a solid quarterback who was placed into an impossible situation. 

Projected 2017 starter: Justin Herbert, Soph., (6-6, 225). 

Key backups: Terry Wilson Jr., RFr., (6-3, 205), Travis Jonsen, RSo., (6-3, 215).

What we know: Herbert is the truth. He has an NFL-caliber arm, great accuracy, deft pocket awareness, is elusive in the pocket, has deceptive speed for his size, is unflappable and gets it.

Herbert took over as the starter in week 6 and in seven starts completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Project those numbers out over 13 games (with a bowl) and you get 3,688-35-6. Those numbers are almost identical to what Marcus Mariota put up in 2013 (3,665-31-4) as a redshirt sophomore while playing on a much better team. 

What we don't know: Herbert could finish his career as at least the second best quarterback in program history. That is, if he remains the starter under Taggart. That is not a given.

There is a chance that Wilson, a better dual-threat quarterback, could push Herbert for the starting job. Wilson, the No. 3 quarterback last season, is a better runner than Herbert and that could play well under Taggart, who just rode quarterback Quinton Flowers to a 19-7 record over the last two seasons at South Florida. 

Flowers, in those two seasons, rushed for 2,518 yards and 30 touchdowns, including 1,527-18 in 2016.  He also passed for 5,097 yards and 46 touchdowns with 15 interceptions over two seasons as the starter. 

If Taggart is looking for a dual-threat quarterback to run his offense then he could lean toward Wilson assuming he improves enough as a passer to close the gap on Herbert in that area. 

However, Taggart did not have a running threat at quarterback while at Western Kentucky for three seasons or during his first two years at USF. And it's not as if Herbert can't run well. He rushed for gains of 273 yards in 2016. 

Taggart's greatest success as a head coach has come with Flowers working his dual-threat magic. This at least raises the possibility that the competition could be intense. 

Final word: Chances are that Herbert remains the front-runner to start in 2017. But spring drills should be interesting when both players will be performing for Taggart for the first time. The side issue is that the loser in this competition could very well transfer.

Speaking of transferring, Jonsen hasn't, yet. Then again, he could feel that a new coach could allow him to get back in the competition after a year that saw him fall from No. 2 to No. 4 during fall camp.  

Position grade: A. Oregon has three legitimate quarterbacks, including one potential superstar. Taggart walked into a great situation at this position. 

Other entries: Running backsTight endsWide receivers, Offensive line, Defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Scrappy > Power. No. 3 Oregon defeats No. 14 Kentucky 4-0 in Rd. 1 Super Regional


Scrappy > Power. No. 3 Oregon defeats No. 14 Kentucky 4-0 in Rd. 1 Super Regional

How Oregon won: On this Memorial Day weekened, the No. 3 Oregon Ducks softball team proved once again why they are one of the best in the nation and one of the toughest at home. Oregon got off to a slow start, just trying to put the pieces of this No. 14 Kentucky team together and getting settled into this Super Regionals atmosphere. But the juice finally came in the sixth inning where the Ducks scored three runs on zero hits. Wait, what? Regardless, the Ducks hot hitting in the sixth inning and solid defense propelled Oregon to a 4-0 shutout and more importantly a 1-0 series lead over Kentucky in the NCAA Eugene Super Regional.

"A good ball game, a pitchers duel," said Oregon head coach Mike White following the game. "I thought it was going to end up a 1-0, 2-0 game, you know you don't see that very much anymore but I thought [Kentucky pitcher Meagan] Prince pitched a very good game, kept us off balance. But we came through with some big hits and of course that last inning we scored three runs without a hit. So that's the definition of scrappy for us." 

What it means: Advantage Oregon. This is a best two-out-of-three series against the Kentucky Wildcats. Winning this first game is crucial, but also no excuse to let your foot off the gas. If Oregon can pull out another win tomorrow, the Ducks will be booking their flights to the WCWS. 

Oregon pitching: Sophomore Megan Kleist started this series off today at 4:05 PM with a strike. The Kentucky batters would have to get use to that all game. It seemed as those Kliest found her groove and her comfortability early and often in this game, a completely different demeanor from last week's regionals games vs. Wisconsin. What a difference a week of practice can make. Kleist would finish the game allowing 0 runs, 3 hits, 0 base on balls, and 8 strikeouts. 

"I thought Megan Kleist pitched the best game I've seen of her career," said White. "So she really picked it up and lead this team out there on the mound."

"We've really been focusing all year on throwing quality pitches and I think that today what definitely my best day," said Kleist. "I mean they didn't have to be strikes but made the batter swing and kind of fooled them a little bit and I think that it showed. It was nice."

Nice indeed.

Oregon defense: The Ducks backed up Kleist to near perfection. The Ducks finished the game with 0 errors. After the game, White explained that Kentucky's hitters don't stay quite for long. The Oregon defense will have to see this consistency through the whole weekend. 

Oregon offense: Definitely off to a slow start, just trying to figure out Kentucky left-handed senior pitcher Meagan Prince. Then finally, the hits started to pour in. Oregon scored in the bottom of the third inning getting back to the Oregon-way: a beautifully placed bunt from infielder Alexis mack, a steal into second, and a RBI single to the outfield from catcher Gwen Svekis. 

"I think we're the best team with two outs right now," said Svekis. "Two outs, I have full confidence that we can still score as many runs as we need to to put the nail in the coffin or to get back into the game. So I think that's our big thing this year is we scratch and we claw and we find a way to get on and we find a way to get them in."

The sixth inning is where Oregon began to "put the nail in the coffin". Oregon found momentum and success in that scrappy offense and finished the inning with three runs, zero hits, and capitalized on one Kentucky error. An important stat to recognize is the fact that all those runs came with no hits. The Ducks got on base by a walk, hit by pitch, and then groundouts and one error from there brought in three runs. 

Up next: Oregon will host Kentucky at 4 PM tomorrow in round two of the Eugene Super Regional at Jane Sanders stadium. 

No. 3 Oregon makes statement in run-rule 9-0 regional win over Wisconsin


No. 3 Oregon makes statement in run-rule 9-0 regional win over Wisconsin

How Oregon won: What a difference playing a team twice means. It was a different story today for the No. 3 overall seed, who played Wisconsin yesterday in a valiant, 6-5 comeback win. Today, Oregon seemed more confortable, had a better read on Wisconsin pitcher Kaitlyn Menz, defensively stood its ground, which resulted in an overall rout of Wisconsin forcing the run-rule to win the Eugene Regionals final 9-0. Wow. 

"A lot less suspenseful," said Oregon head coach Mike White following the game. "Much easier on me... It really puts you in the drivers seat when you have that two-win cushion. You know that got to beat you twice. I don't know if we learned from last year against UCLA but we took the fun out of it early and that was pretty good. Congrats to Miranda [Elish] pitched very well and also had a couple of good hits there... overall a good performance."

What it means: The Ducks now advance to Super Regionals to be played in Eugene. Oregon will face Kentucky next weekend at Jane Sanders stadium. This is huge because the Ducks will get to play another series at home in front of their home crowd and hold a 24-2 home record. 

One Duck who was an offensive threat all weekend long was freshman center fielder Shannon Rhodes who continued to hit well and produce RBI's.

"Pretty much what they've been doing all year for us," said White. "Especially Shannon Rhodes, I give her the MVP ball for our team. I thought she produced all weekend. The first half of the season she struggled a little bit, you know, she I think she was pressing to hard... since that time she has just been making adjustments and really stepping up for us big in that position.

Oregon pitching: Freshman Miranda Elish got the nod today. Elish finished allowing 0 runs, 1 hit, 3 base on balls, and 2 strikeouts. The Badgers had only seen the other Oregon pitchers in the previous game (freshman Maggie Balit and sophomore Megan Kleist), so Elish had that advantage coming into the game. And she capitalized. She got ahead in the pitch count and relied on her defense to back her up. The one hit came from a base-hit up the middle. Elish also contributed on the offensive side as well going 2-for-3 and 2 RBI's. 

Oregon defense: What started up front for the Ducks from Elish, finished with a solid defensive effort from the Oregon infield and outfield. It seemed like every Ducks infielder made several plays at some point during this game. Elish forced the Badgers hitters into groundouts and popflys, and it was an all-out defensive effort from every one. The team only had one error on the day. 

Oregon offense: After seeing Menz pitch the day before, Oregon batters recognized her style early and often. The Ducks poured in four runs in the first inning and five more in the fifth enforcing the run-rule and finishing the game with nine runs, nine hits, and nine RBI's. 

"Me personally, she just didn't throw it for strikes as well as she did yesterday," said Oregon senior infielder Danica Mercado (who went  on Wisconsin pitcher Menz. "Yesterday I felt like she was really commanding it in any count and today she was kind of throwing it a little high, a little low, so it made me able to not worry about it less and just focus on the hard."

Up next: No. 3 Oregon hosts Kentucky in the Eugene Super Regionals Memorial Day weekend at Jane Sanders Stadium. 

No. 3 Oregon puts the rally caps on with 6-5 win over Wisconsin


No. 3 Oregon puts the rally caps on with 6-5 win over Wisconsin

How Oregon won: A roller coaster of events in this round two NCAA Eugene Regional game between the No. 3 overall seeded Oregon Ducks and the Wisconsin Badgers. What started as a huge momentum swing for the Ducks stemming from two quick Badgers infield errors and two Ducks runs, quickly swung in the other direction. A two-run home run in the second from Badgers' senior Chloe Miller and another two-run home run from Badgers' senior Sara Novak completely silenced Oregon and extended Wisconsin's lead to 5-2 heading into the sixth.

But this Oregon team is scrappy. This comeback started with freshman Shannon Rhodes doing Shannon Rhodes things. The freshman, known for her number of RBI's, placed her bunts so accurately and her speed allowed her to safely get to first. A quick steal to second, advance to third on a wild pitch, and a Miranda Elish sacrifice fly lead to Rhodes scoring to close the gap to 5-3 Wisconsin lead. This sparked another momentum swing, this time in Oregon's favor. 

One inning left to go. Two outs already on the board. Ducks' fans biting their nails. But Oregon found a way when hope was dwindling. With runners on second and third, Rhodes came up big. The freshman delivered once again, but this time on a double that lead to two Oregon scores and tying the game 5-5. A solid defensive stance from Oregon forced this game into extra innings. 

"It's like coach Kolaitis said 'probably the most important run was the run in the sixth inning, getting that one run back'," said Oregon head coach Mike White. "It kind of gave us momentum going into the seventh. We were lucky Miranda [Elish] hit a shot to the right fielder and gosh just the way the game works in the last inning she hit a little squibbler and it's a base hit, go figure. But we could feel we were starting to get onto her [Wisconsin pitcher Kaitlyn Menz] at the end there."

A controversial call at the plate is what gave Oregon the 6-5 edge in the eighth inning. Elish was waved into home from head coach Mike White after a base hit into center field. It was a bang-bang play at the plate that was ultimately called obstruction from the Badgers' catcher giving Oregon their first lead since the first inning. 

Oregon pitching: Sophomore Megan Kleist got the start today, but her day ended in the bottom of the fourth inning after finishing on 85 pitches, three runs, two walks, seven strikeouts and one home run. Freshman Maggie Balit, who got the start last night in game one, came in to relieve her. Balit finished aloowing four hits, two runs scored, six strikeouts and one base on balls. 

Oregon offense: Capitalizing on errors, advancing runners, bunt placement, the list goes on for Oregon. At least in the first inning. As Wisconsin freshman pitcher Kaitlyn Menz got settled in, the Oregon bats got quiet and couldn't get the ball past the Badgers infield. 

Oregon defense: The Ducks got off to a slow start defensively with two errors from the infield in the first inning. With the bases loaded of Badgers, Kleist came through with a huge strikeout to end the inning and get Oregon out of potential disaster. Kleist seemed to get more and more comfortable as the game went on. 

"I think in the first couple innings, she didn't have her changeup going," said White on Kleist's pitching performance. "She's effective when she's throwing that changeup for a strike. I thought her pitches were moving pretty well, she just got pitches up in the zone. That's always been her problem and always will be her problem." 

Oregon finished the game with three total errors. Not good.

Up next: The Ducks will face the winner of Wisconsin vs. winner of regionals game 4 (University of Illinois-Chicago vs. Missouri) at 4 PM tomorrow at Jane Sanders Stadium.  

Former Oregon RB Thomas Tyner making comeback with Oregon State

USA Today

Former Oregon RB Thomas Tyner making comeback with Oregon State

Former Oregon running back Thomas Tyner, who left the Ducks' program following the 2015 season, will return to football with Oregon State, his father, John Tyner confirmed today.

The news was first reported by The Oregonian

Tyner, who according to his father is two credits shy of graduating from Oregon, will have one year of eligibility remaining. He played for Oregon in 2013 and 2014 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery prior to the 2015 season. Rather than return to the Ducks in 2016, Tyner elected to retire. 

Now 100 percent healthy and still possessing the speed that made him a state track champion and a five-star recruit coming out of Aloha High School, Tyner, 22, has decided to return to football. 

John Tyner said that the way Oregon wrote the medical retirement paper work made it so that Thomas could not return to Oregon. The irony of him landing with OSU is that Tyner flirted with the idea of going to Oregon State coming out of high school before ultimately honoring his oral commitment to the Ducks. 

"I've wanted to be a Beaver my whole life," Thomas Tyner told The Oregonian.

Tyner last played football during Oregon's 42-20 loss to Ohio State in the national championship game on Jan. 12, 2015.  He was still recovering from a serious shoulder injury suffered on Oct. 18, 2014 against Washington. Tyner returned three weeks later and played well the rest of the season, peaking with a 124-yard, two-touchdown performance during Oregon's 59-20 win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Tyner finished that season with 573 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for 711 and nine scores as a freshman in 2013. 

Tyner's shoulder never healed properly and surgery ended his 2015 season before it began. Six months later, it appeared that his football career had also ended. Now he is back with rival Oregon State. 

The Beavers could have one of the best backfields in the Pac-12 with Tyner and junior Ryan Nall, who last season rushed for 951 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Tyner, a speed back with size at about 210 pounds, will provide the perfect compliment to the bruising style of Nall, who is 6-2, 234 pounds. Nall is hard-charging freight train of a back that rolled over the Ducks for 155 yards and four scores during last season's Civil War victory for the Beavers. 

Nall and Tyner going up against UO running back Royce Freeman and company would make for quite the show during this season's Civil War. 

"He got better and started thinking about returning," John Tyner said about his son. "Thomas basically dances to the beat of his own drummer. He isn't in it for the glory. He just wanted to see what it would be like to finish up his career."


No. 3 Oregon steals the flame from the Illinois-Chicago Flames in 13-0 regionals round 1


No. 3 Oregon steals the flame from the Illinois-Chicago Flames in 13-0 regionals round 1

How Oregon won: In the opening round of the NCAA softball Eugene regional, the Oregon Ducks (48-6) proved once again why they are one of the top ranked teams in the country. The Ducks stole all the fire from the visiting University of Illinois-Chicago Flames (38-21) advancing them into the second round with a 13-0 over UIC in just five innings. Oregon's own freshman pitcher Maggie Balit did not look like a freshman in the slightest under the Jane Sanders stadium lights of her first college regionals. Balit finished the game with a shutout zero runs, two hits, and nine UIC strikeouts. Backing her up was a consistent, defensive force from both her infield and outfield finishing the game with no errors paired with the power from Oregon batters.

"I thought we did a great job out there tonight getting a lot of pressure on their [UIC] defense," said Oregon head coach Mike White following the game. "Maggie [Balit] pitched well, was in control most of the game, just had to make me come out of the dugout just once which is pretty good." 

What it means: What a first game for the Oregon Ducks in their home town. The Ducks defended the jane just as they have done all season long (22-2 home record). Oregon faces a defensively solid Wisconsin Badgers team tomorrow and will need to bring the accuracy and bats once again.

Ducks offense: The bats were red-hot once again for the Ducks. It all started in the first inning when UIC senior starting pitcher Elaine Heflin left the game with an apparent ankle injury. She was replaced with freshman pitcher Allie Trudeau. Oregon scored in every inning and finished with 12 total team hits. Lead off hitter Danica Mercado went two-for-three to lead the Ducks. The fourth inning is where the Ducks sealed the deal with nine runs, five hits, two UIC errors, advancing runners into scoring positions, a UIC pitching change, and a commanding 13-0 lead heading into the fifth. 

"Yeah I think so, it was like watching a new team out there. There was a lot of energy and I thought they were pretty pumped up. I hope it conitues," said White. "It was great to see and it's a lot of fun coaching the team when they're like that. I thought their [UIC] pitching staff wasn't that bad, I thought they threw the ball pretty hard, and we did a great job of hitting the ball."

Something to note, however, is the fact that UIC had four total errors coming off bad throws to both home and first base allowing Oregon to advance and score on several occasions. The Wisconsin Badgers, who Oregon will face tomorrow, did not make those same errors. In fact, none at all. 

Ducks defense: Backing up the Oregon bats, the Ducks defense, lead by Balit at the mound, was consistent in their throws and outfield making goof reads on pop-flys. The Ducks defense finished the game with zero errors, a critical statistic especially this deep into the season. 

Up next: No. 3 Oregon (48-6) faces the Wisconsin Badgers (34-15) in round 2 of the Eugene NCAA softball regionals at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene, OR at 2 PM tomorrow afternoon.

LeGarrette Blount leaves Patriots for Eagles and $2.8 million

LeGarrette Blount leaves Patriots for Eagles and $2.8 million

Former Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount has signed a one-year, $2.8 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, continuing what has been a seven-year career, and marking the second time he has left New England. 

Blount, who had his best season last year with 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns, appears to simply be chasing the money in this case. The Patriots reportedly offered Blount $2.1 million to return to New England. The Eagles' offer guarantees Blount $1.25 million and carries $1.55 million in incentives. 

"LeGarrette Blount is a tough, physical runner who has enjoyed a great deal of success in New England and we are excited about adding him to this football team," Howie Roseman, Eagles executive vice president of football operations, said in a statement. 

Philadelphia released running back Ryan Mathews, opening the door for Blount to become its starter. 

Blount, who has rushed for 5,122 yards and 49 touchdowns over his career, is heading to his fourth team. He began his career in 2010 with 1,007 yards rushing as a rookie with Tampa Bay. In 2012, he lost the starting job to Doug Martin and signed with New England in 2013 when it reached the AFC title game. 

Blount in 2014 signed with Pittsburgh but the Steelers released him during the middle of the season for repeated selfish behavior, including leaving a game before it had ended. 

That turn of events worked out well for Blount, who was scooped up by New England for a second go around that led to the Patriots defeating Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. Blount earned his second Super Bowl ring after the Patriots won 34-28 over Atlanta in February's Super Bowl LI. 

Blount could be a big part of the Eagles' attempts to upgrade their offense around quarterback Carson Wentz, who began last season well before tailing off over the final 10 games of the season. 

The Eagles have already signed wide receiver Alshon Jefferey (Chicago) and Torrey Smith (San Francisco) to upgrade Wentz' targets. 

The battering ram that is Blount should help the Eagles' running game. However, Blount has primarily thrived under the coaching of New England's Bill Belichick and while sharing the backfield with Tom Brady. 



Oregon's Jordan Bell looking for right fit as much as high pick in NBA Draft

Oregon's Jordan Bell looking for right fit as much as high pick in NBA Draft

CHICAGO – It was during an interview with an NBA team this week when Jordan Bell said he became emotional, his past at the University of Oregon haunting him again.

Over two days in Chicago, he was interviewed by nine teams: Detroit, Brooklyn, Washington, Miami, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and the LA Clippers.

One of the teams – Bell wouldn’t reveal which one – showed him video of the deciding plays in the Ducks’ Final Four loss to North Carolina – two offensive rebounds off missed free throws by the Tar Heels in the final seconds, which Bell in a tear-stained postgame interview blamed on himself.

“One of the meetings they had a video of the last two box outs and I got a little emotional just thinking about it again,’’ Bell said. “I don’t think it’s something I will ever get over. It is something that will always be in the back of my mind.’’

If it seems like a cruel exercise to throw at a 22-year-old kid, Bell didn’t take it that way. After the video stopped, Bell said the team asked how he learned from it, how he got over it and what he took from the experience.

Emotional, Bell said he answered like he plays: to the point and with feeling.

“Teams have been trying to get to know me as a person, and see who I am outside of basketball,’’ he said.

What he hopes they discover is a person who has found himself, which he says carries over to the basketball court.

While he says he patterns his game after Golden State’s Draymond Green and Denver’s Kenneth Faried, Bell says he is a defense-first player who will know how to embrace his role at the NBA level.

“I’m not someone who has to go from being a scorer in college to trying to adapt to a new role,’’ Bell said. “The person I’ve been playing in college is exactly the person they will ask me to be in the NBA.’’

That role, Bell figures, should be in demand in this draft.

“I think the need in the NBA right now is definitely defense,’’ Bell said. “Everybody has pretty much been a scoring. I’ve been watching basketball, and getting to 100 was a big thing, now it’s 120, 110. I figure there is definitely a need for defenders.’’

He says he has been studying noted defenders like Green and Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson, and their skills call to his love of the game.

“I just get a thrill,’’ Bell says of playing and watching defense. “I understand blocking shots is, to me, more important than getting a layup. Getting a layup is two points, but blocking shots is minus two points, and you are putting a fear into their hearts. Like, if you are in there, and they miss a layin, you might not block it, but I know I effected it in some kind of way.’’

After the NBA Combine ends this week, Bell says he has workouts scheduled with Indiana, San Antonio, Houston, the Lakers, Utah, Boston, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Golden State, Detroit and Atlanta.

Most mock drafts have Bell projected to be a late first round, early second round pick.

“With me, my main focus is to make sure I go to the right team,’’ Bell said. “I don’t want to go 15th and go to a team that will probably have me go to the D-League or something like that. I’d rather go mid-second round to a team that has a need for what I do.’’

Four Ducks set to workout at NBA combine, follow CSN for coverage

Four Ducks set to workout at NBA combine, follow CSN for coverage

Oregon made a historic run to the Final Four last season and now four key catalysts from that team will participate in the 2017 NBA Draft Combine Thursday and Friday in Chicago, Ill.

Forwards Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher, along with guard Tyler Dorsey, were invited to the annual event where NBA executives and scouts will size up the talents of players hoping to get selected in June's NBA Draft.

The 67 invited players will participate in five-on-five games and go through strength and agility drills at Chicago’s Quest Multisport.

For information on the former Ducks' progress, check back to CSNNW.com for coverage from Trail Blazers insider Jason Quick and follow him on Twitter @JWQuick.

The Trail Blazers have three picks in the first round of the draft? Could one be an Oregon Duck?

NBADraft.net projects Bell to be a late first-round pick, and for Boucher and Brooks to go late in the second round. Dorsey is not projected by the website to get selected.


Oregon basketball receives commitment from 5-star forward Miles Norris

Oregon basketball receives commitment from 5-star forward Miles Norris

Oregon's rebuilding process following last season's run to the Final Four received a huge boost Wednesday when five-star forward Miles Norris announced his commitment to Oregon. 

Norris, a 6-foot-9 forward out of San Diego, Calif., is rated as the No. 21 player in the nation by Rivals.com. 

Norris announced his decision live on KUSI News. 

"It felt like a great fit for me," Norris said. "Outside of basketball, I just love the student atmosphere and the fan atmosphere that they there. The facilities are amazing."

Norris' top five choices were Oregon, Gonzaga, Arizona, UCLA and San Diego State. 

Norris won't join the team until 2018. He could end up playing with 2017 five-star recruit, Troy Brown, who will one of the key pieces to next season's team as the Ducks look to recover from losing seven of their top nine players from last season's historic team.