Oregon Ducks

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

EUGENE - Oregon cornerback Arrion Springs stepped before a throng of media in front of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex following a practice this week. 

Meanwhile, in the background, fellow-starting cornerback Ugo Amadi made a request of Springs.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled while walking toward the complex entrance to the locker rooms. 

Springs smiled in response but did not oblige.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled again. 

"Shout out to Ugo," Springs finally said with a wry smile.

Ah, communication. Following instructions. Such simple things that sometimes prove to be so difficult. 

That anecdote fits here only because last season, when one Oregon defensive back would shout instructions to another, it would be up in the air whether or not the information would be correct, processed correctly, relayed in a timely manner or even heard and understood.  Substitute Amadi's first request for a shout-out that went unanswered with a coverage call and you have an example of why the secondary contributed to the team allowing 35 touchdown passes last season. 

This season, however, the defensive backs have vowed to improve their communication to it more often matched Springs reaction to Amadi's second request. The No. 24 Ducks (1-0) won 53-28 on Saturday against UC Davis. Although the Ducks allowed 303 yards passing, they came on 47 attempts for a feeble average of 6.4 yards per attempt. Not a bad showing for the secondary. And it all starts with communication, something new defensive coordinator has stressed to every level of the defense. 

“All the way around, our communication has to be spot on,” Hoke said. “If not, we’re going to have a guy who’s out of a gap, or a guy who’s not fitting the run well, or whatever it might be. When we try to communicate, when we try to talk to each other, we’ve got to be really, really on point.”

That point of emphasis, defensive backs coach John Neal said, has resonated throughout the team, especially with the secondary. 

“You have to talk every play,” Neal said.

A lack of communication killed Oregon's secondary last season when they allowed 35 touchdown passes. Players either didn't know what they were doing and how to communicate that, or those in the know did a poor job of relaying information to others. 

On Saturday, the secondary appeared to take a step in the right direction. That started with the defensive backs being better versed on what their responsibilities are from play to play. 

"When you understand more, you can speak," redshirt junior safety Juwaan Williams said. 

Neal said his defensive backs certainly appear to be more confident in their knowledge. 

“That’s a confidence you get when you know what you’re doing and you’re going to talk a lot now,” Neal said.

Even after mistakes, players reacted with affirmation about what they had done wrong rather than confusion. 

“When we did mess up, they already knew what they messed up on,” Springs said.

Speaking of mistakes, Springs and Williams said there were big plays the defense gave up because of mistakes in coverage that must be cleaned up. 

"In some of the plays we gave up, there wasn't communication," Williams said. "So the communication part of it is something we're progressing and working on everyday. "

Neal said tackling still must be improved.

“I figured that we gave about 14 points away last week,” Neal said. “In order to be an elite team, you can’t do it. And we’re trying to be an elite team.”

Oregon hosts Virginia (0-1) on Saturday at Autzen. UVA quarterback Kirk Benkert completed 26-of-34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns with one interception last week during a 37-20 loss to Richmond, an FCS program. 

Certainly not a great showing in a loss, but Benkert does have some skills and Virginia likes to throw the ball around. So the Cavaliers should provide a next-level test for UO's secondary and it's communication skills. 

Ducks beef up DL with addition of transfer Malik Young

Ducks beef up DL with addition of transfer Malik Young

The Oregon Ducks added some depth to the defensive line with the addition of junior college transfer Malik Young, a source has confirmed. 

The 6-foot-2, 280-pound young will compete for playing time at defensive end. Young, a former three-star recruit out of Eastern Arizona Junior College, singed with Missouri in February but was later ruled ineligible because of an SEC transfer rule, according to DuckTerritory.

If Young pans out and senior Scott Pagano, a transfer from Clemson, returns soon from a foot injury, the Ducks could have a solid nucleus at defensive end where senior Henry Mondeaux and redshirt junior Jalen Jelks return. Oregon is also excited about the potential of freshman Austin Faoliu. 


LB Justin Hollins ready to "cut loose" in Leavitt's 3-4 defense

USA Today

LB Justin Hollins ready to "cut loose" in Leavitt's 3-4 defense

EUGENE - When Oregon announced that Jim Leavitt would be the new defensive coordinator last December, the first thought that ran through Justin Hollins' mind was, "what type of defense does Leavitt run?"

When Hollins discovered that Leavitt's scheme of choice is the 3-4 , the next thought that went through the redshirt junior's head was, "what position will I play?"

“I was praying that they would move me (to outside linebacker)," said Hollins, who played defensive end in Oregon's 4-3 defense in 2016. "I can’t do that defensive end thing, in the 3-4 especially.”

Leavitt eased those concerns with a single phone call.

“I got that call and he said I would be playing outside linebacker and I was real thankful,” Hollins said. 

To put it mildly, Hollins didn't much appreciate his lot in life on the Ducks in 2016. No player on Oregon's team, and maybe in the Pac-12, played more out of position than Hollins, a 6-5, 238-pound athletic marvel who fits the mold of former Oregon standout hybrid 3-4 linebackers/ends Dion Jordon and Christian French. 

Hollins was recruited in 2014 to fit that mold. But when Oregon moved to the 4-3 defense in 2016, Hollins found himself at defensive end. He held his own with 51 tackles (27 solo) and finished second on the team with 9 1/2 tackles for loss and had three sacks. But he certainly ran into trouble when battling 290-plus pound offensive linemen. 

“It was hard,” Hollins said bluntly. “It was hard being a little undersized. But I got after it and did what I had to do.”

Playing defensive end in the 3-4, built for 280-plus pound defensive linemen, would have been even more difficult for Hollins. 

"I can't do that," he said. 

He won't have to. Instead, Hollins will be turned loose on the outside where his athletic ability should make him a devestating pass rusher as well as strong in pass coverage.

"He's looking good," UO coach Willie Taggart said. "He's a playmaker. We've got to know where he's at at all times. I've been really impressed with him."

Oregon's defense ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (246.5 yards per game) last year because the front seven offered little resistance. 

Even though Hollins, slowed by injury during spring drills, will move to outside linebacker, he still must improve against the run. Outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie said the last thing he wants to do is allow a linebacker with pass rushing skills to ignore developing the skills needed to play well against the run. 

Woodie, who said Hollins is contending for a starting spot on a fluid depth chart, must play the run first to avoid getting out of position and allowing free running lanes.

"We're teaching him to play the run because we know he has some pass rushing ability," Woodie said. "If he gets that down, he's going to be a force."

Whether it's filling against the run, setting the edge, pass rushing or dropping into coverage, Hollins is simply happy to be playin the position he was meant to play. 

“I’m very excited about that," Hollins said. "I finally get to cut loose a little bit. Have fun with it again."

Oregon baseball coach George Horton extends contract

Oregon baseball coach George Horton extends contract

University of Oregon athletics director Rob Mullens announced today a contract extension for baseball coach George Horton that will run through June 30, 2020.

“We appreciate George’s leadership in building Oregon baseball, and we are excited about the future,” Mullens said.

In nine seasons at Oregon, Horton has resurrected a dormant Ducks’ baseball program and built it into one of the top programs in the country. During his tenure in Eugene, he has compiled a 320-220-1 record (.592) while leading the Ducks to the postseason five times. Over the last six seasons, Oregon has won 234 games, tied for the 15th most in the country.

Under Horton, Oregon made its first modern-era NCAA appearance in just its second season of existence, playing in the NCAA Regionals in 2010. The Ducks topped that effort in 2012 advancing to their first Super Regional and finishing just one win shy of advancing to the College World Series. UO also reached the NCAA Regionals in 2013, 2014 and 2015, winning a school-record 48 games in 2013. From 2012 to 2014, Oregon was one of just eight teams to win 40-plus game in all three seasons

“I’m very happy that we were able to extend our agreement well ahead of the Sept. 10 deadline,” Horton said. “And I’m excited for and eager to start the 2017-18 season so we can continue toward achieving our goals as a baseball program.”

Oregon’s student-athletes have excelled on an off the field under Horton. A total of 29 players have been selected, two in the first round, in the Major League Baseball Draft, with four advancing to the big leagues. Academically, 36 players have been named to the Pac-12 All-Academic team during Horton’s tenure, with five earning first-team honors. In 2017 the team accumulated an average GPA of 3.02 with a 91 percent Graduation Success Rate.

CSN has caught Duck fever Tuesday 8/29 starting at 7pm!

CSN has caught Duck fever Tuesday 8/29 starting at 7pm!

Introducing The Five, a brand new CSN show that offers a roundtable discussion on all things Oregon Ducks. Premiering Tuesday, August 29th at 7PM
The first episode features special guests including:
- Mike Bellotti, the winningest coach in Oregon football history
- Joey Harrington former Oregon and NFL QB
- Gary Campbell, former RB coach for Oregon

Along with Talkin' Ducks regulars Anthony Newman and Aaron Fentress, they will discuss the five greatest Oregon Duck running backs of all-time this episode. Tune in each show to find out what will be discussed next.

Also, don't miss a CSN special Willie Taggart documentary that highlights his rise to becoming head coach of the Oregon Duck football team that premiers after The Five on Tuesday, August 29th at 8PM


Leavitt and Oregon's defense will be judged by stats, not wins

Leavitt and Oregon's defense will be judged by stats, not wins

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is clearly growing tired of being reminded about just how bad the Ducks' defense was the previous two seasons. 

"I don't think about the past," he said. "I'm just trying to get through the day."

Each time the subject of the recent past is brought up, Leavitt reminds anyone within earshot that he doesn't concern himself with what happened before his arrival. He also doesn't want to judge this year's defense by how it compares statistically to the debacles of 2015 (115th in the nation) and 2016 (128th in the nation). 

"Wins," Leavitt said when asked how he would measure his first season with Oregon. "If we play good enough defense to win, get the ball back to our offense. Our offense has a lot of weapons. We need to keep getting the ball back to those guys and let them perform magic."

It's a nice sentiment, but Leavitt's incorrect. He will most certainly be judged by the statistical improvement of the defense, and nothing else. He is being paid $1.125 million per year not to simply help Oregon win games but to build a monster on defense so the Ducks and new coach Willie Taggart can win a national title. 

Don Pellum's defense helped UO win a ton of games in 2014 when Oregon went 13-2 and reached the national title game with quarterback Marcus Mariota and a defense that allowed 23.6 points per game. Leavitt's Colorado defense allowed 21.7 points per game last season, leading to his fat contract with Oregon. 

Oregon won nine games in 2015 - the Ducks would have won at least two more had quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. not been injured - and Pellum got demoted. Why? Because the defense allowed 37.5 points per game. 

The entire coaching staff got fired after last year's 4-8 season, which would have been 8-4 if not for a defense that allowed 41.4 points per game under defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, who wasn't to blame for a unit void of impact talent.

Now, here we are. 

Leavitt took Colorado's defense - loaded mostly with already developing talent he didn't recruit - and got them to improve tremendously in his two seasons there. He should be given ample time to do the same with Oregon, but he most certainly will be judged by his side of the ball's statistical growth. There's no way around that. 

The hype surrounding Leavitt, and the disrespect shown Hoke by many Oregon fans, members of the media covering the team and indirectly by university president Michael H. Schill during Taggart's introduction, mean that the energetic 59-year-old is expected to work miracles. 

If Oregon goes 10-2 but can't get over the hump nationally because the defense is allowing 37 points per game, that will fall on Leavitt while the 10 wins won't matter much. 

It's tough to put a number on what exactly Oregon's defense should look like in Leavitt's first season. But it's fair to expect no more than 33 points allowed per game and a total defensive ranking south of 85. 

If not, Leavitt owes Oregon a partial refund. 


Oregon TE Jacob Breeland might fulfill the promise Colt Lyerla failed to realize

Oregon TE Jacob Breeland might fulfill the promise Colt Lyerla failed to realize

EUGENE - Oregon redshirt sophomore Jacob Breeland isn't allowing an injured right hand to get in the way of playing like the team's best tight end. 

"It kind of sucks but I'm just going to go out there and do as much as I can and play," he said. 

The results have been impressive. 

"He hasn't dropped a ball," UO coach Willie Taggart said, stating that Breeland's protected hand makes it appear like he might be getting ready to participate in the upcoming bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. "So we might let him use that all year long out there."

Breeland's right hand has been wrapped in a cast as a precautionary measure. But the Ducks can't afford for Breeland to take time off. They need him. In a big way. Thin at wide receiver with very little tight end depth, Breeland could end up being one of the team's more vital pieces on offense this season. 

When it's all said and done, Breeland could live up to the promise once showed by former UO tight ends, Colt Lyerla and Pharaoh Brown. Lyerla could have become the greatest tight end in program history but off-the-field troubles derailed his career. Brown came close to equaling Lyerla in ability but overcame maturity issues just in time to suffer a severe leg injury in 2014 that altered his career's trajectory. 

Breeland could accomplish what both Lyerla and Brown did not. He is that guy on this roster and could become the first Oregon tight end to reach elite status since David Paulson in 2011. 

Breeland, listed at 6-foot-5, 241-pounds, matches Lyerla and Brown in size at the same age, and is only getting bigger. He isn't the athletic freak both Lyerla and Brown were but is a better overall athlete than Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt, two quality senior tight ends who last season split time with Brown. 

Breeland has exceptional body control and natural running instincts after the catch. He also doesn't mind sticking his nose into the mix and blocking, something he will be asked to a lot of in a more physical rushing attack than Oregon has employed in previous years. 

Breeland finished the season with six receptions for 123 yards as the fourth tight end behind three seniors he said he watched and learned from. 

"They taught me a lot," Breeland said. "A lot about reading defenses...they just pushed me to be better, basically,"

Good thing, because Breeland stands as the lone tight end with any practical experience. Still, Taggart said he doesn't have much concern about the position. 

"I'm really impressed with all of our tight ends from spring to now," he said. 

The backup is redshirt freshman Cam McCormick, a three-star recruit a year ago out of Bend. Then there are sophomores Ryan Bay and Matt Mariota. 

"Are they where we need them to be? No," Taggart said. "But they are a lot better than what they were when we first started off. And to be honest with you, I feel good about putting any of those guys into the game and running our offense."

Taggart's offense will rely heavily on the tight end position, especially in the running game.

"That's one of the main things we're going to do," Breeland said. "(Taggart) said we're going to run the ball a lot so be ready to block."

Breeland said he has spent a lot of time working on reading defensive fronts, knowing who to block on certain plays and mastering his footwork and ability to gain adequate pad level on defenders. 

South Florida last season, under Taggart, saw its leading tight end - Mitch Wilcox - make just 12 receptions. Oregon's senior tight end trio last year combined for 65 receptions.  

While Breeland said he expects the overall role of the tight end to be different in this offense compared to the previous attack, he still expects to catch plenty of passes. 

"We're having some special plays for us to come open for touchdowns," Breeland said. 

Whatever the role he is asked to play, Breeland says he is ready to perform. 

"I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can," Breeland said. "And if they are going to use me a lot then I'll be there to do my best and catch the ball if I need to, block if I need to and do it all."

He certainly is going to need to if the Ducks' offense is going to succeed. 

Oregon's offensive line could be considered the greatest in program history by season's end

Oregon's offensive line could be considered the greatest in program history by season's end

EUGENE - Oregon's offensive line should be a wrecking crew in 2017. 

When it's all said and done, this group could be considered the greatest in program history. The line's combination of size, strength, agility and tenacity across the board is unmatched by any previous Ducks line. It's so good, that the line could be the unit that transforms the Ducks from fledgling bowl team to one that could actually challenge in the Pac-12 North Division. 

“I think it all starts up front and if there is one position group on this football team that’s very solid and together and I’m really excited about, it’s the offensive line,” UO coach Willie Taggart said.

The Ducks return four redshirt sophomores who saw starts last year.  Center Jake Hanson, guard Shane Lemieux and tackle Calvin Throckmorton each started 12 games. Tackle Brady Aiello saw 10 starts. Most importantly, UO returns senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby, the team's best offensive lineman who missed 10 games last season mostly due to a broken foot. Toss in senior Jake Pisarcik, who played in six games and will compete to start at guard, and senior backups Doug Brenner and Evan Voeller and the Ducks have a loaded group to work with.

“There’s so many guys that we can plug in there and I’ve got complete confidence in all of them,” sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. “They’ve done a great job this offseason and they really know what they are doing.”

They experienced some great lessons last year and came out looking pretty good. Consider that the Ducks, despite running back Royce Freeman have a down season due to injuries, finished second in Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (226.4) and tied for the conference lead with Arizona in yards per attempt (5.5).

Not bad. But there was tons of room for growth. 

“I think we’re going to be tons better," Lemieux said. "Just looking at film from last fall camp to this last spring, it’s just like a total different offensive line.”

Different in size, strength, techniques and smarts. 

The Ducks line has increased its strength and bulk, going from about a 290-pound average to 310. The added physicality will be needed to operate in a new rushing attack. Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal has installed a more physical attack based on what he did as line coach at Alabama and Taggart's schemes. 

Oregon wants to be more downhill in its attack. Straight ahead. Powerful. Tough. They will still get to the edges, which the previous scheme lived off of, but the new attack wants to enforce its will on opponents. The change in attitude takes time to build. 

"We're getting there," Cristobal said. "I wouldn't trade these guys for anything...You see the power...When you have a backfield like we have you can't help be excited to come off the ball and knock people back."

The trick is to build that depth through competition. 

"You can't let them feel comfortable," Cristobal said. "If they played to a certain standard then that standard has got to be higher...You're going to need depth. And you're going to need someone at some point in time to step in, or at some point in time be better than what's being done."

Unity and synergy are also important. Crosby acted as a mentor last year while sidelined. Now he is a leader and likes how the group has gelled. 

“We’ve all really grown together,“ Crosby said.

That, and experience, should lead to better communication. Last year, Herbert, playing as a freshman quarterback, sometimes had trouble communicating checks with such a young line. A season together, and a strong offseason complete with team bonding should make on-field communication more efficient. 

“When we see something that we don’t like we can change the play and we’re all on the same page,” Herbert said. “Last year, just five or six guys coming together that haven’t played much together communication stuff wasn’t great but having a year with them has been awesome. We’re so comfortable together that if Jake says something we know we are all going to follow him.”

Last season ended on a negative note for the Ducks. They led at Oregon State in the second half before the rains came. The passing game went down hill while OSU began to pound its running game at a weak Oregon defense. The Ducks' running game never answered. Oregon won 34-24. 

“There’s obviously some freshman mistakes that shouldn’t have been there by the end of the season” Lemieux said.

But that was then. This is now. 

“Our play has changed a lot," Lemieux said. "Our demeanor has changed a lot. Where last year I can look back and early in the season our strength wasn’t up to par as it should have been. There were some technique issues that shouldn’t have been happening that late in the season. Definitely I think the freshmen mistakes are obviously out the window.”

And that's bad news for opposing defenses. 

Oregon WR Dillon Mitchell must shine

Oregon WR Dillon Mitchell must shine

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell won't be able to shake the weight of expectations this season. Not with his immense talent. Not with the loss of senior Darren Carrington Jr.  And not with the team's need for someone, anyone, to emerge as a major threat in the passing game. 

"There's been pressure put on my shoulders," Mitchell said. "But I'm still just playing the game I love. People can expect a lot from me." 

Oregon's decision to move sophomore Brenden Schooler to wide receiver to bolster depth there could prove to be a shrewd move. But it won't matter much if Mitchell doesn't realize his potential. 

Coach Willie Taggart's dismissal of Carrington from the team following his DUII arrest eliminated that best player from an already thin group. Senior Charles Nelson is one of the premiere slot receivers in the Pac-12, if not the country. After Nelson, UO's returning wide receivers last season caught all of three passes for 17 yards. 

Two of those catches, going for a total of nine yards, belonged to Mitchell, who in 2016 was buried on a depth chart behind a very deep group. Gone are Carrington, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford and Jalen Brown, who transferred despite having a strong chance to start in 2017. 

But while Mitchell, a four-star recruit last season and 17th-rated receiver in the nation, didn't play all that much last season, he did, by all accounts, display elite potential during practices, which was one of the reasons why he didn't redshirt. 

"I’m just waiting on this season to showcase what I’ve always been doing,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell wasn't excited to see Carrington, his mentor, leave the program. 

“When I first got here he was the first person to talk to me,” Mitchell said. “He was the first person to show interest in me. He taught me how to be a college football player."

Mitchell called Carrington, "a big brother."

“He had a lot of mistakes but he also did a lot of good things that people will never see,” Mitchell said.

Carrington was the team's best big-play threat. His combination of speed, ability, leaping ability and ball skills made him unique on this roster. Mitchell possesses similar talents, and, if he develops, could lessen the sting of losing Carrington. 

According to Mitchell, he has spent extensive time working out with Herbert during the offseason to improve their chemistry, and he's been working on fine-tuning the craft of route-running. 

“I want to become a more creative wide receiver and try things that haven’t been tried before,” he said. 

But doing in practice and doing on game days are two different things. Taggart is hopeful Mitchell will be the guy on Saturdays that he's seen in practice. One aspect of Mitchell that Taggart has noticed is coming along is that he is becoming more of an extrovert as his confidence has grown. 

“I think he’s coming out of his shell,” Taggart said. “He was very similar to Justin (Herbert).  Just a quiet guy and go about his business. But now you see him smiling and talking and being excited to go."


Willie Taggart reflects on passing of his father

Willie Taggart reflects on passing of his father

Oregon coach Willie Taggart, speaking to the media today for the first time since his his father, John Taggart, passed away on Thursday, said that his dad will be watching the Ducks from above. 

"I know he's up there watching on a 100-yard screen T.V., HD, watching over us," Taggart said with a smile. "He's going to be proud and cheering the Ducks on."

Taggart learned of his father becoming ill more than two weeks ago and said at Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood, Calif., that he was awaiting medical tests results. Those tests revealed that John Taggart had cancer. Over the  weekend of Aug. 5, Willie Taggart went home to Palmetto, Fla., to see his father before returning to Eugene for practice on Aug. 8.  John Taggart passed away two days later.  

"I got home before my dad passed, which was awesome," Willie Taggart said. "We got a chance to spend some time together." 

Taggart said he would rely on his team to help him through these tough times. 

"It's tough, you know, but it makes it easier when you're around the guys, around the players, having fun with those guys," Taggart said. "I spend time, myself, every morning, talk to pops and be ready to roll."

Senior defensive lineman Elijah George said the team would be there for its coach. 

"We're going to be here to support him," George said. "We all understand how tough it is. We have some teammates lose parents, too. We will be here when he needs us and support him all the way."

John Taggart had a message for his son the final time they spoke. 

"He's always said he was proud of me," Taggatt said. "And I plan on continuing to make him proud."