Oregon Ducks

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's coaches are killing it on the recruiting trail. They are Tweeting up a storm complete with the fresh hashtag, "TheMovement18," while using plenty of Emojis, GIFs and photos of Ducks swag in order to appeal to the talented teens they are pursuing.  

So far, the high-energy and social media-savvy recruiting tactics under new coach Willie Taggart have worked well and have fans giddy about the future. Oregon's 2018 recruiting class currently ranks No. 11 in the country, according to Rivals.com. That's coming off of a No. 18 ranking for the 2017 recruiting class, completed last February. 

Just one problem: Where are all of the impact defensive linemen?

I know, I know, it's early. Signing day is nearly nine months away. But let's be clear: All of the bells and whistles and hyped commitment gatherings won't mean squat in the end unless the new coaching staff can make a habit out of landing high-end defensive line recruits. Just ask the former coaching staff whose failure in this department from 2013 through 2016 contributed greatly to a defense that last season ranked 128th (518.4 yards per game) in the nation in total defense and 121st (246.5) against the run during a 4-8 season. 

The defensive line is so depleted with veteran talent that Taggart went out and signed graduate transfer defensive lineman Scott Pagano. The former Clemson part-time starter will instantly become the Ducks' best defensive lineman, if not best defensive player. 

Oregon must sign the Paganos of the world on the front end of their careers, not at the back end. The Ducks are trying. According to 247Sports.com, Oregon has issued offers to 24 defensive ends and 10 defensive tackles. Of those 34 players, 21 are rated as 4-star recruits, or better. However, just one is even listed as being "warm" on Oregon while 17 have either already committed, or are listed as "cool" toward Oregon. 

Here is the overall recruiting situation thus far: 

Oregon's big weekend during the spring game included receiving commitments from six recruits followed up by another on Monday. Five were rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com while 247Sports rated six as four-star prospects.

But zero defensive linemen were included in the haul. 

The Ducks on Friday did receive a commitment from Mohamed Diallo, a three-star defensive lineman out of Arizona Western Community College. He's a nice get. At an athletic 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Diallo could become a good player for the Ducks at nose guard in 2018. But he must be an addition, not the center piece, to what has to be a much stronger class of defensive linemen. 

Taggart made a big splash in his first recruiting go around, but not at defensive line. UO signed three, but only one is a four-star recruit, freshman early enrollee Rutger Reitmaier. He committed to Oregon last June, five months before Taggart took over the program following the firing of Mark Helfrich.

A quick turnaround for the Oregon Ducks will mostly depend on dramatic improvement from the defense, and that will require a head-turning upgrade in play from the defensive line. So give credit to the Ducks for addressing this problem with the addition of Pagano. But the future of the defensive line remains in serious doubt and must be upgraded through recruiting. 

One of the knocks on the previous staff was that they failed to recruit impact players on defense after 2012, especially within the front seven. Under former coach Chip Kelly In 2012, the Ducks signed maybe their best defensive line recruiting class ever with the additions of four-star recruits, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci. Buckner and Armstead both went on to become first-round NFL Draft picks by the San Francisco 49ers. Balducci signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent and is now a center with the New York Jets.

Kelly's final recruiting influence came in 2013 before he moved on to the NFL. That class, which included 13 of 19 players who committed to Oregon under Kelly, ended up with just two defensive linemen: Torrodney Prevot and Doug Brenner. Prevot actually ended up playing linebacker while Brenner played offensive line. Elijah George, a two-star recruit offensive lineman in that class, is now a reserve defensive lineman.

Let that all sink in for a minute.

The Ducks sought to recover in 2014 with the addition of five defensive line recruits. Only one, however, was rated as a four-star player and that was junior college transfer Tui Talia. Of the four three-star recruits, Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks have had the only impact. Both remain tweeners who might be undersized to be more than pass rushers. Eddie Heard, who ultimately played linebacker, and former starter, Austin Maloata, were removed from the team following their respective troubles with the law last year. 

Oregon tried again with five defensive line recruits in 2015. Again, just one was a four-star get. That was Canton Kaumatule, who appeared to have the potential to become the next Armstead or Buckner before repeated injuries and concussions slowed his development. He retired last season.  

The other four signees, all three-star recruits, remain projects. Junior Rex Manu and redshirt sophomore Gary Baker are the top returning defensive tackles. They will now play nose guard in UO's 3-4. Redshirt sophomores Drayton Carlberg and Gus Cumberlander will be competing for time at defensive end. 

UO signed four more defensive linemen in 2016. Redshirt freshman Hunter Kampmoyer and sophomore Bryson Young, a four-star recruit, have shown promise. However, Ratu Mafileo retired due to injury concerns and Wayne Tei-Kirby, thrust into action as a freshman, has transferred to BYU. 

To put all of this into perspective, consider that over the last five recruiting cycles Clemson has signed 10 four-star defensive linemen, including Pagano in 2013, and two five-star defensive linemen.

Oregon, during the past handful of years, did just fine signing players at most every other position, especially on offense. Running backs. Wide receivers. Offensive linemen. Even at quarterback where the Ducks at least signed promising four-star recruits, Morgan Mahalak (2014) and Travis Jonsen (2015). Mahalak has since transferred while Jonsen has yet to meet his potential. But, the Ducks hit big on Justin Herbert in 2016. 

Recruiting at defensive back and linebacker has been mixed, but at least some bright spots exist at those two positions. The defensive backs improved greatly last year over 2015, but a lack of a run defense and adequate pass rush left the secondary hung out to dry.

That all said, the linebacker position also needs an upgrade. Even with Balducci, Buckner and Armstead, Oregon's defense got steamrolled in the national title game by Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. One reason was Elliott's talent, another was Oregon's lack of future NFL prospects at linebacker.

But we've seen and are seeing inroads being made at the second level of defense. Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye is a budding superstar. Commit Adrian Jackson, is rated as the No. 11 outside linebacker in the nation. The 2017 class featured linebacker Sampson Niu, who committed to Oregon last June under Helfrich and was rated as the No. 12 outside linebacker in his class. 

Oregon must match that level of recruiting along the defensive line so that transfers such like Pagano are viewed more as nice additions, such as 2015 transfer center Matt Hegarty, rather than as saviors, like 2015 quarterback Vernon Adams Jr..

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Pagano could be an immediate starter opposite Mondeaux in defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's 3-4 defense. Or, the former Clemson defensive tackle could also play nose guard. Figure he will play all over in different situational packages. 

Pagano's presence will prevent Leavitt from having to depend on a young end or nose guard that might not be ready to stand up to the rigors of the 3-4 defense.

Freshman nose guard Jordan Scott, a Taggart get, turned heads during spring drills with his athleticism and size but shouldn't be relied upon to carry the load in the middle next season. It's likely going to be up to Manu and Baker to get it done inside. 

But Pagano only buys Oregon time. All of the young defensive linemen have time to develop under position coach Joe Salave'a, considered to be a great recruiter. Helfrich's recruits could ultimately pan out. Regardless, the Ducks must move away from waiting for linemen to develop and step into an era of having a revolving door of impact defensive linemen with NFL potential flowing through the system. 

So while it's nice for Oregon that this staff has brought high energy to the recruiting trail and has landed commitments and signatures from promising recruits at many positions, the reality is that unless they can sign some Buckners, Armsteads and Balduccies, the Ducks' future will include more teams padding their offensive stats against Oregon's defense.  

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 it's 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." 

Oregon's QB situation behind Justin Herbert is precarious at best

Oregon's QB situation behind Justin Herbert is precarious at best

EUGENE - If Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert were to go down this season, it's a wrap. Season over. Thanks for coming. See you next year. 

All thanks to Travis Jonsen. 

While most teams would suffer from the loss of its starting quarterback, the Ducks enter this season in worse shape behind their starter than they were from 2013 through 2015. 

The Ducks have five quarterbacks on the roster. Well, one quarterback and four guys wearing red jerseys trying to become collegiate quarterbacks. Things are so precarious that freshman Demetri Burch, recruited as an athlete, is playing quarterback out of sheer necessity. 

Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Marcus Arroyo, when asked to describe the quarterback room simply stated, "minus Justin, inexperience. That's probably the best word."

There you have it. And let's not forget that Herbert is just a sophomore. How bad is the situation? Let's take a look (the following is not exactly a depth chart): 

1. Herbert, a potential phenom and sure-fire future NFL quarterback. 

2. Braxton Burmeister: A true freshman and four-star recruit who by all accounts is not going to be a freshman sensation like Herbert proved to be last season. 

3. Taylor Alie: A senior who played receiver last year and held for kicks after seeing some time at quarterback in 2015 after Vernon Adams Jr. went down with a broken finger. Completed six of 14 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. 

4. Mike Irwin: A walk-on from Lakeridge High School. 

5. Demetri Burch: An athletic, three-star recruit whose high school quarterback highlights consist mostly of running plays. He would likely be playing receiver if not for all of the uncertainty at quarterback. 

"We felt like he was doing some really nice things as a young guy in our room to build some depth," Arroyo said. 

Most teams don't ask a likely receiver to provide depth at quarterback when they already have four quarterbacks in place unless there is a feeling that those quarterbacks are iffy. 

Fortunately for Oregon, Herbert, listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, packed on about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason. Knocking him out of games won't be easy.

But things happen. When Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury in 2007, the Ducks turned to senior Brady Leaf, a very capable backup. But, he went down as well and the Ducks' national title hopes went kaput. 

In 2015, the Ducks endured a rotation of Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie after Adams went down with a broken finger. The results were not pretty. Three of Oregon's four losses came in games Adams did not finish or didn't start. The finale was the blown 31-point lead to TCU in the Alamo Bowl in which Adams left the game with a concussion late in the second quarter.

Oregon hopes that Burmeister will create a situation like the Ducks had with Joey Harrington and A.J. Feeley (1999-2000), Jason Fife and Kellen Clemens (2002-2003), Clemens and Dixon (2004-2005), Darron Thomas and Bryan Bennett (2011) and Benett and Marcus Mariota (2012). 

The 2012 duo was the last time the Ducks had security at the backup quarterback position until last year when Herbert emerged to become the starter with senior Dakota Prukop relegated to backup duties. 

That brings us back to Jonsen. New Oregon coach Willie Taggart hoped the redshirt sophomore would embrace competing with Herbert and remain on the team to at least provide a strong backup. But the former four-star recruit saw the writing on the wall and it read, "Herbert = superstar," so he bounced to a junior college in hopes of latching on to a big time program in the future. 

Jonsen's departure has set Oregon up for potential disaster.  One could also point to redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr.'s decision to transfer during the spring. 

It's tough to keep quality quarterbacks around to sit as backups. Bennett lasted just one year as Mariota's backup before leaving to become the starter at Southeastern Louisiana.

Oregon's 2018 recruiting class is loaded. Missing, however, is a quarterback. Taggart might want to sign two. 

A lot of the predicted doom and gloom depends no only on if Herbert were to get injured by when? If it were to happen later in the season, the Ducks by then might have developed an adequate backup. Although some are saying that Alie is ahead of Burmeister at this point, maybe in two months the freshman would be ready to play solidly within a watered-down game plan.

Justin Roper in 2007 developed nicely over time after Dixon went down and won the Sun Bowl. 

But as it stands now, the Ducks' area of greatest need might be to find someone capable of guiding the ship should something happen to its captain. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart's father, John Taggart has passed away

Oregon coach Willie Taggart's father, John Taggart has passed away

Oregon coach Willie Taggart tweeted tonight that his father, John Taggart has passed away. 

John Taggart had been ill for several weeks, according to Taggart, who flew back to Tampa to be with him prior to Pac-12 Media Days two weeks ago and again last weekend before returning Tuesday for an evening practice. 

Taggart credits his father for influencing his work ethic. John Taggart worked more than 30 years for a Darlene's Shells in Palmetto, Fla.  The company cleans and prepares seashells, starfish, etc., for sale on the open market. He continued to work there despite his son going on to become a highly-paid college football coach.

"If he didn't go to work, he wouldn't know what to do with himself," Willie Taggart, the youngest of five children, said. 

According to Willie Taggart, even after John Taggart was recently admitted into the hospital, he told family that he needed to get to get back to his job because a big shipment of shells were on the way in. 

Willie Taggart worked at Darlene's as a teenager in the summers as his parents, including Gloria Taggart, always stressed the value of hard work.  

"Mom and dad taught me how to work," Willie Taggart said. "That's for sure. That's something my parents always did. They always worked. They never made any excuses about anything. My mom and dad always found a way to put food on the table for us."

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, a close friend and mentor of Willie Taggart, tweeted out the following...

John Taggart, during an interview with CSN several weeks ago in Palmetto, said that he nervously watch Willie Taggart play quarterback as a child because he was so thin. John Taggart would urge his son to run as fast as possible in order to avoid getting injured.

John Taggart was very much looking forward to being in Eugene for Oregon's opening game Sept. 2 against Southern Utah. 

(more to come)

Ducks' CB Arrion Springs' pick for breakout player: "myself."

Ducks' CB Arrion Springs' pick for breakout player: "myself."

EUGENE - Oregon senior cornerback Arrion Springs, one of the more humorous players on the team, didn't hesitate when asked to name potential breakout players for 2017. 

"Myself," he said with a smile. 

Springs then quickly named junior cornerback Ugo Amadi and freshman nose tackle Jordon Scott before slipping "myself" in again and ending with sophomore linebacker Troy Dye.  

It appears that someone plans to have a big year.  

“I have no choice at this point,” Springs said. “Everything has to come together.”

Putting it all together has been a problem for Springs to date. In many ways he has defined the often maddening issues the Ducks' secondary has experienced the past two seasons. At times, Springs has been brilliant, displaying strong cover skills in a Pac-12 Conference loaded with good receivers. Then there's those times when he appears to be lost and blows coverages to give up easy touchdowns. Springs is striving to increase the ups and decrease the downs. 

Senior safety Tyree Robinson said Springs has a heightened sense of urgency about him. 

"I think he has really matured knowing that this is his last go-around," Robinson said. "He's not leaving a lot of plays out there on the field that he wishes he could have had back."

Oregon coach Willie Taggart gave each player a clean slate before evaluating them and said Springs has been impressive.  

"He had a wonderful spring, especially toward the end of spring ball," Taggart said. "He's continued that throughout training camp so far. I've seen a different guy than what I saw on film last year."

When asked which loss last season hurt the most, Oregon State (34-24) or Washington (71-20), Springs answered: "Cal."

“I got scored on twice and I got pulled,” Springs said of the 51-49 overtime loss. “That was the worst day.”

Despite inconsistent play, Springs has led the team with 12 pass breakups in each of past previous two seasons. Making even more impact plays while decreasing the mental lapses is Springs' goal. 

“My mind is right,” he said. “I’m just living in the moment. I don’t have girl issues…so.”

Cornerbacks coach Charls Clark wants to see more consistency from Springs. "That's one thing we've been working on. But he's a smart kid and he understands the game. Great knowledge. He does a good job of being able to play multiple spots and get guys lined up."

Springs said he has been working on his hands. He has just one career interception, a game-clincher in the end zone during a 61-55 triple-overtime win at at Arizona State. He said he hopes that being asked to be more physical in new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's defense will improve his overall game. 

“I can press again," Springs said. "That’s a strong point of mine. I feel like that will help me out.”

Taggart and Leavitt will be relying on Springs to accentuate his strengths and improve on his weaknesses this season. Strong cornerback play will be needed if the Ducks are going to improve much upon last season's 128th-ranked defense. 

If Springs delivers, maybe a career in the NFL awaits. NFlDraftScout.com rates Springs as the No. 14 cornerback prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft. There were 33 cornerbacks drafted this year. 

"Sometimes when it's your last go-around," Taggart said, "you start to put it together knowing that the end could be any time now." 

Ducks OT Tyrell Crosby healthy and hungry

Ducks OT Tyrell Crosby healthy and hungry

EUGENE - Oregon senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby has some unfinished business. 

He wants to leave the program as a winner following a 4-8 season in 2016. He wants to win the Outland Trophy given to the best college football interior lineman.

“That’s a huge personal goal for myself,” Crosby said.

Mostly, he just wants to simply play again after missing 10 games his junior season with a broken foot. 

“Last season was really hard on me,” Crosby said.

Crosby missed the opener, played the second game then was lost for the season in game three at Nebraska. The Ducks were 2-1 at the time before going on to lose seven of their final nine minus Crosby to anchor the line.  

Not able to contribute, Crosby grew as a leader. He watched the game from the sideline, took in information from a coaches perspective and offered encouragement and advice to a line that relied heavily on four redshirt freshmen. 

“It allowed me to grow and see from a different perspective on areas I can improve on whether leadership or pushing myself to find more motivation to be as good as I can be,” Crosby said.

Now back, he finds a stronger line to work with and is ready to be their leader. 

“It’s really nice to get Tyrell back to add that experience,” redshirt sophomore guard Shane Lemieux said. “To see his talent is pretty incredible to watch.”

Once finally health last offsesaon, Crosby aggressively worked on his strength and was able to hit the 500-pound mark in the squat and set the team offensive line by power cleaning 367 pounds, breaking the old record of 363 set by Max Unger. The added power, Crosby hopes, will make him a more dominant player. 

“I love just trying to take someone from point A to point B against their control,” Crosby said. “And hopefully just push them on their back at the end of it.”

Crosby is destined to be a NFL Draft pick next spring. He wants the bridge to that moment to be filled with winning. 

"I want to leave here knowing I did as much as I could to help the team," Crosby said.

Ducks' WR Charles Nelson must be Justin Herbert's security blanket

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USA Today

Ducks' WR Charles Nelson must be Justin Herbert's security blanket

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert will frequently be looking for a reliable receiver he can count on when times get tough this season. A target who will get open on time, in the right spot and make the catch, even tough catches should a pass be a bit off target. 

That receiver will be senior slot Charles Nelson. 

“He can do it all,” Herbert said. “I think we’re going to try to get him the ball as much as possible because he’s one of the fastest guys around. He’s a playmaker.”

Nelson is also the only receiver on the team with a proven track record of success. The elimination of senior Darren Carrington Jr. from the mix following his arrest for DUII - he transferred to Utah - thrust Nelson into the No. 1-receiver role where he must produce and help teach a slew of young receivers. 

“I just feel like I have to be more of a mentor for these guys,” he said.

Nelson's career has come full circle. In 2014 he was the lone true freshman receiver in the mix for playing time on a team with little experience at the position after Bralon Addison was lost for the year with a knee injury during spring practices. Fast forward four years later and Nelson finds himself as the lone senior receiver on a team with little experience at the position. 

Gone are six of Oregon's top seven wide receiver/tight end targets from last season. Nelson finished second in receptions with 52 for 554 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland was 10th with six grabs for 123 yards.

Consequently, the Ducks will rely on the rapid development of sophomore Dillon Mitchell (two receptions last year), redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile (one reception last year), redshirt sophomore Malik Lovette (played cornerback last season), sophomore Brenden Schooler (started 10 games at safety last year, moved to receiver last week), and a host of freshmen receivers led by Darrian McNeal, who had a solid spring. 

Considering that Nelson started eight games at safety in 2015, the Ducks return almost as much collegiate defensive back experience at the receiver position as they do receiving experience. Oregon is hoping for a repeat of 2014 when the team returned just one receiver, Keanon Lowe, with more than 200 yards receiving in 2013.  

That 2014 season turned out just fine. The Ducks saw Nelson, Carrington, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford and Byron Marshall (who moved from running back because of a lack of receive depth) all explode as targets for quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

“Back then Keanon was the only guy with experience," Nelson said. "We ended up being one of the best receiving groups in the country and I feel like we can do that with this unit right here.”

For that to happen, Nelson must set the tone for the younger players on field, in the weight room and the meeting room. 

“Charles has been a great leader for us by showing us how it’s done,” Mitchell said.

Herbert has witnessed Nelson the leader in action: “He’s already done a great job with that. He’s already stepped up and put some of them under his wing.”

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said Nelson has taken it upon himself to act as big brother to the younger receivers. 

“We just told Charles to be Charles,” Taggart said. “We’re not going to ask guys to be more than they have to. With Charles, we didn’t ask him to do anything. I think he’s taken it upon himself to be that guy.”

More importantly, Nelson needs to be that guy Herbert can rely on to make plays.