Oregon 2017 Outlook - WRs: Position thin after loss of Jalen Brown

Oregon 2017 Outlook - WRs: Position thin after loss of Jalen Brown

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.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backs; Tight ends, Offensive line

Today: Wide receivers.

Key losses: Devon Allen, after suffering a season-ending knee injury at Nebraska, announced that he would focus 100 percent on track and field and winning a gold medal in 2020. Senior Dwayne Stanford, lost for the year at Washington State, is gone. Redshirt junior Jalen Brown announced via Twitter that he plans to transfer.   

Projected 2017 starters: Charles Nelson, Sr., (5-8, 170), Darren Carrington II, RSr., (6-2, 205), Dillon Mitchell, Soph., (6-1, 195)

Key backups: Alex Ofodile, RSo., (6-3, 190),  Casey Eugenio, RJr., (5-8, 175), Dylan Kane, RSo., (6-3, 195). 

What we know: Carrington's return is good news only if he matures into a leader that matches his talent. If not, he could run into trouble with new coach Willie Taggart's quest to restore discipline to the Ducks. Carrington is super talented and could improve his draft stock with a productive season and a shift in the attitude department. His 43 receptions for 606 yards and five touchdowns (tied) led the team in 2016. 

Nelson contributed 52 receptions for 554 yards and five touchdowns. He should continue to thrive in Taggart's offense.  

After these two...

What we don't know: Remember when Oregon had Carrington, Nelson, Allen, Stanford, Addison and Brown in 2015? That group was stacked with talent. This group? Not so much. At least not with proven talent.

But, let's not forget that in 2014 the Ducks returned the least amount of receiver production in 20 years and then discovered an embarrassment of riches despite Addison missing the season with a knee injury. Maybe that could happen again with the current group of young receivers. 

Mitchell, a four-star recruit in 2016, flashed some open-field running ability as a punt returner late in the season, but he caught just two passes for nine yards. Ofodile, a four-star recruit in 2015, got his feet went last season, but caught just one pass for eight yards. Kane, a three-star defensive back recruit in 2014, moved to wide receiver in 2015 and has yet to make a reception. Eugenio, a walk-on, frequently was listed on the two-deep depth chart also didn't make a reception. 

New receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty has his work cut out for him in the department of developing depth.  It's safe to say that without Brown, the Ducks will need both Mitchell and Ofodile to emerge in 2017. 

Even if they do, the Ducks could still need a freshman recruit, or two, to contribute in order to make it through the season.  The Ducks have received verbal commitments from four-star recruit Jaylen Redd and two three-star receiver recruits, Johnny Johnson III and Darrian McNeal

Final word: The Ducks should be fine at this position as long as they don't suffer serious injuries. Counting on freshmen could be dicey. Best-cased scenario is that Mitchell and Ofodile live up to their potential.  

Position grade: C. The depth enjoyed from 2014 through 2016 is gone and one of the two returning starters has been proven to be unreliable at times. That makes this an average group. For now. 

Next up: Offensive line.

Oregon wide receiver Jalen Brown announces he will transfer

Oregon wide receiver Jalen Brown announces he will transfer

Oregon wide receiver Jalen Brown announced today via Twitter (below) that he plans to transfer after three seasons with the Ducks. 

The redshirt junior stated that he has received permission from Oregon to seek another program to join but also stated that he planned to remain at Oregon until June in order to graduate in three years.

Graduating would allow Brown to transfer to another FBS program without sitting out a season. However, if he waits until June to do so he would miss attending spring drills with his new team, which probably wouldn't help him in terms of earning more playing time with a new team than he would with Oregon in 2017. 

Brown caught 19 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, and also threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darren Carrington. Brown in 2015 caught seven receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman. 

With Devon Allen (injury) and Dwayne Stanford (graduation) moving on, Brown is in effect the team's No. 3 receiver behind redshirt senior Darren Carrington II and senior Charles Nelson.  That pecking order sets up Brown to potentially be the Ducks' No. 1 receiver in 2017.

Former four-star recruits, sophomore Dillon Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile round out the projected top five for 2017.

Without Brown, Mitchell and Ofodile would see increased roles. Ofodile caught one pass for eight yards last season while Mitchell had two receptions for nine yards, but did display skills as a punt returner last in the season. 

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

EUGENE - Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop has played some very good football this season. 

Unfortunately for him and the Ducks, two plays separate him from having already earned legendary status rather than simply being a good quarterback who keeps falling short. 

Prukop, during Saturday's 41-38 loss to Colorado at Autzen Stadium, threw an interception in the fourth-quarter on a horribly underthrown pass to wide receiver Darren Carrington II, who ran a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone. Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted the throw with 48 seconds remaining.  

Two games ago in the final minute at Nebraska, Prukop, with the Ducks down 35-32, rolled right and located wide receiver Charles Nelson open running toward the right corner of the end zone. But Prukop underthrew Nelson and the pass was deflected. The game ended two plays later when Prukop rushed for three yards on a desperate fourth down attempt with 18 yards to go for a first. 

Two would-be winning plays. Two underthrown passes. Prukop leads Carrington to the corner of the end zone and it's a likely touchdown. Prukop leads Nelson and it's also a likely touchdown.

That's how close Oregon (2-0) is to being 4-0. That's how close Prukop, a graduate transfer from Montana State, is to having thrown two game-winning touchdown passes for the Ducks already this season. 

Instead he is left to lament what could have been. 

"It's execution," Prukop said following Saturday's defeat. "People are going to say, "nah, it's not one play. It's the whole game.' But it came down to the last play."

It's a tough situation to be in for a quarterback. They're asked to save the the rest of the team from its collective mistakes while minimizing their own. Bottom line, however, is that they are expected to make big plays. Prukop has made plenty. He has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,041 yards and eight touchdowns with just the one interception. He's also rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown. 

Such statistics, however, ring hollow when a quarterback fails to deliver with the game on the line. 

Some fans and members of the media have criticized the play call on the pass intended for Carrington against Colorado. That's largely unfair.

Red zone fade passes are rarely intercepted because they are pretty safe throws. Either the pass is lofted to the corner where only the receiver can get it, or it goes out of bounds. Another option is to throw the ball with great velocity to the receivers back shoulder so that he must adjust to it while the defensive back can't see the ball because he is trailing the receiver. 

"I thought it was a safe play," Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said of the call on first and goal from the Colorado seven. 

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich supported the call. 

"With two time outs, just trying to get a play off quickly and use all four downs..." Helfrich said "In that situation we're obviously trying to give a playmaker a chance. Hopefully it's a safe ball and that turned out differently."

Prukop said he felt good about the play call. 

"When they called that play I was like, 'we're going to get a touchdown right here,'" Prukop said.

His intent, Prukop said, was to throw the ball high and to the corner of the end zone. 

"I should have put it a lot higher," Prukop said. "Give him an easy jump ball. That's what he likes. Just have to learn from it."

The passing combo, Prukop said, has worked on that play extensively in practice with Prukop laying it up for the ultra athletic Carrington to go get it. On Saturday, however, Prukop misfired. 

"I've got to go see it on film but obviously I didn't put enough juice on it," he said. 

Prukop said he ended up throwing the ball a bit more like a back shoulder pass.

"I've got to put the ball in position where only the receiver could get to it," Prukop said. 

The pass lacked the trajectory or velocity of such a throw and instead turned into a lob pass directly to the defensive back. 

"Throwing it like I did, that's too risky," Prukop said. "I paid for it."

The play left Oregon's players and coaches stunned. The Ducks went from having a chance to win, or at least tie with a field goal, to losing after one errant throw. 

Players and coaches said they would rally around one another to right the ship. At the center of that, Lubick said, is Prukop, who demonstrated great leadership in the face of adversity. 

That ability, plus Prukop's talent, could put UO in position to win plenty of games this season. But there are going to be times where Prukop must make the big throws that so far have eluded him.

"I haven't been through something like this before," Prukop said. "It sucks. Just have to eat it and learn from it. 

Oregon's offense must show improvement vs. Virginia

Oregon's offense must show improvement vs. Virginia

It's somewhat unfair to criticize a team for winning a game by "only" 25 points, regardless of the opponent. 

Nevertheless, that's what happened with No. 24 Oregon following its 53-28 win Saturday over UC Davis, a Big Sky Conference team that went 2-9 in each of the past two seasons. 

The No. 24 Ducks simply didn't look like themselves, or, at least, the past versions of themselves. 

The players and coaches certainly shared that sentiment. UO wide receiver Darren Carrington II, who flexed his talent with seven receptions for 117 yards, said the offense's performance was just "okay."

"We can't go anywhere lower than this," he said. "I think we can only go up. I don't think we even did bad, or anything, I just think we can be a little more efficient on our drives and finish drives instead of leaving open drive and putting the defense back on the field."

In all fairness we're talking about just one game. The Ducks (1-0) could very well show great improvement Saturday night against Virginia (0-1) at home. UO's performance against the Aggies could end up being a meaningless blip on the radar screen of a long, successful season. Or, the team's performance on offense could be the sign of a developing trend that will result in defeats against better competition. 

Oregon gained 522 yards in the game, which isn't shabby. But the Ducks had just 340 at the end of the third quarter before tacking on 182 in the fourth. In years past against FCS competition, the Ducks would have reached the 500-yard mark and at have scored at least around 50 points by the end of the third quarter. Oregon led 39-21 at the end of three quarters on Saturday and finished the game with a modest 21 first downs. 

Keep in mind Saturday's game came against a lower-tier Big Sky team, not the likes of Eastern Washington, which won 45-42 at Washington State on Saturday, and last year lost at Oregon, 61-42.

Take a look at Oregon's performances against FCS competition dating back to 2010. 

2015: Oregon 61, Eastern Washington 42

Oregon gained 731 total yards and racked up 34 first downs. The Ducks rushed for 485 yards on 8.5 per carry and led 54-35 after three quarters. The defense, however, played poorly and that ended up foreshadowing the rest of the season. 

2014: Oregon 62, South Dakota 13

The Ducks led 41-13 at halftime and 48-13 at the end of the third quarter. UO gained 673 total yards with 380 passing and 293 rushing on 7.7 per carry.

2013: Oregon 66, Nicholls 3

The Ducks led 38-3 at halftime and 45-3 at the end of the third quarter. Oregon finished with 32 first downs, 500 yards rushing and had 772 total yards.

2012: Oregon 63, Tennessee Tech 14

The Ducks led 35-7 at half and 56-14 at the end of three quarters. Oregon racked up 28 first downs while rushing for 324 yards and gaining 652 total yards on the day.

2011: Oregon 56, Missouri State 7

The Ducks led 56-7 at the end of three quarters before shutting things down and finished the day with 681 total yards with 416 rushing.

2010: Oregon 69, Portland State 0

The Ducks led by the eventual final score at the end of the third quarter. UO finished the day with 528 rushing yards and 668 total yards. 

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Needless to say, the Ducks have been far more dominant against lesser competition in the past, as the above list illustrates. During that eight-year stretch the Ducks won three conference titles, two Rose Bowls and appeared in two national title games. 

Does this all mean that this year's team simply doesn't have what it takes to become a champion? Not necessarily. But it shows that the 2016 Ducks have a lot of work to do before it will strike fear into the hearts of opponents as recent UO teams certainly did.

A quick look at Virginia:

No. 24 Oregon vs. Virginia

When: 7: 30 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium.  

T.V.:  ESPN

Betting line: UO minus 24.

Records: Oregon (1-0, 9-4 last season), Cavaliers (0-1, 4-8 last season). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (34-8); Virginia's Bronco Mendenhall (99-44, 0-1 at Virginia. Went 98-43 at BYU from 2005 to 2015).

Last week: Virginia Lost 37-20 at home to Richmond.  

Last season: The Cavaliers lost five games last season by seven points or less. But that couldn't save Mike London from losing his job after six seasons. Enter Mendenhall who promptly went out an lost to in-state Richmond, an FCS program. 

Cavaliers impact players: Junior quarterback Kurt Benkert, in his first year as a starter, looked solid in defeat, completing 26-of-34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

Virginia's running game, however gained just 38 yards on 21 carries. Senior Albert Reid is the new starter. He rushed for 360 yards last season.  

Fear factor (five-point scale): 1.  Virginia will bring much more talent into Autzen than UC Davis did but it won't be enough against what should be an improved Ducks team seeking to prepare for Nebraska the following week. If Oregon plays like it did Saturday against the Cornhuskers, the Ducks will lose. Virginia will provide Oregon with a chance to improve before facing real competition. 

Preliminary pick: Oregon, 47-20.

Five musts for Oregon Ducks to contend: 3. WR Darren Carrington Jr. must be special

Five musts for Oregon Ducks to contend: 3. WR Darren Carrington Jr. must be special

The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2016 season with more uncertainty surrounding the program than it has seen since 2009 when former coach Chip Kelly took over for Mike Bellotti. UO went 9-4 last season, the program's worst since 2007 (9-4). This week we will take a look at five things that must go right in order for the Ducks to avoid another 9-win season (or worse), win the Pac-12 championship and contend for a national playoff berth. 

No. 3:  Wide receiver Darrington Carrington Jr. must be special.

The situation: Oregon has had some very good receivers over the years. 

Most recently, Josh Huff, Jeff Maehl and Demetrius Williams stand out among the rest. 

But none were ever that dominant, "you can't cover me," future potential first-round NFL Draft pick that other teams had to fear at all times. 

Carrington, a redshirt junior, has the ability to be that guy.  The Ducks will need him to realize that potential in order to contend in the Pac-12 conference. 

Oregon will be stacked at receiver even after losing Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall to the NFL. Senior Dwayne Stanford and junior Charles Nelson return. Redshirt junior Devon Allen hopes to be completely healthy after not behing quite the same last season. Sophomore Kirk Merritt and redshirt sophomore Jalen Brown have star potential. 

But none are on Carrington's level as an all-around, impact receiver. At least not yet.

Carrington began to blossom as a redshirt freshman in 2014 when over the final four games of the season he caught 18 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns. 

The last two performances came in the Pac-12 championship game (seven receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown) and the Rose Bowl win over Florida State (seven receptions for 165 yards with two touchdowns).  

But just when Carrington's star had risen on a national level, he came crashing back down to earth after testing positive for marijuana during an NCAA adminstered drug test. The results led to a six-game suspension, which included the national championship game. 

Carrington returned to action in game seven of last season and the rest of the way amassed 32 receptions for 609 yards and six touchdowns. 

Over that entire 11-game stretch dating back to 2014, Carrington caught 50 passes for 999 yards and nine touchdowns. 

Fully focused, not entering a season midstream and being highly motivated to raise his NFL Draft stock, Carrington is fully capable of putting up even greater numbers over the course of a full season. 

What he could give Oregon is that true No. 1 receiver that commands being accounted for by the defense as an every-down weapon. Sure, Oregon has had many good playmakers, but most put up numbers by virtue of the offense's ability to create openings. Not to take away from their abilities, but there is a reason Oregon hasn't had a receiver taken in the first round since Ahmad Rashad in 1972 (Patrick Johnson went in the second round in 1998). 

Carrington certainly has first-round ability but his baggage might keep him out of the top two rounds when next year's draft rolls around (Carrington is expected to make this his final season at Oregon). Still, that doen't mean he can't perform like a first-rounder and that makes everyone else in the offense better by being a constant threat. The type of threat where it almost doesn't matter what the defense does, he's going to make plays. 

A potent triplet combination of quarterback Dakota Prukop, running back Royce Freeman and Carrington all meeting their potential would certainly make Oregon's offense a unit capable of leading the Ducks team into contention. 

Now, about that defense...

Next up: No. 4 - Defensive secondary must go from serving up touchdowns to being lock down. 

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