Jacob Breeland

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. 

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. 

Oregon QB Justin Herbert reacts to loss of Carrington, thin WR depth

Oregon QB Justin Herbert reacts to loss of Carrington, thin WR depth

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert might be the most impacted by the departure of senior wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr. 

But Herbert said he is standing by coach Willie Taggart's decision to remove Carrington from the team following a DUII arrest in the early morning hours of July 1

"I think Darren has moved on and we have too," Herbert said. "We have a lot of great receivers still on the roster, so we're going to get those guys ready and let them make plays."

Carrington would have been the team's unchallenged No. 1 receiver. Now he will look to do damage with Utah after transferring there this week. Taggart warned the team when he took over in December that breaking rules would have consequences. Following through with Carrington, who has a track record of sketchy behavior, reinforced that mantra. 

"I don't know if he was trying to send a message," Herbert said. "He's a man of his word. He's the leader of this team. He's the head guy. We've just got to listen to him because he knows what he's talking about."

Herbert said he is confident in the pass catchers that remain, starting with senior slot Charles Nelson. 

"Charles is going to be a huge name this year," Herbert said.

The man to likely replace Carrington on the outside will be sophomore Dillon Mitchell, who last season caught one pass for nine yards. 

"He's going to be a great receiver," Herbert said. 

Nelson and Mitchell won't hardly be enough. Oregon has a history of seeing receivers get injured. Depth will be a concern unless younger players rise to the occasion. 

"But I think the main focus is getting the younger guys ready," Herbert said. "They gotta get the offense down and just have timing with them and gain confidence with them."

Freshman on the spot will be Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III and Darrian McNeal, who might have earned a spot in the rotation during spring drills after arriving early to campus. Redshirt sophomore Malik Lovette could start now that Carrington is gone. 

"Fortunately we've had enough workouts where I think we have a lot of promising guys," Herbert said. 

Tight end depth will be an issue after losing three seniors, but the starting position should be fine with sophomore Jacob Breeland. 

"I know where he's going and he knows where I'm going," he said. "Just the entire year we've spent has been a huge bonus."

Despite the positive spin, losing Carrington's talent certainly will hurt. But losing the distraction he often brings could prove to be a blessing. 

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 5 - TE Jacob Breeland

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 5 - TE Jacob Breeland

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland.

No other position on the roster could be more desperate for someone to rise to the occasion than tight end. 

Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt all left the program as seniors after combining for 65 receptions last season. 

That leaves Breeland as the lone returning tight end with playing experience. He caught six passes for 123 yards in 11 games last season with a long reception of 63 yards at Washington State.

While all of this might paint a seemingly hazardous situation at tight end, the truth is that Breeland has the potential to become better than all three of Oregon's senior tight ends from last season. He is certainly more athletic than Mundt and Baylis and he is faster than Brown, who lost some steps after suffering a major leg injury in 2014. 

At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Breeland brings good size to the hybrid position that in coach Willie Taggart's offense, much like in Oregon's previous scheme, will align tight at the line of scrimmage, as a wing and flexed out. 

Depth is a bigger problem at tight end than the starter situation. Behind Breeland is redshirt freshman Cam McCormick, walk-on redshirt sophomore Matt Mariota and a bunch of names that remain mysteries. 

Oregon did not sign a tight end in the 2017 recruiting class. 

So as of now, Breeland is the lone guy Oregon can count on, which makes the tight end position a potential soft spot for the Ducks unless he remains healthy. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

 

Oregon 2017 Outlook - TEs: Loss of three seniors opens doors

Oregon 2017 Outlook - TEs: Loss of three seniors opens doors

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: Quarterbacks; Running backs, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Tight ends.

Key losses: Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis all exited as seniors forcing the Ducks to completely reload at this position. 

Projected 2017 starter: Jacob Breeland, RSoph., (6-5, 240). 

Key backups: Cam McCormick, RFr., (6-5, 240), Ryan Bay, RSoph., (6-4, 235). 

What we know: Not much. Breeland, a three-star recruit in 2014 (Rivals.com), caught six passes for 123 yards last season, with a long of 63 yards at Washington State. He certainly appeared to have the athleticism and skills to become an impact tight end, but he remains a mystery. 

McCormick, a three-star recruit in 2016, redshirted and is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster. 

What we don't know: Could a true freshman earn instant playing time? Quite possibly. The Ducks don't currently have a tight end committed to the 2017 class, but will have four-star prospect Josh Falo in town for a visit on Jan. 28, according to The Oregonian

As a side not, Matt Mariota, younger brother of former Oregon quarterback Matt Mariota, has moved from linebacker to tight end. 

Final word: From a receiving standpoint, Oregon should be just fine with Breeland in the lead role. Whether Oregon has a consistent run blocking tight end on the roster might be the bigger concern.  

Position grade: C-minus. There's some talent to work with but zero in the way of proven starting talent.  

Next up: Wide receivers.