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.  

Ducks impressively land commitments from six recruits over weekend

Ducks impressively land commitments from six recruits over weekend

Updated, 12:36 p.m.:  On Monday afternoon, Oregon received a commitment from a seventh player in three days. 

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Oregon is coming off of a very successful weekend and it had little to do with the outcome of Saturday's spring game

The Ducks hauled in commitments from six recruits with five coming from four-star rated prospects, as rated by Rivals.com and 247Sports

The commitments give Oregon seven for the 2018 class, which is ranked No. 13 nationally by Rivals and and No. 15 by 247Sports. 

New UO coach Willie Taggart had a strong start to recruiting to Oregon after taking over in December and ended up with a 2017 class ranked No. 18 by Rivals. 

The hot start to the 2018 class could just be getting started. Oregon had dozens of recruits in for visits over the weekend and has been very aggressive in making offers to top-end recruits across the country. 

Headlining this current group of signees is Lake Oswego offensive lineman Dawson Jaramillo. Taggart said his goal is to lock down the top in-state recruits and he just landed his first. 

Monday afternon, athlete Jevon Holland committed to Oregon to give the Ducks seven commitments in three days. Holland, given three stars by Rivals and four by 247, chose Oregon over Notre Dame and Holland. He is expected to play safety. 

Holland gives the Ducks six four-star commits for 2018. The Ducks landed nine in the 2017 class. 

Here is the list of the players that committed to UO over the weekend:

Isaiah Bolden: Defensive back, Zephyrhills, Fla. - Rated as the 16th best cornerback in the nation by Rivals. Bolden had offers from Florida and Florida State. 

Dawson Jaramillo: Offensive lineman, Lake Oswego - The four-star recruit is rated as the 19th best offensiv tackle in the nation. 

Adrian Jackson: Linebacker, Denver, Col. - The four-star recruit is rated as the 11th best outside linebacker in the nation. 

Steve Stephens: Defensive back, Fresno, Calif. - The four-star recruit is rated as the 9th best safety in the nation. 

Jamal Currie-Elliott: Running back, Durham, N.C. - The four-star recruit is rated as the 5th best all-purpose running back in the nation.  

Spencer Webb: Tight end, Sacramento, Calif. - The three-star recruit is has received offers from California and Oregon State. 

 

Oregon Spring game: Herbert and Team Free win 34-11

Oregon Spring game: Herbert and Team Free win 34-11

Team Free 34, Team Brave 11

How Team Free won: For starters, Team Free had quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for touchdown passes to lead his team to the win Saturay at Autzen Stadium. 

While it's unfair to judge a quarterback competition based on a spring game, the fact is that the sophomore, who started seven games last season, appeared to be vastly superior to Team Brave's quarterbacks, redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen and freshman Braxton Burmeister

Herbert threw two touchdowns in the first half. The first went for 13 yards on a throw to senior receiver Darren Carrington II that ended a 75-yard opening drive for Team Free. 

In the second quarter, Herbert found Carrington for a 30-yard touchdown to make the score 14-3. 

On the other side, Jonsen had a couple of highlight plays in the first half. He escaped pressure and then flipped a pass into the left flat to redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James for a gain of 19 to the Team Brave 47. Later, Jonsen threw deep down the left sideline to sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell for 44 yards to the Team Free 30. That set up 36-yard field goal from redshirt freshman kicker Zach Emerson.

But other than that, Jonsen wasn't very impressive. He misfired on a couple of passes and had a deep ball intercepted when Team Free senior cornerback Arrion Springs snatched the ball out of the sky and fell to the ground at the 16. 

Burmeister flashed some serious running skills and certainly has a quality arm, but he also looked like a freshman. In the first half, he threw too early on a pass to senior receiver Charles Nelson, the pass was tipped and intercepted by freshman defensive back Billy Gibson.  

Herbert went 16 of 26 for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Jonsen was 5 of 15 for 86 yards with one interception. Burmeister was 3 of 7 for 63 yards and was sacked four times. He did rush for 57 yards on 

The game was limited to 24 minutes of running clock in the second half. 

Top performers: Brook-James gained 71 yards on 18 carries in the first half but was banged up on a pass play when Burmeister hung him out do dry on a deep ball and Springs hit him as the ball arrived. 

Brooks-James returned to action and in the fourth quarter scored on a one-yard run. He finished with 84 yards rushing and caught three passes for 43 yards. 

Freshman wide receiver Darrian McNeal caught four passes for 54 yards for Team Free.

Punter Blake Maimonte averaged 45.2 yards on four punts with a long of 49. 

Mitchell had three receptions for 75 yards for Team Brave. 

Carrington had three touchdown on four receptions for 116 yards. 

Royce Freeman rushed for 43 yards on 12 carries and a 1-yard touchdown for Team Free.

Plays of the game: Senior running back Kani Benoit, who finished with 105 yards on five carries,  took a hand off in the third quarter, cut left to open field then turned it up before crossing at an angle to the right side of the field to finish off a 95-yard socring run for Team Free to make the score 28-3. 

In the fourth quarter, Herbert heaved a deep pass down the right sideline toward a well-covered Carrington. But he leaped over the defender to haul in the pass for a 44-yard gain to the 17-yard line. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 5 - Coaching staff's "juice."

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 5 - Coaching staff's "juice."

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 5: The coaching staff's "juice."

Oregon coach Willie Taggart requires his assistant coaches to bring "juice" to the party. 

Translation: Coach with infectious enthusiasm that energizes and inspires the players to want to get better. 

Practices are filled with dozens of moments of coaches reacting excitedly to great plays and strong effort put forth by efforts. 

They aggressively pat guys on the helmet, give them shoves, jump around like little kids and scream and yell with words of encouragement and affirmation for a job well done. 

The "juice."

"We'll always have fun," Taggart said. "It's football. We've got to have fun doing it. It's work, too. We're going to work. We're going to challenge our guys. We're going to coach aggressively. But we're going to have fun while we're doing it. I don't like being boring. We're going to have fun while we're doing this. I think sometimes we take it too seriously where we don't go out and have fun."

The coaching staff is split for the spring game with half of the team coaching Team "Brave" and the other half coaching Team "Fire." Given that there should be a good crowd at Autzen Stadium, and it's the first big event for this staff at Oregon, one would assume that energy and emotion could be high. 

Expect to see a bunch of coaches being quite animated on the sidelines. 

 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.; No. 3 - Search for WR depth; No. 4 - DL Jordan Scott. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 3 - Finding WR depth

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 3 - Finding WR depth

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 3: Oregon searches for wide receiver depth. 

We know senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II has elite talent. We know that senior Charles Nelson makes defenders look silly in the open field.

We also know that beyond those two we know very little about the rest of the crew.

Wide receiver is a legitimate area of concern for the 2017 Oregon Ducks. It's not an area worth panicking over, however. Not yet, at least. The Ducks have been in worse situations on paper like in 2014 when the top returning receiver was Keanon Lowe at 233 receiving yards the previous year and No. 1-wide receiver Bralon Addison was out for the season with a knee injury.

That potential problem worked out just fine with quarterback Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman Trophy by throwing to previously unproven targets, Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford, Lowe, Carrington and Nelson.

Three short years later and only Nelson and Carrington remain leaving the Ducks to search for their next batch of elite pass catchers. Oregon hopes they are already on the roster. 

Sophomore Dillon Mitchell, who scored two touchdowns in last year's spring game, is a potential star loaded with talent. Redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile, injured all spring, was a recent four-star recruit. But he is out with a foot injury. 

Then there are the serious wild cards. Freshman Darrian McNeal, a three-star recruit who enrolled early enough to be on hand for spring drills, has the open-field moves of Nelson minus the elite speed. Malik Lovette, a converted defensive back, has also shown positive signs during spring. 

"He's done some nice things for us," Taggart said of Lovette. 

Lovette actually went to Oregon as a receiver in 2015 before switching to cornerback during fall camp. He ultimately redshirted before entering the 2016 season as a potential contributor. That didn't quite pan out and Lovette now finds himself back on offense, where the Ducks certainly need receiver depth. 

Oregon will also welcome in a handful of freshmen receivers in the fall. 

But it's safe to say that Taggart would like to see a couple of the young guys show something on Saturday. Then again, that can always be taken with a grain of salt. As previously stated, Mitchell scored on two spectacular touchdown grabs during last year's spring game but did virtually nothing during the regular season. 

Still, a few flashes of potential from the youngsters would be better than none at all. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 2: It's time to see what the hype surrounding freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. is all about. 

Oregon freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. seemingly has adjusted well to college football, at least as far as practices go. 

The 2017 recruit, rated as the No. 12 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, enrolled at Oregon early enough to participate in spring drills and immediately began turning heads.  

Oregon coach Willie Taggart has raved about Graham's ability to make plays and his love for the game. Junior cornerback Ugo Amadi said Graham reminded him of when he burst onto the scene as a highly-touted freshman in 2015. Senior cornerback Arrion Springs said Graham has been tremendous and is certainly better than he was as a freshman. 

Then there were these comments from senior safety/cornerback Tyree Robinson: "Thomas Graham has set himself apart form everyone else so far. He's just a competitor. Just from day one, he hasn't backed down from anybody. We just love that toughness."

We've been down this road before, however, with Oregon defensive backs. Early hype, then reality sets in. It's probably best to let Graham fly under the radar for a bit, especially in the Pac-12, typically loaded with strong passing teams. 

But while it might be wise to temper expectations for the young cornerback, it could still be fascinating to see glimpses of what his teammates and coaches have been raving about. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is the start of five reasons why you should care. 

No. 1: This is quarterback Travis Jonsen's chance to show what he's really about. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart has insisted that a quarterback competition exists. 

Redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen insists he is a different player than the one who fell from No. 2 to No. 4 last fall. 

If both opinions are true, let's see some fireworks on Saturday, Mr. Jonsen. 

In all fairness, this is about the time when he should be coming into his own. Seeking instant success often leads to unnecessary disappointment for players such as Jonsen, who went to Oregon in 2015 as the No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation.

Jonsen, who will start Saturday at quarterback for Team "Brave," redshirted in 2015 and didn't play at all last year. No shame in any of that.

Now, finishing up his third spring at Oregon with two falls behind him, Jonsen is older, wiser and more mature. He also remains quite talented. 

The problem for Jonsen is that while he was maturing, the Ducks seemingly landed another quarterback savant just two seasons after watching Marcus Mariota, the greatest player in program history, ride off into the sunset with a Heisman Trophy. Sophomore Justin Herbert rose from unheralded recruit to starter last year as a true freshman and then passed for 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions over seven starts. 

Herbert is a big obstacle between Jonsen and becoming Oregon's starter. So much so that Terry Wilson Jr., last year's No. 3 quarterback as a true freshman, decided to transfer this spring. 

Jonsen is in a very awkward position. He could end up becoming a really good quarterback but never become UO's starter unless Herbert goes to the NFL after his junior season leaving Jonsen as the starter in 2020 as a redshirt senior.

Or, Jonsen must beat out Herbert now and take over the offense.

That scenario remains a possibility, according to Taggart, who ultimately has the only opinion that matters. 

But for public consumption, it would be nice to see Jonsen on Saturday play like a quarterback capable of pushing Herbert.

On a side note, we will also get to see freshman Braxton Burmeister in action. The 2017 4-star recruit who enrolled early, is the backup to Jonsen on Team "Brave," and will surely see some action. 

Herbert is quarterbacking Team Fire. 

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert goes all Joe Namath before spring game

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert goes all Joe Namath before spring game

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert laid down a bit of a prediction for the Ducks' spring game, which will be played at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.   

Herbert, who went No. 1 overall to Team Free in the spring game draft, dropped a few names of players on his team. They include senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II and senior running back Royce Freeman. Essentially, the Ducks' best three offensive weapons from last season are on the same team.

Team Fire should score plenty of points. But will it win the game?

"Yeah," Herbert said while barely cracking a smile. "We'll win."

Team Fire is being coached by special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie while safeties coach Keith Heyward will head Team Brave, to be quarterbacked by redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said he likes to see the players get a little trash talk rolling but also wants them to focus on the main goal of the game. 

"Once everything happened and the teams were picked, you start to hear guys talking a little bit of trash about the game and what they're going to do," Taggart said. "You hear coaches talking a little trash. It's all fun and dandy but we also want to get better."

Taggart said he hopes to see a lot of plays being made by his young team after four weeks of installing a new offense and a new defense. He also wants to see which players will rise to the occasion in a game atmosphere. 

"I'm excited to see our team go out and actually play in front of people," Taggart said. "I've always said, 'the spotlight does strange things to some people.'  Some people show up and show out. Some people hide. We want those guys that are going to show up and show out. The guys that are going to hide, we probably need them to stay in the locker room."

Herbert, the odds-on favorite to be the starter next season, said he likes how the team has progressed during spring drills, especially after everyone became more comfortable within Taggart's offense. 

"I thought we did a lot of good stuff near the end," he said. "I think we started slow."

As for the game, Taggart recognized that Team Fire might appear to be a bit loaded. But, he added that he doesn't believe that means they are going to win. 

"(Fire's roster) looks stacked but the best team usually wins, not the best players," Taggart said. 

 

Oregon cornerbacks Arrion Springs and Ugo Amadi vital to an improved defense

Oregon cornerbacks Arrion Springs and Ugo Amadi vital to an improved defense

EUGENE  - Oregon senior cornerback Arrion Springs intercepted a pass thrown by sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert during the team's scrimmage Saturday at Jesuit High School and began to run it back. 

Alas, he said fatigue prevented him from taking the pick all the way to the end zone, plus he couldn't resist making contact with a good friend in pursuit - wide receiver Charles Nelson. 

"I should have cut it back but I was too tired," Springs said following Monday's practice. "Then I saw Charles so I had to take advantage of the opportunity to stiff-arm him."

By all accounts, Springs is taking advantage of opportunities this spring to finally reach his potential. The same could be said about junior cornerback Ugo Amadi. They'd better because each is staring the future of the position in the face, and that future could be now. 

Oregon freshman corner back Thomas Graham has received great reviews during spring practices from players and coaches. He indeed sounds like he is going to be an impact player. Yet and still, he alone can't change the fortunes of UO's much-maligned secondary and defense. 

For that to happen, the Ducks need Springs and Amadi, who have shown flashes of elite ability, to finally live up to the hype under new coach Willie Taggart.

For both, it's about being more consistent in everything they do on the field. Springs has gotten himself in trouble at times by not staying in the proper coverage and/or losing proper technique.

"Be more consistent, trust my technique a bit more and just make more plays on the ball," Springs said. 

Amadi has experienced similar setbacks. Consequently, both have been in and out of the starting lineup during their careers. 

Helping both improve, and the entire secondary for that matter, is the employment of two defensive backs coaches. Charles Clark handles the cornerbacks while Keith Heyward is coaching the safeties. It's a departure from having just one, John Neal, who coached the defensive backs for 14 seasons with mostly great success. 

Having two secondary coaches, Taggart said, should improve overall techniques and communication in the secondary. The first benefit is greater emphasis on technique by position. 

"Coach Clark is really good at focusing on, like, press techniques, so we've gotten a lot better," Springs said. "I feel like, individually, I've gotten a lot better than last year."

Communication problems in the past often led to some defensive backs simply not knowing what they were supposed to do in relationship to the rest of the secondary leading to blown coverages. 

Springs said defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is taking care of that problem. 

"He's putting a spotlight on guys so they can't just sit and hide anymore," Springs said. 

Amadi said communication has improved greatly because awareness has increased. 

"First off, you've just got know what you're doing before you can communicate," Amadi said. "When you know something, be confident in what you say."

Defensive players, Amadi said, know that they had better know their assignment if they want to play. 

"Now we have people dialed in who want to learn the playbook and want to get on the field," Amadi said. "Coach Taggart's thing is that if you don't know what you're doing we can't put you out there."

That brings us back to Graham. Physically, the four-star recruit and No. 12-rated cornerback in the nation coming out of high school, has been impressive, according to Taggart. Nevertheless, Graham still has a lot to learn, just like Springs and Amadi did as young players.

Both veteran players see the great potential in their younger teammate. 

"He's good," Springs said. "We've got to keep him calm at times. He gets a little ahead of himself...He's a lot better than I was my freshman year." 

Said Amadi: "He kind of reminds me of myself, coming in hot. You've just got to keep it rolling, be confident in yourself and keep making plays."

If he does, and Amadi and Springs finally reach their potential, the Ducks' cornerback situation could be the least of UO's problems on defense next season. 

Spring notes: Taggart reflects on scrimmage, talks daily grades and coaches learning

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Spring notes: Taggart reflects on scrimmage, talks daily grades and coaches learning

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart and his team returned to work Monday two days after holding the first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday at Jesuit High School in Portland. 

Review of video from that performance left Taggart both encouraged and still recognizing the long road ahead for a team that went 4-8 last season.

"We made improvement but I still feel like, 'oh Lord we still have a long ways to go,'" Taggart said.

And that's okay. Taggart didn't expect more than what he saw from his relatively young team that's in the process of learning new systems all the way around. 

"We don't expect to be where we want to be right now," Taggart said. "We still have seven more practices after today and then we have training camp to get ready for a game."

The scrimmage demonstrated the Ducks' talent levels but also their inadequacies that must be corrected.  

"We made some plays, we made some bad plays, we had some penalties," Taggart said. "We tackled some guys. We missed some tackles. Pretty much everything you would expect from a first scrimmage. You're going to have some ups and downs. But I thought, after watching it all, there's a lot of good things we can learn from and coach off of."

And that, in a nutshell, is what spring football is about. 

"We have a lot of work to do," Taggart said. 

Daily grades: Players are receiving daily grades from coaches on their performances and can review a daily depth chart that can prove to be both encouraging and disheartening. The end game is to illustrate cause and effect. They are daily reminders that every thing they do will be reflected in their grade and spot on the depth chart. 

"We always want our guys to know where they stand," Taggart said. "You ask these guys to go out and work hard every single day and to not give them something they can read and hang their hat on is not right. If we're gong to have a moving depth chart then I think it's only right that you grade them each and every day. That way guys know where they stand each and every day and know what they need to improve on."

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Travis Jonsen said quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo has given him As, Bs and Cs so far this spring.

"All across the board, really," Jonsen said. 

Players seem to like the daily feedback.

"That helps us out so next time we come out here we don't make the same mistakes," Jonsen said.

Backup QBs making plays: Taggart said he's been pleased with the playmaking abilities of Jonsen and freshman Braxton Burmeister, both trying to hunt down returning starter, sophomore Justin Herbert.

"It's been pretty good to watch Braxton and then Travis make plays with the 2s," Taggart said. "I think whenever you can go out and make something happen with the backups, you've got something going. I shouldn't say it's easy, but it's a little easier to go out and do it with the starting guys. But when you can go out and make some plays with guys that aren't on the starting group, I think that says a lot about you."

Coaches still learning: Oregon's new coaches are learning daily along with the players they are coaching. 

Only two assistants, running backs coach Donte Pimpleton and special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie, came to UO with Taggart from South Florida. That means the rest of the staff is in their first spring with Taggart and thus must put on their student's caps just like the players. 

"So often we talk about the players, but as coaches as well," he said. "A lot of these guys weren't with me at USF so our coaches are learning what we're trying to do from a practice standpoint."