The Las Vegas Bowl wasn’t a total bust.
Justin Herbert threw two interceptions and was sacked four times during a subpar performance in Oregon’s 38-28 loss to Boise State, but several of the star quarterback’s young wide receivers showed flashes of potential.
Dillon Mitchell had nine receptions and 143 yards receiving to lead the Ducks in the disappointing 2017 football finale. Brenden Schooler and Jaylon Redd each caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
“I believe if me and Justin stay healthy, it could be a lot of special things that go on,” Mitchell said during spring practice.
Herbert will have four of his top five targets from last season back with more help on the way.
Mitchell led the team with 42 receptions for 517 yards and four touchdowns. The junior moved to the slot position during the spring to fill the void created by the graduation of Charles Nelson.
Johnny Johnson is in better shape entering his second season as a starter after making 21 catches for 299 yards with one touchdown as a true freshman. Schooler had 20 receptions for 274 yards and three touchdowns in his first season after playing safety in 2016.
Redd followed up the bowl performance with a strong spring.
“We’d like more depth, but we had some nice surprises in the spring,” coach Mario Cristobal said. “I like the frontline guys, they’ve done a really good job. Now it’s time for the other guys to step up.”
Daewood Davis, a slender but speedy sophomore from Hollywood, Fla., was one of the stars of the spring game, finishing with three receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought Daewood Davis really showed that he can continue to develop and be a really good player,” Cristobal said. “He has that extra gear. You can’t coach that part of it. I think he came in at 161 pounds. We were surprised when they opened that wind tunnel at the airport it didn’t sweep him out. He’s gained 20-plus pounds. He just works. He’s worked himself into a really good player.”
In addition to losing Nelson, a standout four-year player, Alex Ofodile transferred to Missouri.
Wake Forest graduate transfer Tabari Hines, who had 53 receptions for 683 yards and seven touchdowns last season, plans to enroll at Oregon this summer and take advantage of the lack of depth at receiver.
Hines, who was also being recruited by Texas and USC, told ESPN that Herbert helped lure him to the Ducks.
“The quarterback, he's a great player, he reached out to me and just told me the situation and how important I'd be to the offense and how I can stretch the offense out," Hines said. "The coaches expressed the same thing, how I would be used. The offense really runs through the slot receiver, the position I'll go in to play. But I won't be one-dimensional. I'll play on the outside. The special teams coordinator wants me to be a punt returner and kick returner.
"It just made perfect sense."
Depth does not appear to be an issue at tight end, a position Cristobal is excited about entering the summer with the return of Jacob Breeland, the improvement of Cam McCormick and the move of Hunter Kampmoyer from the defensive line.
“I’m happy about the development of the tight end position. It usually takes about a full year to have those guys in a line of scrimmage and off the ball blocking mentality, regimen, technique,” Cristobal said. “That showed up in the spring. I know that’s nothing that the whole stadium gets riled up about, but as a coach when you’re watching film and that position is effective in the C and D gap, it changes you offensively. That was really good.”
Breeland was third on the team with 320 yards receiving and led the team with five touchdown receptions last season. McCormick and walk-on Ryan Bay also accrued significant playing time.
Another graduate transfer, South Florida’s Dillon Kano, plans to join the competition during fall camp. Four-star recruit Spencer Webb and walk-on Matt Mariota add more depth.
“The tight end position is one I really like to emphasize as a point of progress for our football team,” Cristobal said after the spring game. “Those guys really found a way this spring to work at some of the deficiencies in the run game, as well as the pass game. They had themselves a really good spring. We’re counting on those guys.”
Spring rewind: Mitchell, Schooler, Johnson and Redd established themselves as the top receivers. Jalen Hall, a touted member of the 2018 recruiting class, enrolled early but returned home shortly after arriving on campus. Hall is still on the roster and will be welcomed back by the coaches if he decides to stick with his commitment. Junior Malik Lovette was a limited participant because of injury.
Fall outlook: Incoming freshmen Isaah Crocker, J.J. Tucker and possibly Hall will give wide receivers coach Michael Johnson some more talent to work with. Sophomore Demetri Burch, who spent a lot of his freshman season taking snaps because of a lack of depth at quarterback, will have an opportunity to join the mix during fall camp.
Projected depth chart: WR — Brenden Schooler, Tabari Hines, Malik Lovette WR — Dillon Mitchell, Jaylon Redd, Demetri Burch WR — Johnny Johnson, Daewood Davis, Isaah Crocker; TE — Jacob Breeland, Cam McCormick, Hunter Kampmoyer
Tuesday’s position review: Running backs