Jaylon Redd passed an unwelcome anniversary this week.
“I pulled my hamstring the Tuesday before the first game last year,” Oregon’s sophomore wide receiver recalled. “So I am just trying to stay healthy and get to Saturday.”
Redd joins Johnny Johnson III as the lone receivers who played last year as true freshmen and stayed in the program when Willie Taggart left for Florida State. Both are listed as starters along with Dillon Mitchell on the initial depth chart released by coach Mario Cristobal in advance of Saturday’s season opener against Bowling Green at 5 p.m. at Autzen Stadium.
As Redd and Johnson looked back to one year ago when they were preparing to begin their college careers, the two used similar descriptions of then to now.
“It feels real different,” said the 6-foot, 197-pound Johnson, who switched from No. 80 to No. 3 this season. “I’m more experienced and ready to play. Technique-wise, I feel more polished. This year I have a better game plan. Work hard, play hard and win.”
Redd no longer feels like one of the youngsters at the position.
“Fall camp felt way different than freshman year,” he said. “I am more comfortable in the offense and feel like I’ve got everything in tact right now. I know the offense like the back of my hand.”
Johnson ranked third on the Ducks in 2017 with 21 catches for 299 yards and a touchdown. He emerged as one of Oregon’s top deep threats, averaging 14.2 yards per catch.
“Last year, I didn’t really have expectations,” he said. “This year I know the ropes and I’m ready to play. It is just a continual grind every day. You can’t take a day off or you will lose that spot.”
The 5-8, 178-pound Redd was tabbed as the starter at slot receiver ahead of senior transfer Tabari Hines while Johnson is listed in front of freshmen Daewood Davis and Bryan Addison on the outside.
“I think those guys have stepped up and they know they are the guys this year,” quarterback Justin Herbert said of Redd and Johnson. “The role they are going to have to play this year is bigger than last year. They realize it and have done a great job running with it.”
Redd missed the first three games last season with the hamstring injury before making his debut against Arizona State.
“Once the injury happened, I had to sit and fight my way back up,” he said. “At the beginning, I thought it might drop me on the depth chart. Once I got healthy, everything got better and I began to do my thing at the end of the season.”
Redd caught five passes for 59 yards, but had more touches out of the backfield with nine carries for 63 yards. He finished the season with a 12-yard scoring run against Oregon State and an 8-yard touchdown catch against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Jaylon Redd has had an outstanding camp,” Cristobal said. “He is explosive. Last year, he was mostly a rocket sweep guy, but we feel like he has become more of a complete receiver, both inside and outside. We moved him around all over the field and he can handle it. He has been dynamic with the ball in his hands and we expect him to take another step.”
Redd returned one punt last year and is expected to be among Oregon’s kickoff returners this season.
“The best part of those two guys is they enjoy being challenged and being pushed,” Cristobal said of Redd and Johnson. “You can coach them hard and they want that. They want to be in a position where they have to test themselves on a daily basis.”