Oregon returned from spring break with a couple of new receiving options for Justin Herbert.
Freshman tight end Patrick Herbert, the quarterback’s younger brother, took the field in a No. 81 Oregon uniform for the first time Tuesday morning along with freshman wide receiver Mycah Pittman, who was wearing No. 4. Juwan Johnson, a 6-foot-4 graduate transfer from Penn State, watched the receivers go through drills after arriving on campus late Monday night, but the senior wide receiver is expected to participate in UO’s final nine practices of the spring.
Johnson had 79 catches and 1,053 receiving yards during the past two seasons with the Nittany Lions. He will have one year of eligibility at Oregon.
“The good thing is that he has played a lot of football,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “There is a lot of overlap with the concepts he has run there as it relates to our concepts. He is very smart so I don’t think it will be a huge adjustment for him. He knows how to make plays so I think it will be a relatively smooth transition.”
Cristobal shut down any thought that Johnson is the certain starter on the outside to replace Dillon Michell, who led the Ducks as a junior with 75 catches for 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns before declaring for the NFL draft. Mitchell set a single-season school record for receiving yardds.
“We would never ordain someone a position before they had a single play out there,” Cristobal said. “Everything has to be earned. There will be an equal opportunity for everyone to earn those positions.”
The 6-foot Pittman lined up alongside Bryan Addison and Tevin Jeannis with the second unit of an offense that was run by quarterback Tyler Shough during an early portion of practice that was open to the media. Herbert was with the third-string offense catching passes from Cale Millen.
Cristobal noted that the depth chart in the spring accounts for more than just on-field performance.
“We tell guys that since we are not playing games at this time of year, we will assess how you are doing academically and how you handle your business on and off the field and how you are practicing and how you did in the 4th Quarter program,” he said. “If you do not elevate the standard at your position, you are creating room for someone else to get that opportunity. It allows us to get a healthy competition and promote everyone’s best as part of their DNA. Micah took a lot of reps with the twos and did a nice job.”
Junior Jaylon Redd, who had 38 catches for 433 yards last year, is Oregon’s leading returning receiver while Johnny Johnson and Brenden Schooler are the only other wide receivers who had more than 100 receiving yards last season. Cristobal said the arrival of Pittman and Johnson at practice had an impact on the others at that position when the Ducks returned from a two-week break.
“There is a different sense of urgency and you saw that today,” he said. “Bryan Addison went up and made a play, Johnny Johnson and Jaylon Redd too. It heightens the sense of urgency in that room because now there are some numbers. There are some guys who are hungry and prepared and capable of getting some playing time.”
Herbert is at a crowded position that features returning starters Jacob Breeland and Cam McCormick as well as Ryan Bay. Cristobal said Herbert is at about 220 pounds after playing basketball for Sheldon High School, but will work to get closer to 240.
“He’s a talented guy, no question about it,” Cristobal said. “He was playing basketball a couple weeks ago and now all of a sudden you line up and go against Austin Faoliu. Hello and welcome. He did a good job understanding where to go and is very fundamentally sound.”
Kicker Camden Lewis also practiced for the first time Tuesday while cornerback Mykael Wright is expected to debut Thursday. Including Herbert and Pittman, that’s four freshmen who enrolled in classes for the start of spring term to join the six other members of the 2019 recruiting class who arrived for winter classes to participate in the start of spring practice.
“You have new formations, new terminology, new concepts and bigger, stronger, and faster guys to go against, but Mycah held his own today and made some nice plays,” Cristobal said. “You not only have the benefit of practice, but meetings and workouts and getting acclimated to school and getting those credits under your belt, so it is invaluable.”