Roll, tight ends.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal hired three new assistants over the winter — defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight and linebackers coach Ken Wilson.
In a more subtle move, Bobby Williams, the special teams coordinator in 2018, had tight ends coach added to his responsibilities.
From 2008-15, Williams wore both hats at Alabama for Nick Saban.
Cristobal was on the Crimson Tide staff in 2015 when tight end O.J. Howard piled up 208 yards and two touchdowns during the victory over Clemson in the national championship game.
Alabama also recovered an onside kick and had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the College Football Playoff title game.
“Bobby means so much to the program and he’s brought so much to the program,” Cristobal said after Thursday’s practice. “The transition has been a great one. His last tight end that he coached was O.J. Howard. He did OK.
“I think he’s going to continually make that tight end position better and better.”
Tight end is an area of strength for the Ducks with the return of seniors Jacob Breeland and Ryan Bay, as well as a healthy Cam McCormick. Two other seniors, Hunter Kampmoyer and Matt Mariota, add even more experience to the unit.
“It’s been good because they’ve taught me the offense,” Williams said. “Cam, having him back has really been an asset for the entire room and really raised the level of competition in there. We’ve got a number of guys that have played a lot of football, and they’ve been very competitive.”
Breeland led the group last season with 24 receptions for 377 yards and two touchdowns. Bay added nine receptions for 74 yards. McCormick won the starting job out of fall camp but suffered a broken leg in the opener.
Redshirt freshman Spencer Webb is pushing for playing time after appearing in two games on special teams.
“He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s put on a few more pounds,” Williams said of the 6-foot-6, 234-pound Webb. “He has improved. Now he’s ready to take the next step.”
Sheldon High early enrollee Patrick Herbert is hoping to get on the field with his older brother, starting quarterback Justin Herbert, this fall.
“He can catch the football,” Williams said of the younger Herbert, who enrolled for the spring term at 6-5, 220 pounds. “It’s a little overwhelming because he’s playing a position where you have multiple responsibilities. You have to literally be an offensive lineman at times because you have to get in there and block with the tackle. He has to be a receiver.
“So he’s learning quite a bit about playing the tight end position in the college game. But he’s done a good job jumping right in there.”
Cristobal said the Ducks will not do any tackling on special teams during Saturday’s spring game at Autzen Stadium. Williams said it’s still an opportunity to see how the kickers perform in front of a crowd.
With 11 newcomers participating in spring practice and the remainder of the 2019 recruiting class set to arrive this summer, Oregon will have more depth and talent to work with on special teams.
“You can see from the practices that they’ve really lifted certain positions over the course of the spring,” Williams said. “With the rest of the class coming in, it’s only going to make us that much better.”
Williams joined Cristobal’s staff last year after collecting five national championship rings in 10 seasons at Alabama. He was the head coach at Michigan State from 2000-02 and also has NFL coaching experience with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions.
“Bobby has coached for a little bit,” Cristobal said. “When you speak with Bobby, what you get is a genuine professional with a high level of passion and just a wealth of information that makes people better. Our players love him because of the way he presents himself, the way he connects with them.”