Oregon Duck football fans, giddy from nationally ranked recruiting success the past year, will have a chance to see some of the highly rated newcomers Saturday in the program's spring football game at Autzen Stadium.
Coach Mario Cristobal has firmly established Oregon’s national recruiting effort to the point that the Ducks have lured away recruits from established powers such as USC, Florida State, Alabama and others. Several of these young players, including the most highly rated recruit in the nation, defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), have shown this spring they will have an immediate impact.
Another newbie, Miami transfer D.J. Johnson (6-5, 270), is an outside linebacker with speed and athleticism to give the Duck defense a boost to what was an anemic pass rush last season. Also, watch the inside linebackers and you’ll see that three-year leading tackler Troy Dye is no longer the only linebacker who can fill a gap and run down ball carriers.
Cristobal turned to a new defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos, whose pressure defense at Boise State completely stifled quarterback Justin Herbert in the Las Vegas Bowl two years ago. The defense will stem (shift positions) before the snap and attack the offense with defensive linemen slanting after the snap, and blitzing by linebackers. The defense has given the offense fits all spring with a philosophy of attacking rather than continually adjusting to offensive thrusts.
More names have surfaced in the race to establish dependable wide receivers, a severe weakness last season. One receiver commented that he learned more in two weeks with the new receiver coach, Jovon Bouknight, than he had in the previous two years. This gives hope an underachieving group will break out and flourish for Herbert’s senior season.
The kicking game has been inconsistent, both punting and placekicking. Adam Stack, who has been injured, will duel with freshman all-American Camden Lewis for field-goal kicking honors. The lack of a dependable field-goal kicker put severe pressure on the offense last season and, if not corrected, greatly limits the Ducks’ potential for winning close football games.
The big question remains (and will not be solved Saturday) is whether Cristobal will make full use of the immense talents of Herbert, who has been tabbed by pro scouts as the best quarterback in the country. That he could not earn honorable mention by opposing Pac-12 coaches speaks to the manner in which the Ducks squandered his talent last season. Herbert’s potential is the difference between Oregon contending or wallowing in third or fourth place in the Northern Division.
Check the play calling Saturday. Is there any evidence of creativity or rhythm?
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.