The senior starter is expected to be out 6-to-8 weeks following surgery
There is a good chance the Schooler brothers will be on the field together again for the last time as Pac-12 rivals when Arizona plays Oregon on Nov. 16 at Autzen Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, Brenden Schooler, one the conference’s most versatile players, is expected to be out for about two months with a foot injury suffered over the weekend.
The 6-foot-2, 197-pound senior wide receiver and special teams standout underwent foot surgery Monday. Schooler was absent from Tuesday’s practice, the fourth of a critical fall camp leading into the marquee opener against Auburn.
“Brenden hurt his foot and he hurt it pretty good,” coach Mario Cristobal said. “He had a procedure done (Monday). It will probably be six weeks optimistically, eight weeks realistically, before he’s back.”
If the rehabilitation timetable is accurate, Schooler could return for the Pac-12 opener Sept. 21 at Stanford. More likely, he will be cleared for the Oct. 5 home game against California, which follows a bye week.
In the meantime, wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight and special teams coach Bobby Williams will have to replace Schooler’s experience and production.
Schooler, who had been running with Justin Herbert and the No. 1 offense early in camp, had 21 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown last season. The former starting safety was also credited with seven tackles on special teams.
“If you watch his production on special teams, it is mind blowing,” Cristobal said of Schooler, an all-Pac-12 first team selection for special teams the past two years. “He’s in on every tackle, he’s a tremendous blocker. We’ve worked him as a returner as well, that’s how valuable he is.”
Junior Johnny Johnson replaced Schooler with the first-team offense during the portion of Tuesday’s practice open to the media. Penn State graduate transfer Juwan Johnson and junior Jaylon Redd were the other starters.
The second team offense included redshirt freshman Bryan Addison, true freshman Josh Delgado and true freshman Mycah Pittman. Delgado was in the same flanker position Schooler had been playing and that Johnny Johnson lined up in.
“The ways these guys have rotated, they’ve gotten equal reps across the board,” Cristobal said. “Johnny has done a good job, Jaylon has done a good job, obviously Juwan, Mycah, Josh Delgado. We feel strong about the way they position has developed. I hate to limit a guy to a certain position right now.
“People are going to push because of the way they’re playing and the opportunity that has presented itself with an injury.”
Herbert was already looking for a new go-to receiver after Dillon Mitchell led the Pac-12 with 75 catches for 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns before leaving for the NFL following his breakthrough junior season.
Redd is the top returner from last year’s 9-4 team after catching 38 passes for 433 yards and five touchdowns. Johnny Johnson added 17 receptions for 215 yards and four touchdowns.
Juwan Johnson, a 6-4, 231-pound senior, had 54 catches for 701 yards as a sophomore at Penn State in 2017 before transferring to Oregon following a junior year when he had 25 catches for 352 yards.
“He's an exceptional athlete,” Herbert said of his big new target. “He's a guy that came in immediately, got the offense down, great guy on and off the field, and he's going to make some big plays.”
The competition at wide receiver is critical for an offense that returns all of the starters from the Redbox Bowl except for Mitchell.
Oregon receivers dropped 52 passes in 2018.
“You can harp on them, you can beat kids up, but at the end of the day you’ve got to instill confidence,” Bouknight, entering his first season on Oregon’s staff, said during the spring of his approach to correcting the issue. “At the end of the day, these kids play in an elite program, one of the best in the country, and so they got here for a certain reason.
“Obviously the coaching habits, that’s my part. I’m going to keep coaching them on the small, minute details, but you’ve got to install confidence.”
The touted 2019 recruiting class is expected to enhance the special teams units as a whole. It may take several players to fill in for Schooler during his absence.
“We do have a lot of bodies now and certainly for the first time in a while now we do have 85 scholarships operating,” Cristobal said. “Everybody is getting a look. We do have some really athletic, long body types that can run. And they have a great mentor to be coached by as well, and some great film to watch.”
Schooler, a hard-hitter and the team leader with four interceptions in 2016, has 41 receptions for 477 yards and four touchdowns over the past two seasons. He had a chance to compete against his brother, star Arizona linebacker Colin Schooler, in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s always in the back of my mind, ‘When is Oregon coming down or when are we going up to Oregon?’” Colin Schooler said last year. “Not just because I get to play him, but because I’ll get to see him more.”
While recovering from his injury, Brenden Schooler won’t be out of sight or out of mind with the Ducks.
“Knowing him he’s probably trying to (lift weights) and run today. He will try to get back as fast as he can, and he will because he’s that type of guy,” Cristobal said. “He’ll be around because his leadership is going to be needed, his mentorship in that room will be needed.
“Certainly it’s a tough one to take because of what he means to this team.”