The Oregon tight end room was still in mourning the morning after coach Mario Cristobal announced Cam McCormick will miss another season.
The talented but oft-injured McCormick earned the starting spot before breaking his leg in the 2018 opener and is unable to play for the Ducks again this season due to a lingering ankle injury.
“Honestly, no words can express how I feel. Just terrible,” Jacob Breeland said after Tuesday’s practice. “I love that guy to death. He’s been through it all, he’s been grinding in the offseason, put in all the work that he needed.
“Then unfortunately, I don’t know, bad luck.”
McCormick, a redshirt junior, will focus on getting healthy for the 2020 season. He could also petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility down the road.
Breeland, who is used to filling the void created by McCormick’s unavailability, is making the most of his senior season. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder from Mission Viejo, Calif., has 13 receptions for 187 yards and is tied for the FBS lead in touchdowns among tight ends with three.
No. 16 Oregon will continue to lean on the tight end group when it opens Pac-12 play against Stanford on Saturday at Stanford Stadium (4 p.m., ESPN).
“We’ve for sure got some good chemistry going on,” Breeland said. “Whatever happens, when we get called on, any of the right ends, we’re going to make plays. As long as they keep trusting us, we’re going to keep making plays.”
The other tight ends on the two-deep, senior Ryan Bay and junior Hunter Kampmoyer, have also caught touchdowns this season. So has senior right tackle Brady Aiello from the tight end position.
Spencer Webb, a 6-6, 246-pound redshirt freshman, has been playing slot receiver and outmuscled a decorated Auburn cornerback for a touchdown in the opener.
True freshman Patrick Herbert (6-5, 245) is also getting practice reps at receiver and tight end.
“We feel those big bodies are giving us some opportunities to create some explosive plays,” Cristobal said.
Justin Herbert has been looking for Breeland since completing a 63-yard pass to him after replacing Dakota Prukop during a blowout loss at Washington State in 2016.
In last week’s 35-3 win over Montana, Breeland became the eighth tight end in school history to reach 1,000 career receiving yards.
“He’s a great guy to have on your team,” Herbert said of Breeland, who had five receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns against the Grizzlies. “He runs really good routes, blocks well, and he’s just a stud at tight end. Huge guy. You can go to him on third down.
“Great guy. Glad he’s doing so well.”
Breeland is the first tight end to catch multiple touchdown passes in a game since Pharaoh Brown, currently a member of the Cleveland Browns, in 2016.
In 38 career games (24 starts), Breeland has 61 receptions for 1,007 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns.
“We’re looking at a guy that has legitimate speed, that can stretch the field … he presents some issues for our opponents,” Cristobal said. “Jake’s become a really good blocker as well. I know he takes a lot of pride in that. When you keep a guy like that on the field, you could have him as part of the core, you can detach him and put him on the perimeter, as well as a receiver or as a blocker. Now your flexibility as an offense continues to expand.
“Really fired up about what he’s doing and the other guys as well.”
Breeland is confident McCormick will return next season with a chance to help the Ducks beat Stanford.
But this is the last chance for the Herbert-led offense to experience that feeling after losing the last three meetings to the Cardinal.
“We want to beat every team, obviously, but Stanford came in here the last few years and put a whupping on us,” Breeland said. “Now we want to go out there and put a whupping on them this time.”
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