charles nelson

Ducks' WR Charles Nelson must be Justin Herbert's security blanket

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USA Today

Ducks' WR Charles Nelson must be Justin Herbert's security blanket

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert will frequently be looking for a reliable receiver he can count on when times get tough this season. A target who will get open on time, in the right spot and make the catch, even tough catches should a pass be a bit off target. 

That receiver will be senior slot Charles Nelson. 

“He can do it all,” Herbert said. “I think we’re going to try to get him the ball as much as possible because he’s one of the fastest guys around. He’s a playmaker.”

Nelson is also the only receiver on the team with a proven track record of success. The elimination of senior Darren Carrington Jr. from the mix following his arrest for DUII - he transferred to Utah - thrust Nelson into the No. 1-receiver role where he must produce and help teach a slew of young receivers. 

“I just feel like I have to be more of a mentor for these guys,” he said.

Nelson's career has come full circle. In 2014 he was the lone true freshman receiver in the mix for playing time on a team with little experience at the position after Bralon Addison was lost for the year with a knee injury during spring practices. Fast forward four years later and Nelson finds himself as the lone senior receiver on a team with little experience at the position. 

Gone are six of Oregon's top seven wide receiver/tight end targets from last season. Nelson finished second in receptions with 52 for 554 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland was 10th with six grabs for 123 yards.

Consequently, the Ducks will rely on the rapid development of sophomore Dillon Mitchell (two receptions last year), redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile (one reception last year), redshirt sophomore Malik Lovette (played cornerback last season), sophomore Brenden Schooler (started 10 games at safety last year, moved to receiver last week), and a host of freshmen receivers led by Darrian McNeal, who had a solid spring. 

Considering that Nelson started eight games at safety in 2015, the Ducks return almost as much collegiate defensive back experience at the receiver position as they do receiving experience. Oregon is hoping for a repeat of 2014 when the team returned just one receiver, Keanon Lowe, with more than 200 yards receiving in 2013.  

That 2014 season turned out just fine. The Ducks saw Nelson, Carrington, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford and Byron Marshall (who moved from running back because of a lack of receive depth) all explode as targets for quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

“Back then Keanon was the only guy with experience," Nelson said. "We ended up being one of the best receiving groups in the country and I feel like we can do that with this unit right here.”

For that to happen, Nelson must set the tone for the younger players on field, in the weight room and the meeting room. 

“Charles has been a great leader for us by showing us how it’s done,” Mitchell said.

Herbert has witnessed Nelson the leader in action: “He’s already done a great job with that. He’s already stepped up and put some of them under his wing.”

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said Nelson has taken it upon himself to act as big brother to the younger receivers. 

“We just told Charles to be Charles,” Taggart said. “We’re not going to ask guys to be more than they have to. With Charles, we didn’t ask him to do anything. I think he’s taken it upon himself to be that guy.”

More importantly, Nelson needs to be that guy Herbert can rely on to make plays. 

Oregon Football now a family after Taggart's courses in team chemistry

Oregon Football now a family after Taggart's courses in team chemistry

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart relishes team unity. Watching players who at one time barely knew one another talking, sharing and laughing it up while eating in the team cafeteria brings a smile to his face. 

So does venturing into the weight room to see players encouraging and competing with one another while working to improve. And, noticing players who in the past would leave the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex all alone now strolling off in groups.

“To sit back and watch that I get goose bumps,” Taggart said. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”

The Ducks, who began fall camp on Monday, having seemingly erased the issue of team fracturing that impacted last year's 4-8 season. Team chemistry and bonding have returned to the 2014 levels when the Ducks last won the Pac-12 championship and advance to the national title game. 

Two years of erosion in those departments certainly contributed to the program's downfall. Taggart, when hired last December, set out to fix the fragile mess with a cocktail of team bonding endeavors he hoped would create an atmosphere that encouraged togetherness away from the field that would translate into better play on game days. Players and coaches hang out together more often, engage in the same leisurely activities and enjoy spirited yet playful ribbing. 

“It’s so important that our guys come together, and enjoy being around each other, and love each other,” Taggart said. “I think training camp is a time where we continue to build that so once we get to the fall guys go out and play for one another.”

-- Friends first -- 

Taggart's energy inspires and influences. He seeks out his players. Welcomes them into his office. He wants to be in their presence. He wants them to seek him out, not fear him. The result is that players feel more comfortable about their place on the team beyond executing the Xs and Os of football. 

“He’s always around us,” Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. “When we’re weightlifting at six in the morning, he’s there. He’s fired up. He’s cheering guys on. When were running outside he’s out there. All of the coaches are around. Everyone is just super excited to be around him.”

The team responds to his inviting personality. 

“He radiates energy,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Shane Lemieux said. “The whole coaching staff does that.”

The team, including the coaching staff, will spend the first week of fall camp living in dorms in order to further their bond. Team activities away from football are rarely ever limited to players only. 

“Coach Taggart says that everywhere we have to be, the coaches have to be as well,” sophomore linebacker Troy Dye said. "“One of the things he has preached is team chemistry and buying in to being a family."

One of Taggart's mottos is to "have a great day if you want to." He implores his players to have fun. He wants football to be enjoyable. Not feel like a job. So he attempts to structure team activities around enjoying life and one another. He sought men with similar personalities while building his coaching staff. 

“I think this staff is just so excited to be here and they have done a good job of being around us and taking care of us," Herbert said. "I’m really excited to play for them.”

Players feeling comfortable around the staff allows for greater levity and, consequently, a better opportunity for team bonding. Plus, Taggart's lust for life can be infectious. 

“He’s a really enthusiastic person,” senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby said of Taggart. “Young coach. Brings that southern vibe. That Florida vibe. Has a lot of energy.”

-- Like uncles at a barbecue -- 

The coaching staff is relatively young, especially compared to the previous staff. It's not surprising then that they relate well to the modern athlete. So much so that there plenty of teasing and joking around that flows from coaches to players and players to coaches.    

“It’s like having your uncle at a barbecue,” Dye said. “You respect them like hell but at the end of the day you can have fun, joke with them and crack jokes and have fun with them.”

Nobody is safe. Players say that Taggart and the other coaches will crack jokes about players without warning. Shoes. Clothes. Hair. Video game prowess. Not much is off limits. Many players battle back. 

“You can’t just let him get on top of you, or take advantage of you," Dye said. "You’ve got to get a couple back here or there.”

Dye said Taggart has few glaring flaws to attack. 

“You can’t really talk about his swag,” Dye said. “He has the best swag in the nation. He has a new pair of shoes on every day.”

But Taggart has some weaknesses. 

“It’s kind of hard to find things to get on him about but at times we can find something if he’s slacking with his shirt or his shorts, or something,” Dye said. “If he is ashy.”

Taggart's periodic failures to apply lotion on his dry legs aside adds to the banter. 

“It’s fun to have coaches like that that you can joke around with,” redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.

But there is a line. 

“You can’t go too crazy," Dye said. "It is the head man. You’ve got to know your limitations.”

Nelson said the give and take creates a better coach-player bond. 

“It's built more of a connection,” Nelson said. “You don’t want a coach who just tells you what you can and can’t do. You want a coach that’s going to laugh with you, joke with you. Just build more of a friendship.”

The team soundtrack that blares in the weight room and during practices has changed, as well. 

“He’s just young and he can relate to us,” senior cornerback Arrion Springs said. “He likes rap music. We don’t have to listen to 80s rock music during practice anymore."

-- Players know where lines are drawn -- 

The player's coach approach only works when discipline has taken hold. Taggart, when hired, spelled out what he expected: Be good students. Good citizens. And, of course, good football players. Failing in two of those areas could lead to dismissal from the football team. 

Taggart sent a message to the team by letting go of senior wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr. following his DUII arrest July 1. 

“He’s going to tell you the truth,” senior wide receiver Charles Nelson said. “He’s going to tell you straight up, ‘this is what I want. This is how we’re going to do it.' And if you don’t like it then you don’t have to be on this team.”

Said Crosby: “When it’s business time, they are all business. When it’s not business time, they know how to have fun. They really allow us to enjoy our time here."

The sense of accountability, respect and trust - all missing at times last season - have created better team leaders. That has led to a greater team connection, according to Lemieux. 

Taggart said he noticed while watching game video from last season that it didn't appear like players were playing for the man next to them. That, the team hopes, will change with greater team bonding. 

“He has taught our team to be more accountable and more accountable for each other," Lemieux said. "There’s stronger leadership roles within our football team now. We’ve all taken it upon us to be a better individual to make the team stronger."

-- HDC is the place to be -- 

Vibrant coaches. Team camaraderie. Renewed energy following a 4-8 season. Each has helped make the team's facility the hot spot for the Ducks.  

Taggart encourages the players to spend as much time at the HDC as possible. Working. Bonding. 

“People love to come to the facility now,” Dye said. “You can just feel the energy.”

Said Jelks: "He just makes us feel like we’re at home."

At times in the recent past, going to the HDC felt like a job for some players. Now, the $68 million facility feels like the team hub. 

“You don’t want to feel like you’re a prisoner in the building,” sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said. “You don’t want to feel like you’re made to come to the HDC everyday. Taggart and the rest of the coaches make you want to show your face around the building to see them.”

The Ducks appear to have become a closer-knit group and the staff has helped create that. But soon it will be time to perform on the field. Team unity is easier to achieve when winning. How the Ducks react to adversity will be the real test. But for now, the Ducks believe they have at least formed a bond they hope will help them overcome any obstacles on the field. 

“If you can trust a guy off the field," Dye said, "and really get to know him as a person, as an individual, you can really trust him and know that he’s going to be there for you on the field."

Oregon Ducks out to prove the doubters wrong

Oregon Ducks out to prove the doubters wrong

EUGENE - Oregon senior cornerback Arrion Springs had some misinformation. He knew the results of the Pac-12 media poll released during media days last week had the Ducks finishing fourth. He just didn't realize that meant fourth in the North Division.

“I thought it was fourth in the Pac-12,” Springs said Sunday during Oregon's media day at Autzen Stadium. “Wow. Fourth in the North? That’s kind of sad, that’s real sad. But I guess they had to do that based off last year.”

Yes, they kind of did. And although such predictions aren't worth much more than the paper they are written on, the reality that those who follow the conference the closest have such a low opinion of these Ducks, 4-8 last season, is telling. 

Few are buying that new coach Willie Taggart will return this program to its championship ways in year one, which begins today with the team's first fall practice. Not many believe sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert and senior running back Royce Freeman can compensate for a defense that finished 128th in the nation last season. And don't try to sell the idea that new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt can in one year elevate said defense to championship levels. 

For the first time in a decade, few believe the Ducks are championship contenders of any kind. Yet, Oregon's players are mostly concerned with how they view themselves. 

“It hurts to be ranked fourth like that,” redshirt sophomore guard Shane Lemieux said. “It’s basically kind of like a slap in the face. But at the same time a lot of us don’t care.”

The Ducks are embracing the underdog role. 

“I think we’ve kind of had that mentality that we’re just going to try to surpass the expectations,” Herbert said. 

Not having a target on the team's back could prove to be a bonus, according to sophomore linebacker Troy Dye, and it's something he sees Taggart using to fuel the team's energy. 

“You have no expectations," Dye said. "So you can go out there and play every game like it’s your last and just try to take somebody’s season away and build on top of yours.”

Springs agrees: "It’s great.  For the first time we don’t have any expectations. We can’t do anything but go up.”

What's truly realistic for this team? Could the Ducks overcome Washington State to finish third? Probably. But is it realistic to believe that Oregon could pull off upsets at Stanford and/or defending champion Washington to truly contend? 

Oregon certainly believes so. 

“Guys won’t settle for being fourth,” senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby said. “We want better.”

It's all a matter of believing in the process.

“At the end of the day we’re going to end up with the Pac-12 title if we just follow the course,” Dye said. “So we don’t really care about what people project.”

Senior wide receiver Charles Nelson said last season won't impact the team's mentality regarding 2017. 

“We feel like every other team does,” he said. “Every other team feels like they’re the best and we feel like we’re the best.”

Redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James took things a step further.

“I see this team at the very least winning the Pac-12 but at the maximum going all the way,” Brooks-James said.

All the way as in to the national title game. That prediction might be a tad out there, but why not?

“We did have a really bad year last year," Lemieux said. "But this is a totally different team, a totally different coaching staff and a totally different atmosphere.”

The reality is that very few players remain that had an impact on the 2014 team, which won the Pac-12 and reached the national title game. Maybe, in the end, it's best that the newer Ducks aren't treated as if they had already accomplished what their predecessors had. 

“It’s good for a lot of new guys,” Springs said. “Most of these guys weren't on the championship team. So, it’s all new for them. They are really just trying to prove themselves.”

And, prove the doubters wrong. 

Oregon QB Justin Herbert reacts to loss of Carrington, thin WR depth

Oregon QB Justin Herbert reacts to loss of Carrington, thin WR depth

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert might be the most impacted by the departure of senior wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr. 

But Herbert said he is standing by coach Willie Taggart's decision to remove Carrington from the team following a DUII arrest in the early morning hours of July 1

"I think Darren has moved on and we have too," Herbert said. "We have a lot of great receivers still on the roster, so we're going to get those guys ready and let them make plays."

Carrington would have been the team's unchallenged No. 1 receiver. Now he will look to do damage with Utah after transferring there this week. Taggart warned the team when he took over in December that breaking rules would have consequences. Following through with Carrington, who has a track record of sketchy behavior, reinforced that mantra. 

"I don't know if he was trying to send a message," Herbert said. "He's a man of his word. He's the leader of this team. He's the head guy. We've just got to listen to him because he knows what he's talking about."

Herbert said he is confident in the pass catchers that remain, starting with senior slot Charles Nelson. 

"Charles is going to be a huge name this year," Herbert said.

The man to likely replace Carrington on the outside will be sophomore Dillon Mitchell, who last season caught one pass for nine yards. 

"He's going to be a great receiver," Herbert said. 

Nelson and Mitchell won't hardly be enough. Oregon has a history of seeing receivers get injured. Depth will be a concern unless younger players rise to the occasion. 

"But I think the main focus is getting the younger guys ready," Herbert said. "They gotta get the offense down and just have timing with them and gain confidence with them."

Freshman on the spot will be Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III and Darrian McNeal, who might have earned a spot in the rotation during spring drills after arriving early to campus. Redshirt sophomore Malik Lovette could start now that Carrington is gone. 

"Fortunately we've had enough workouts where I think we have a lot of promising guys," Herbert said. 

Tight end depth will be an issue after losing three seniors, but the starting position should be fine with sophomore Jacob Breeland. 

"I know where he's going and he knows where I'm going," he said. "Just the entire year we've spent has been a huge bonus."

Despite the positive spin, losing Carrington's talent certainly will hurt. But losing the distraction he often brings could prove to be a blessing. 

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 8 - WRs Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 8 - WRs Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 8: Wide receivers Alex Ofodile, Malik Lovette and Darrian McNeal.

The status of senior wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr. remains unclear. Oregon coach Willie Taggart suspended Carrington - easily the team's best wide receiver - indefinitely following his DUII arrest late last month. 

Let's assume for now that Carrington will play this season giving the Ducks a legitimate No. 1 receiver to play alongside senior Charles Nelson, one of the best slot receivers in the Pac-12, if not the nation. That still leaves the Ducks in need of sophomore Dillon Mitchell to emerge in order to give UO three legitimate starters for its three-receiver offense. That's why Mitchell checked in at No. 2 on this list. 

Even if Mitchell delivers the Ducks will undoubtedly need more than three capable receivers to survive the season, especially given the fast pace of the offense and the injury factor. Oregon, over the last few years, lost Bralon Addison, Devon Allen, Byron Marshall and Dwayne Stanford to injury, and Carrington to a suspension. If not for the Ducks' depth at the position, UO would have been sunk on offense.  Oregon must uncover similar depth for this season.

The 6-foot-3 Ofodile, a redshirt sophomore and former four-star recruit, has yet to live up to his potential and was slowed by a foot injury during spring drills. He, however, remains a candidate to emerge as a reliable target in his third year at Oregon. 

Lovette, the former receiver turned defensive back turned receiver again, opened some eyes during spring drills and is virtual shoe-in to contribute this season.

"He can help us," Taggart said of the redshirt sophomore. 

Then there is McNeal, a poor man's version of former UO star De'Anthony Thomas whose love for the game, Taggart said, is matched only by the 5-foot-9, 160-pound ankle-breaker's play-making abilities. 

The last time UO needed this much new help at wide receiver was 2014 when the Ducks returned just one receiver of consequence, Keanon Lowe. That situation turned out just fine with the emergence of Carrington, Nelson, Allen and Stanford, and Marshall shifting from running back to receiver.

Oregon doesn't need quite as much help this time around with Nelson and Carrington returning, but also the Ducks still need capable bodies for quarterback Justin Herbert to target. But what if Carrington does not return...

Taggart would be more than justified to cut Carrington loose if he truly was guilty of DUII given his past transgressions. In that scenario, the Ducks would be in huge trouble because not only would depth be a concern but the team would be minus a legitimate lead receiver to lean on. 

At the end of the day, it's logical to assume that Taggart will find enough receivers to get the job done to a certain extent. But in order for the Ducks to score enough on offense to compensate for what will likely still be at best a mediocre defense, the receiving corps had better find some competent new faces in a hurry. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 2 - WR Dillon Mitchell

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 2 - WR Dillon Mitchell

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 2: Sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

Late last season when Mitchell returned a punt 45 yards against Utah he demonstrated the speed and athleticism that have made him such an intriguing prospect since he signed as a four-star recruit in 2016. The Ducks will need to see many more examples of his talent in 2017. 

Mitchell came to Oregon as the No. 17-rated wide receiver in the nation but ended up catching just two passes for nine yards while getting lost in a crowded depth chart at receiver. 

Injuries to Devon Allen and Dwayne Stanford thinned out that depth a bit but not enough to for Mitchell to become a major contributor. Now the depth at receiver is so thin that Mitchell will be needed to deliver in order for the passing game to reach its potential under sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. All signs point to Mitchell being ready to make an impact. 

The Ducks will return just two proven pass catchers in senior wide receivers Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson. Mitchell will enter fall camp as the No. 3 receiver in an offense that starts three receivers. 

Redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile, injured all spring, was a four-star recruit in 2015. He will have a chance to compete for playing time. Freshman Darrian McNeal could be in the mix after a solid spring. So to could former cornerback Malik Lovette. Each presents some intriguing abilities but none are as complete as Mitchell could possibly be. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart entered spring drills hoping to see Mitchell demonstrate play-making ability to match the hype. Taggart says he has been pleased with what he saw from Mitchell and expects him to be in the mix this fall and receive a chance to thrive. 

But it's up to Mitchell to seize the moment. How well he performs could be the difference in a game or two for the Ducks, who will likely need to play great on offense to overcome what figures to still be a mediocre defense. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 3 - Finding WR depth

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 3 - Finding WR depth

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 3: Oregon searches for wide receiver depth. 

We know senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II has elite talent. We know that senior Charles Nelson makes defenders look silly in the open field.

We also know that beyond those two we know very little about the rest of the crew.

Wide receiver is a legitimate area of concern for the 2017 Oregon Ducks. It's not an area worth panicking over, however. Not yet, at least. The Ducks have been in worse situations on paper like in 2014 when the top returning receiver was Keanon Lowe at 233 receiving yards the previous year and No. 1-wide receiver Bralon Addison was out for the season with a knee injury.

That potential problem worked out just fine with quarterback Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman Trophy by throwing to previously unproven targets, Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford, Lowe, Carrington and Nelson.

Three short years later and only Nelson and Carrington remain leaving the Ducks to search for their next batch of elite pass catchers. Oregon hopes they are already on the roster. 

Sophomore Dillon Mitchell, who scored two touchdowns in last year's spring game, is a potential star loaded with talent. Redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile, injured all spring, was a recent four-star recruit. But he is out with a foot injury. 

Then there are the serious wild cards. Freshman Darrian McNeal, a three-star recruit who enrolled early enough to be on hand for spring drills, has the open-field moves of Nelson minus the elite speed. Malik Lovette, a converted defensive back, has also shown positive signs during spring. 

"He's done some nice things for us," Taggart said of Lovette. 

Lovette actually went to Oregon as a receiver in 2015 before switching to cornerback during fall camp. He ultimately redshirted before entering the 2016 season as a potential contributor. That didn't quite pan out and Lovette now finds himself back on offense, where the Ducks certainly need receiver depth. 

Oregon will also welcome in a handful of freshmen receivers in the fall. 

But it's safe to say that Taggart would like to see a couple of the young guys show something on Saturday. Then again, that can always be taken with a grain of salt. As previously stated, Mitchell scored on two spectacular touchdown grabs during last year's spring game but did virtually nothing during the regular season. 

Still, a few flashes of potential from the youngsters would be better than none at all. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr. 

Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five glaring questions

Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five glaring questions

The Willie Taggart-era at Oregon on the practice field began this morning when the Ducks opened spring drills, which will include 14 sessions before the Spring Game on April 29. 

Oregon enters spring with a new staff but most of the same players who were largely responsible for a 4-8 season in 2016, a year that led to the firing of former coach Mark Helfrich and a staff that featured some assistants who had been in Eugene for as many as 20-plus years.

In order to win right away, Taggart must do so with the players recruited by the former staff. That's not impossible. In fact, it's highly likely. Oregon played mostly a young and battered group in 2016. It's a core that should be considerably better in 2017 after taking their collective lumps during the program's first losing season since 2004 (5-6). 

That development process began during the winter and continues this spring. Many questions linger for this staff to sort out, but here are five that must be addressed this spring: 

1. Will a quarterback controversy develop or will Justin Herbert re-establish himself as the guy for this new staff? The only quarterback in Oregon history who at the same age could have beaten out what we saw from Herbert as a freshman would be Marcus Mariota. Maybe. That's how good Herbert is. So, when Taggart says that the position is open, he is essentially hoping that either redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. or redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen demonstrates some Mariota-level skills.

We shall see. 

Herbert took over as the starter in week 6 and in seven starts completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Project those numbers out over 13 games (with a bowl) and you get 3,688-35-6. Those numbers are almost identical to what Mariota put up in 2013 (3,665-31-4) as a redshirt sophomore while playing on a much better team.  No doubt Taggart witnessed all of Herbert's skills while reviewing game video from last season. 

Still, Taggart points out that UO won just four games, so whatever Herbert did last season wasn't good enough. Truth be told, Herbert won just two of those four (Arizona State and Utah), but Mariota wouldn't have won much more with the defense Oregon put on the field. 

Taggart does liked the physical abilities he saw from Wilson and Jonsen during winter workouts, but added that Herbert has also looked great, so far. 

“Really impressed with winter conditioning watching him run around and change directions, and doing those things," Taggart said. 

Now, Taggart wants to see Herbert, or another quarterback, become an established leader. 

“At the end of the day, I want to see who can lead this football team," Taggart said. "Who can get this team to rally around him.”

Let the QB games begin. 

2. Are there any young playmakers at linebacker not named Troy Dye? Dye made a name for himself last season as pretty much the only playmaker on defense. The Ducks will return to the 3-4, defense, which means UO needs three other linebackers to emerge. Seniors A.J. Hotchkins and Jimmie Swain must improve. Also, Oregon could use someone among the young group of sophomores La'Mar Winston Jr. and Keith Simms, and redshirt freshman Eric Briscoe, to breakthrough. 

"We have to get more athletic at that spot," Taggart said.

Translation: "We lack ballers."

Oregon will be looking for more of those this spring. 

3. Are there any playmakers along the defensive line at all? We must continue on with the defense because that side of the ball was so bad last season. So bad that there really weren't any bright spot along the defensive line to be found. 

Taggart, however, said he believes that some playmakers exist upfront. Mass confusion on defense last year, he added, led to a lot of young defensive linemen not being able to flourish. 

"Usually when you don't know what you're doing, you'll get your butt whooped," Taggart said. "But there's some potential."

Jalen Jelks, Henry Mondeaux, Gary Baker, Rex Manu, Drayton Carlberg, and others, all must develop this spring or opposing offenses will once again trample the Ducks. 

4.  Can Dillon Mitchell and Alex Ofodile ease concerns about depth at wide receiver? Oregon returns two wide receivers of consequence: seniors Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson. Taggart needs about four more receivers for him to be comfortable about the depth at this position. 

Sophomore Dillon Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile are both former four-star recruits and the next men up. But the jury is out on both. They could either emerge this spring or open the door for one of seven freshmen receivers to take their jobs. 

One such freshman already on campus is three-star recruit, Darrian McNeal, a quick elusive receiver in the mold of Nelson and former UO star, De'Anthony Thomas, but not quite as fast, according to Taggart.

Taggart said McNeal's love for the game shows in his play, play that could get him on the game field right away. 

But for this position to take off, Mitchell and/or Ofodile must take major strides in their development this spring. 

5. How will a new coaching staff mesh? Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and cornerbacks coach Charles Clark worked together in Colorado. Taggart brought two South Florida assistants, special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie and running backs coach Donte Pimpleton, to UO from his former team. Other than that, no other coaching connections exist on this staff. 

So, stands to reason that there could be some growing pains as the staff learns to work together. 

"Not everybody has been around me," Taggart said. "A lot of things I might not like and I'll continue to coach those guys up and get it the way that we want it."

So far, Taggart said, the staff has worked together very well. Camaraderie and enthusiasm have been high. Taggart said it helps that Leavitt and co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal are former head coaches who get the process. 

We will see if harmony continues or if some feathers get ruffled along the way. Especially if the previous four questions go unanswered and the team is left floundering in a sea of mediocrity during year one of the Taggart era. 

How Oregon's recruits fit in: WR/TE - Freshmen must contribute at receiver

How Oregon's recruits fit in: WR/TE - Freshmen must contribute at receiver

Oregon coach Willie Taggart last week signed his first recruiting class, which Rivals.com ranked No. 18 in the nation. Now CSN is taking a look at how each new recruit could fit into the Ducks' plans next season.

Other entries: Quarterbacks, Running backs, Offensive linedefensive lineLinebackers, Defensive backs.

Today: Wide receivers and tight ends.

New Ducks: WR - Jaylon Redd (5-9, 180, Rancho Cucamonga H.S., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.), Daewood Davis (6-2, 175, Deerfield Beach H.S., Hollywood, Fla.), Johnny Johnson III (6-0, 194, Chandler H.S., Chandler, Ariz.), Darrian McNeal (5-9, 160, Armwood H.S., Seffner, Fla.) and Bruce Judson (5-9, 203, Cocoa H.S., Cocoa, Fla.). TE- None. 

Projected 2017 starters: WR - Charles Nelson, Sr., (5-8, 170), Darren Carrington II, RSr., (6-2, 205), Dillon Mitchell, Soph., (6-1, 195). TE - Jacob Breeland, RSoph., (6-5, 240). 

Key backups: WR - Alex Ofodile, RSo., (6-3, 190),  Casey Eugenio, RJr., (5-8, 175), Dylan Kane, RSo., (6-3, 195). TECam McCormick, RFr., (6-5, 240), Ryan Bay, RSoph., (6-4, 235). 

The situation: Devon Allen is focusing on winning gold at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Dwayne Stanford graduated. Jalen Brown transferred to Northwestern. Consequently, UO is left with four returning scholarship wide receivers. 

That's not enough. The Ducks see at least two receivers go down with injuries in most seasons, just as Allen and Stanford did in 2016. 

It's quite clear then that Oregon is likely to need contributions from at least two freshmen receivers in 2017. Carrington, Nelson and Mitchell are the front-runners to start with Ofodile figuring to at least get in on the action. 

After them, Oregon will have to look for help from the freshmen class. 

Rivals.com rated Redd, a four-star recruit, as the No. 8 athlete in the nation. Johnson, McNeal and Davis were a three-star recruits.  Judson, a four-star recruit as an athlete, could very well play receiver.

Based on hype, Redd and Judson figure to have the best chance to see playing time as freshmen. But nobody say Nelson coming in 2014 when he became an impact freshman seemingly out of nowhere. 

Things are more dicey at tight end where the Ducks lost three tight ends from last year. The Ducks failed to land a signature from Josh Falo, who ended up at USC.

So the Ducks are left with two scholarship tight ends. Breeland, a three-star recruit in 2014 (Rivals.com), and McCormick, a three-star recruit in 2016 who redshirted last year, will carry the burden.

Breeland caught six passes for 123 yards while flashing signs of being and impact receiver. 

The verdict: There will be some lively competition at wide receiver among the freshmen with two likely becoming rotation players while three redshirt for the future. As for tight end, Oregon should certainly use a late get, maybe a transfer to help with the lack of depth. 

Next up: Offensive line. 

Oregon 2017 Outlook - WRs: Position thin after loss of Jalen Brown

Oregon 2017 Outlook - WRs: Position thin after loss of Jalen Brown

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backs; Tight ends, Offensive line, Defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Wide receivers.

Key losses: Devon Allen, after suffering a season-ending knee injury at Nebraska, announced that he would focus 100 percent on track and field and winning a gold medal in 2020. Senior Dwayne Stanford, lost for the year at Washington State, is gone. Redshirt junior Jalen Brown announced via Twitter that he plans to transfer.   

Projected 2017 starters: Charles Nelson, Sr., (5-8, 170), Darren Carrington II, RSr., (6-2, 205), Dillon Mitchell, Soph., (6-1, 195)

Key backups: Alex Ofodile, RSo., (6-3, 190),  Casey Eugenio, RJr., (5-8, 175), Dylan Kane, RSo., (6-3, 195). 

What we know: Carrington's return is good news only if he matures into a leader that matches his talent. If not, he could run into trouble with new coach Willie Taggart's quest to restore discipline to the Ducks. Carrington is super talented and could improve his draft stock with a productive season and a shift in the attitude department. His 43 receptions for 606 yards and five touchdowns (tied) led the team in 2016. 

Nelson contributed 52 receptions for 554 yards and five touchdowns. He should continue to thrive in Taggart's offense.  

After these two...

What we don't know: Remember when Oregon had Carrington, Nelson, Allen, Stanford, Addison and Brown in 2015? That group was stacked with talent. This group? Not so much. At least not with proven talent.

But, let's not forget that in 2014 the Ducks returned the least amount of receiver production in 20 years and then discovered an embarrassment of riches despite Addison missing the season with a knee injury. Maybe that could happen again with the current group of young receivers. 

Mitchell, a four-star recruit in 2016, flashed some open-field running ability as a punt returner late in the season, but he caught just two passes for nine yards. Ofodile, a four-star recruit in 2015, got his feet went last season, but caught just one pass for eight yards. Kane, a three-star defensive back recruit in 2014, moved to wide receiver in 2015 and has yet to make a reception. Eugenio, a walk-on, frequently was listed on the two-deep depth chart also didn't make a reception. 

New receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty has his work cut out for him in the department of developing depth.  It's safe to say that without Brown, the Ducks will need both Mitchell and Ofodile to emerge in 2017. 

Even if they do, the Ducks could still need a freshman recruit, or two, to contribute in order to make it through the season.  The Ducks have received verbal commitments from four-star recruit Jaylon Redd and two three-star receiver recruits, Johnny Johnson III and Darrian McNeal

Final word: The Ducks should be fine at this position as long as they don't suffer serious injuries. Counting on freshmen could be dicey. Best-cased scenario is that Mitchell and Ofodile live up to their potential.  

Position grade: C. The depth enjoyed from 2014 through 2016 is gone and one of the two returning starters has been proven to be unreliable at times. That makes this an average group. For now. 

Next up: Offensive line.