EUGENE - Oregon sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell won't be able to shake the weight of expectations this season. Not with his immense talent. Not with the loss of senior Darren Carrington Jr. And not with the team's need for someone, anyone, to emerge as a major threat in the passing game.
"There's been pressure put on my shoulders," Mitchell said. "But I'm still just playing the game I love. People can expect a lot from me."
Oregon's decision to move sophomore Brenden Schooler to wide receiver to bolster depth there could prove to be a shrewd move. But it won't matter much if Mitchell doesn't realize his potential.
Coach Willie Taggart's dismissal of Carrington from the team following his DUII arrest eliminated that best player from an already thin group. Senior Charles Nelson is one of the premiere slot receivers in the Pac-12, if not the country. After Nelson, UO's returning wide receivers last season caught all of three passes for 17 yards.
Two of those catches, going for a total of nine yards, belonged to Mitchell, who in 2016 was buried on a depth chart behind a very deep group. Gone are Carrington, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford and Jalen Brown, who transferred despite having a strong chance to start in 2017.
But while Mitchell, a four-star recruit last season and 17th-rated receiver in the nation, didn't play all that much last season, he did, by all accounts, display elite potential during practices, which was one of the reasons why he didn't redshirt.
"I’m just waiting on this season to showcase what I’ve always been doing,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell wasn't excited to see Carrington, his mentor, leave the program.
“When I first got here he was the first person to talk to me,” Mitchell said. “He was the first person to show interest in me. He taught me how to be a college football player."
Mitchell called Carrington, "a big brother."
“He had a lot of mistakes but he also did a lot of good things that people will never see,” Mitchell said.
Carrington was the team's best big-play threat. His combination of speed, ability, leaping ability and ball skills made him unique on this roster. Mitchell possesses similar talents, and, if he develops, could lessen the sting of losing Carrington.
According to Mitchell, he has spent extensive time working out with Herbert during the offseason to improve their chemistry, and he's been working on fine-tuning the craft of route-running.
“I want to become a more creative wide receiver and try things that haven’t been tried before,” he said.
But doing in practice and doing on game days are two different things. Taggart is hopeful Mitchell will be the guy on Saturdays that he's seen in practice. One aspect of Mitchell that Taggart has noticed is coming along is that he is becoming more of an extrovert as his confidence has grown.
“I think he’s coming out of his shell,” Taggart said. “He was very similar to Justin (Herbert). Just a quiet guy and go about his business. But now you see him smiling and talking and being excited to go."