Darrian McNeal

SOURCES: UO WR Charles Nelson will not play tonight at ASU

SOURCES: UO WR Charles Nelson will not play tonight at ASU

TEMPE, Ariz. - Oregon senior wide receiver Charles Nelson, who sprained his right ankle last week, will not play tonight at Arizona State, according to sources. 

Nelson injured his ankle in the first half of the No. 24 Ducks' 49-13 win at Wyoming. He appeared later on crutches and in a walking boot. After the game, UO coach Willie Taggart said the injury wasn't as bad as originally feared. Earlier this week Taggart said that the team hoped to have Nelson in action against the Sun Devils (1-2). That won't happen and Nelson's status for next week's home game against California (3-0) is uncertain. 

Freshman nose guard Austin Faoliu is also expected to return tonight after missing last week's game, according to a source. 

Kickoff tonight is 7 p.m.

Replacing Nelson in the slot could be junior Taj Griffin, who returned to action at Wyoming for the first time since tearing an ACL late last season and caught a 20-yard touchdown against the Cowboys. Freshman Darrian McNeal is also a candidate. 

Without Nelson, Oregon will be relying on a very inexperienced receiving corps. After Nelson, the next leading returning pass catcher from last season is redshirt sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland, who caught six passes for 123 yards in 2016. Nelson caught 52 for 554 yards and five touchdowns, second only to Darren Carrington Jr., who transferred to Utah after Taggart dismissed him from the team for getting arrested and charged with a DUII in July. 

Nelson leads the team with 15 receptions for 253 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell's 13 receptions ranks second (156 yards) while freshman Johnny Johnson III is second on the team with 172 receiving yards (10 receptions).

Who starts in place of Nelson is likely irrelevant. Oregon will probably juggle a glut of receivers at multiple positions as it did last week at Wyoming. 

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 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. 

Willie Taggart sends message with removal of WR Darren Carrington Jr. from team

Willie Taggart sends message with removal of WR Darren Carrington Jr. from team

Oregon coach Willie Taggart has removed the team's best wide receiver, Darren Carrington Jr. from the program following a DUII arrest in the early morning hours of July 1, and in the process sent a message to the rest of the Ducks that certain levels of misconduct won't be tolerated. 

Taggart, through the athletic department, issues the following statement: 

"I have visited with Darren Carrington and informed him that he is no longer a member of our program. We will always consider Darren a Duck and support him in any way we can. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

The decision could not have been all that easy for Taggart. Carrington is the team's best playmaker on offense in the passing game, and maybe all around. But he has had far too many off-the-field transgressions to be ignored, including being suspended for the 2015 national title game due to testing positive for marijuana use, and for being accused of assaulting someone last fall. 

Plus, Carrington, according to sources on the previous coaching staff, has committed a series of relatively minor to semi-serious transgressions that have indicated he hasn't taken discipline seriously while at Oregon. 

Taggart wiped the slate clean with Carrington back in January and as recently as about 12 hours before the player's approximate 3 a.m. arrest on July 1, praised his star for the progress he had made on and off the field. Then, the following morning, Carrington betrayed Taggart's trust and belief in him.

When Taggart took the job last December he informed the entire team that it would not get him fired as it had Mark Helfrich by lacking discipline, cutting corners and losing games. "Try me," he warned the Ducks. 

By all accounts, the team as a whole got the message. Players who were not giving 100 percent under Helfrich were flying straight under Taggart or getting out of Eugene. 

Carrington is the latest and he has been dismissed the hard way. The good news for him is that as a recent graduate - a testament to him committing to academics - Carrington could transfer to play anywhere in the country. He could easily rehabilitate his image with one great season and end up in the NFL, where his talents belong. 

For Oregon, this puts a lot of pressure on sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell to become a legitimate threat in the lineup that now only includes one proven pass receiver, senior slot Charles Nelson.

Oregon will also need sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland, and wide receivers, redshirt sophomores Alex Ofodile and Malik Loveette, and freshman Darrian McNeal, to rise to the occasion and provide adequate to elite targets for sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. 

It's a lot to ask for. It could safely be said that losing Carrington will cost Oregon a game or two next season, especially given that the defense - 128th in the nation last year - will likely still have major holes this season. 

But, in the long run, this is a move that could pay dividends by leading to a roster that now has an example of an elite talent being let go because he didn't follow team rules. 

That reality could result to a better overall program as Taggart's regime moves forward. 

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

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. 

UO Spring Notes: Freshman CB Thomas Graham makes strong impression

UO Spring Notes: Freshman CB Thomas Graham makes strong impression

One player who has certainly made an impression on new Oregon coach Willie Taggart is freshman cornerback Thomas Graham, a four-star recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. 

During winter workouts, Taggart said Graham tore it up and displayed a level of both talent and passion for the game that could translate into great success. However, Taggart added that he wanted to see Graham perform in a true practice setting before passing judgment. Taggart has had a few days now to watch Graham in action and he's come away even more impressed. 

"He's stood out the last two days," Taggart said on Saturday. "He's really stepped up and made some plays for us."

Oregon returns its top three cornerbacks from last season: senior Arrion Springs, redshirt senior Tyree Robinson and junior Ugo Amadi. But it appears that Graham, the No. 12-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, could crash that party. 

"He was working with the ones yesterday," Taggart said. "That was great. I'm sure you'll see more as spring goes on."

Taggart called Graham a "playmaker" and the Ducks could certainly use some of those everywhere on defense after extremely poor play in all areas in 2015 and 2016. 

Get lined up, kid: New systems bring new expectations that begin with the little things such as lining up correctly. However, one big aspect of how the former staff practiced remains. Taggart, like former coaches Mark Helfrich, Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti, wants his team to practice fast on the field then correct mistakes later in the film room. 

"First, we've got to be able to lineup," Taggart said. "First and foremost. But, more importantly - learning how to practice. Learning the way that we want them to practice. Practice at full-speed and not worry about making mistakes. Understanding that we can correct those mistakes on film, but we want guys flying around playing with a lot of energy and passion."

So far, Taggart says he is seeing steady improvement.

"We're not where we need to be, but it's good to see that we're making improvement," Taggart said. "We always talk to our guys about getting one percent better each day, and after two days I feel like our football team is two-percent better."

Darrian McNeal has been impressive: Oregon is in desperate need of some wide receiver depth and so far it appears that freshman Darrian McNeal, a three-star recruit out of Florida that Taggart stole from Arizona, could provide that depth. 

"For a guy that just got here last week, and come in and do some of the things he's done in the first couple of practices has been really impressive," Taggart said. "He's very athletic."

McNeal is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver in the mold of current senior receiver Charles Nelson and former UO running back/wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas. 

Taggart has said that McNeal doesn't have the pure speed that Nelson and Thomas have, but he is as elusive in space. 

Oregon returns just two productive wide receivers: seniors Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson. Sophomore Dillon Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile have a chance to start. After that, UO will look to a group of six incoming freshmen receivers for depth. 

McNeal, who enrolled early, is getting a head start at being an impact freshman. 

Opening practices to the media/public: In 2011, Kelly decided to create a fortress of solitude around his program by closing practices to fans and the media. His successor, Mark Helfrich, did the same thing when he took over in 2013. 

New coach Willie Taggart has loosened things up a bit, allowing the media to see the first 30 minutes of all practices, and by inviting fans and the media to view two full practices this spring.

"We always ask our fans to pay their money and come out and watch during the season, I think it's fair to allow them to come out and see their football team a little bit [during practice]," Taggart said. "Especially with a new staff, they want to see what's going on."

 

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 coach Willie Taggart flips his first recruit, Darrian McNeal

Oregon coach Willie Taggart flips his first recruit, Darrian McNeal

New Oregon coach Willie Taggart came to the Ducks from South Florida with the reputation of being a good recruiter, and the hope was that he could potentially tap into the talent-rich pool of Florida athletes. 

So far, so good on that potential dividend of hiring Taggart.

Oregon has flipped and received an oral commitment from athlete Darrian McNeal out of Armwood High School in Seffner, Fla.  McNeal, who announced his decision via Twitter, was originally committed to Arizona. He is rated as a three-star athlete by both Rivals.com and 247Sports. Rivals does not rank McNeal (5-foot-10, 175-pounds) among its top 100 athletes while 247Sports ranks him as its 66th best athlete and as the 137th best overall recruit in the state of Florida out of 195.

Oregon, of course, is no stranger to capturing high-end athletes from the state of Florida. The Ducks currently boast wide receiver Charles Nelson (three-star) and running back Tony Brooks-James (four-star), both signed out of Florida in Oregon's 2014 recruiting class.

That said, it's possible that Taggart, who spent four seasons at USF, could make it more routine that UO snags players out of Florida. 

Taggart was asked about that possibility on Thursday during his introductory press conference.

"We're going to recruit the entire country," Taggart said. "And Florida will be one of those states we recruit. There are some really good football players down there, and some really good speed down there."

McNeal represents some of that speed. He played quarterback at Armwood where he routinely ran amok on opposing defenses look silly. McNeal received an offer from South Florida and Taggart before committing to Arizona. He also received offers from Oregon State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Purdue, Pittsburgh and Boston College, among many others. 

McNeal gives Oregon 14 commits. The Ducks' 2016 class currently ranks 41st in the nation, according to Rivals. It ranked No. 23 before former coach Mark Helfrch was fired and a few players decommitted.