Donte Pimpleton

SOURCES: DL coach Joe Salave'a has told players he will remain at Oregon

SOURCES: DL coach Joe Salave'a has told players he will remain at Oregon

UPDATE: Oregon officially extended the contracts of Joe Salave'a, Jim Leavitt and Marcus Arroyo on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

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Oregon defensive line coach Joe Salave'a has told Ducks players that he will remain with the team next season, according to sources.

Oregon's defensive turnaround in 2017 can largely be attributed to Salave'a's work with the defensive line.

This good news for Oregon comes on the heels of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt reportedly signing a new contract to remain with the Ducks

Retaining Salave'a means that the Ducks will retain their top four assistant coaches from this season. 

STAYING AT OREGON

Mario Cristobal: Athletic director Rob Mullens hired Cristobal as the head coach eight days prior to Saturday's 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Cristobal, formerly the Ducks' co-offensive coordinator, will continue to coach the offensive line.

Jim Leavitt: He is reportedly signing a contract extension to remain at Oregon. 

Marcus Arroyo: He has been retained as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and he will be the primary play caller. Arroyo was a co-offensive coordinator this season. 

Joe Salave'a: He remains on as the defensive line coach and associated head coach. 

LEAVING OREGON

Donte Pimpleton: He will leave UO to coach running backs at Florida State

UP IN THE AIR

Wide receivers coach Michael Johnson.

Special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie

Safeties coach Keith Heyward

Cornerbacks coach Charles Clark.

SOURCES: Oregon RB coach Donte Pimpleton joining Florida State's staff

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Courtesy of Oregon

SOURCES: Oregon RB coach Donte Pimpleton joining Florida State's staff

Oregon running backs coach Donte Pimpleton will coach the same position at Florida State under former Ducks coach Willie Taggart, according to sources,. 

Pimpleton becomes the first Oregon assistant coach that Taggart has hired away from the Ducks since he left UO on Dec. 4 after one season but he likely won't be the last. 

Pimpleton joined the Ducks' staff last winter after spending two seasons coaching running backs under Taggart at South Florida. Pimpleton first coached under Taggart at Western Kentucky where he worked with the wide receivers. 

The pair were teammates at Western Kentucky where Taggart played quarterback and Pimpleton played wide receiver. 

Taggart's hiring of Pimpleton kicks off the assistant coach watch at Oregon.

The Ducks elevated Mario Cristobal from co-offensive coordinator to head coach. Cristobal has named Marcus Arroyo as offensive coordinator.  Also, Oregon has reportedly retained defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

However, the status of defensive line coach Joe Salave'a, cornerbacks coach Charles Clark, safeties coach Keith Heyward, wide receivers coach Michael Johnson and outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie remain uncertain. 

According to a source there is a good chance that at least one more current Oregon assistant will join Taggart at Florida State. Woodie appears to be a logical choice given that he was Taggart's defensive coordinator in 2016 at South Florida. 

Last week, Taggart also added former Oregon State running backs coach Telly Lockette to his FSU staff as the tight ends coach. 

UO RB coach Pimpleton laments the murder of a former player

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Courtesy of Oregon

UO RB coach Pimpleton laments the murder of a former player

Oregon running backs coach Donte Pimpleton prides himself in being a mentor to his players. So when his former high school quarterback, Dominique Denning, was recently shot to death, Pimpleton took the news pretty hard.

“It really hurt a lot because as a coach, when you do what you’re supposed to do as a coach, you should be personally invested in guys," he said. "That’s really big with me. “

Pimpleton certainly was personally invested in Denning, shot and killed on Oct. 19 in Louisville, Ky. According to reports, Denning, 27, was allegedly shot multiple times by suspect Montrell Matthews, 34, during an argument. Denning was taken to University Hospital where he later died. Matthews was arrested and has plead not guilty to murder charges. 

Days later, Pimpleton posted the following comments about Denning (pictured right) on his Instagram account:

  • coach_pimpTough day for me here in Oregon as one of my former players was laid to rest back home. One of the things i fear as a coach is losing one of my players past or present. The first play i ever called in football was 2007 at doss high school, he was my quarterback needless to say the play was an 89yd TD to Cameron Clemons. We always stayed in touch but the thing that hurts the most was the last time i saw him while i was home inn July. I saw him out and he was worked up about something and he was on GO!!!! I went over to him and had to get in him like i had to sometimes when i coached him. Hee was a GREAT player and person but he's still mine. I got him calmed down and what was said haunts me. I asked him if he cared about me, he said "I love you coach" then i told him if he does then he's got to chill!!!! It's crazy it here and im not trying to get a phone call way in Oregon telling me something happened to you. I don't want to have to come home to bury you. You don t want me to have to get a call like that do you?? He said "NO COACH, I'm gonna chill" He said "I love you coach" i told him i loved him to just cool out for me... everybody was like how you calm him down like that. "CAUSE HE'S MINE, i coached him... i got the news alert of a murder while sitting in the airport and i always say a quick prayer because i have alot of cousins, friends and former players back home. Got a call 30min later saying it was him and my HEART DROPPED!!! I wish i could've grabbed him up one more time and get thru to him..... Been hurting for a week, he was a great person.. We had a special team at doss i still talk to alo4 of em. I had 4 quarterbacks that year 2 killed, 1 in jail for manslaughter (self defense) and the one i used to worry about the most is doing good. Hurts bad!!!!! R.I.P. Dominique Denning it's going to be awhile before i get over this one.... 😢😢😢😢😢😢😢😢 #RIP#MYQB #DOMO #HURTING 

Denning had his issues from time to time and Pimpleton, as described in his Instagram account, had a positive impact on his former quarterback at Doss High School where Pimpleton was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2007-2008. 

“Once you coach them, they are always a part of you," Pimpleton said. 

Unfortunately, Pimpleton, from Louisville, Ky., couldn't be there for Denning on Oct. 19.  

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“You take a personal liking and you really love those guys like family," Pimpleton said. " You want to see them do well. When things like that happen, it hurts...To me, that’s one of the biggest fears is that something bad happens to one of my guys that I’ve coached, whether it’s past or present.“

Pimpleton, a graduate of Western Kentucky where he played football with Oregon coach Willie Taggart, said he views himself as a life coach as well as a football coach. He will try to create some good out of the Denning's death by using him as an example to current and future players of the pitfalls that could await you if you make poor decisions. 

“You have to use those as a coach because it’s all about teaching life lessons with young men,” Pimpleton said. “You want to teach them that and what not to do and give examples. And when they know you are genuine, they’ll listen.”

In the long run, such lessons will prove more valuable than what's taught on the field, according to Pimpleton, who pointed out that he spends only about two hours each day on the field with the players. The other 22 hours must also be productive.

“There is more to life than football," Pimpleton said. "This is going to end soon one day.”

One thing Pimpleton won't abide by is allowing one of his players come to Oregon and not take advantage of all the university has to offer. 

“I always tell them that it would be a shame if you come to a place like Oregon and you get all the education and fan support and don’t take advantage of it and set yourself up for life,” he said. “The fans know your name now and scream your name now, but one day, you’re just going to be an average guy. You can’t take this opportunity and blow it up and let it pass you up.”

To that end, Pimpleton makes one thing crystal clear during recruiting. 

“Like I tell them, I don’t how much you’re going to play or how many touchdowns you will score but you’re going to get that degree," Pimpleton said. "I promise the parents that when I go to recruit them.”

Oregon's plan for Royce Freeman: "Feed the horse."

Oregon's plan for Royce Freeman: "Feed the horse."

The Oregon Ducks once again have a very deep group of running backs but that won't prevent coach Willie Taggart from making the most out of his top ball carrier, senior Royce Freeman.

“Royce is our guy," Taggart said Monday. "Feed Royce then everybody else will get their carries as they go. We're going to feed the horse."

That horse went for 150 yards on 23 carries and scored four touchdowns during a 77-21 win over Southern Utah on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks rushed for 348 on the night with redshirt senior Kani Benoit gaining 107 on just seven carries. Redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James gained 32 on nine carries.

All told, eight Ducks carried the ball with some attempts going to receivers on fly sweeps, a play Taggart used prominently while at South Florida. But all of that came against an FCS program. Rushing yards won't be as easy to come by against stronger competition, such as Nebraska, which plays at Oregon on Saturday afternoon. 

In such games, Freeman must be the guy, just like LaMichael James and Jonathan Stewart were before him. Both former Ducks running backs played alongside strong backups but each carried the load while producing huge seasons. Taggart plans to follow that same pattern with Freeman, even though he said the Ducks are fortunate to have three starting-caliber running backs. 

“The beauty for us is that we don't have to change our offense because one guy is in the game," Taggart said. "We can continue to run the plays we want to run."

Oregon simply prefers to run most of them with Freeman. 

”And if Royce gets tired we will put the next guys in," Taggart said. 

Maybe no game in recent memory better defines Oregon's long-time depth at running back - thanks to the recruiting of former position coach Gary Campbell - than last year at Nebraska when Freeman went down early with 31 yards on five carries during the 35-32 defeat. 

In his place, Benoit went for 100 yards on six carries, Brooks-James gained 37 yards with three touchdowns, and Taj Griffin rushed for 68 yards on eight carries, including a 50-yard scoring run. 

Still, Freeman is Oregon's starter for a reason. The 235-pound running back, who should break James' career rushing record sometime in November, if not earlier, inflicts punishment on defensive players that pays off later in games. The fact that he can get a rest here and there only makes him stronger late in games while defenses begin to fade. 

"It definitely does (take the pressure off of me,)" Freeman said following Saturday's game. "And I feel like it takes pressure off of (running backs coach Donte Pimpleton), as well, knowing that he has a deep backfield and that if any one of us gets tired or any one of us has any problems out there, we have more than capable other versatile running backs behind me."

Oregon's running backs learning new tricks

Oregon's running backs learning new tricks

Running back drills during Oregon's spring practices have been a bit light on the running backs. 

Senior Royce Freeman, redshirt senior Kani Benoit, and redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James have been the only three going through drills under new running backs coach Donte Pimpleton in what appears to be a thin crew of familiar faces. But appearances can be deceiving. The Ducks remain very much stacked at the position regardless of the overall numbers. And the group is as close as ever.

“We’re like brothers,” Freeman said.

Oregon's running game should look quite familiar next season in new coach Willie Taggart's no-huddle offense, but there will be more of an emphasis in running straight ahead (downhill) and being physical, both along the offensive line and for ballcarriers, especially the 235-pound Freeman.

Taggart, who has reviewed all of last season's game film, said he believes Freeman must run behind his pads better. Meaning, he must be more physical and allow his size and pad level to go through defenders rather than provide tackling angles that benefit defenders. The same points were made about Freeman under former running backs coach Gary Campbell. But in the team's old system, the running game relied a bit more on finesse than this new system under co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal, who came to Oregon from power-running Alabama. 

Cristobal wants the offensive line to be more physical and has added some downhill running plays to Taggart's offensive scheme that the new run game coordinator wants to see Freeman exploit with his size and strength by delivering "body blows," similar to wearing down an opponent in boxing. 

“Come the fourth quarter, your yards per carry and your knockdowns you have, your trunk yardage plays and explosive plays should increase by a significant amount,” Cristobal said. "We want to make it so by the fourth quarter people don’t want to tackle Royce Freeman.”

Or, any other running back on the team for that matter. Cristobal said the entire group has shown toughness this spring. 

“You want to be around guys that enjoy collisions,” Cristobal said. “That search and seek opportunities to be physical and to be tough and to establish a mindset.”

Oregon's depth at running back will receive a jolt next fall. Junior Taj Griffin, who injured his knee late last season, could return at some point, or he could redshirt to save the year of eligibility. Either way, the Ducks will also welcome in freshmen running backs, C.J. Verdell and Darrian Felix. Cyrus Habibi-Likio could also play running back but is expected to start out on the defensive side of the ball. 

So, depth shouldn't be an issue. Then again, does a team really need more than Freeman, Benoit and Brooks-James to be successful? Not likely.

“You know you’re gong to get the same type of talent level [no matter who is] going in,” Benoit said. “There’s not going to be a drop off.”

Freeman said the group was reminiscing the other day about having been together for so long. Benoit will enter his fifth season at UO while Freeman and Brooks-James enter their fourth. The bond among the group, Freeman, said is strong. Benoit said that sense of brotherhood trumps any potential hard feelings about playing time. 

“We all feed off each other," Benoit said. "We all try to make each other better."

Pimpleton, Benoit said, has been working out well and in some ways is like Campbell in how he relates to the players.

“Really calm, but he gets his point across,” Benoit said. “We accept that well. He’s not a yelling coach, he’s not a berating coach. He tells you what you need to do, if not then you’ll come to the sideline. He’ll just waive you over.”

Pimpleton, who along with other assistant coaches who aren't coordinators hasn't been made available for interviews this spring, is putting a heavy emphasis on running backs learning to recognize defenses and fully understand the blocking schemes. 

"That helps us run a lot better knowing where our lanes are and where the holes are going to be," Benoit said. 

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. 

Oregon's defense to receive some extra coaching TLC

Oregon's defense to receive some extra coaching TLC

The Oregon defense, which ranked 128th in the nation last season, will receive some extra tender love and care under new coach Willie Taggart.

During a lengthy one-on-one interview this week that will air later this month on CSN, Taggart said that special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie has recently been handed the extra assignment of also coaching outside linebackers. That will leave defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to coach only the inside linebackers instead of the entire linebacker crew. 

Oregon already has two defensive backs coaches with Keith Heyward handling safeties and Charles Clark directing the cornerbacks. 

Assistant head coach Joe Salave'a will coach the defensive line. 

The reason for the use of multiple coaches at two different position groups on defense is simple. Taggart said the defensive side of the ball needs more work in the areas of development and communication, a big issue for Oregon the past two seasons when the defense ranked among the worst in the nation. 

The decision to have two defensive backs coaches, something Leavitt used as the defensive coordinator in Colorado before Oregon hired him away during the offseason, is to increase communication within a group that is spread out all over the field. Plus, the group must communicate coverages with the linebackers. 

"We're trying to create a synergy throughout the defense," Taggart said.

Teaching a new defense to what was a very young group last year with just one senior starter will be challenging. Having two defensive back coaches working to make sure there is at least proper communication will help accelerate the growth process, Taggart hopes. 

"It's a lot easier if guys have two coaches back there," Taggart said. 

The same could happen with the linebackers. Oregon will have seven linebackers that are going to be either freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores. Getting them up to speed as fast as possible could make all the difference next season, but especially by 2018 when four out of that group will likely make up the starting lineup. 

While the defense will have five full-time coaches handling position groups, the offense will have four. Co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal will take on the running game and the offensive line. Co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo will handle the passing game, quarterbacks and tight ends with the help of a graduate assistant. Michael Johnson will coach wide receivers and Donte Pimpleton will handle the running backs. 

Oregon 2017 Outlook - RBs: Royce Freeman's return means Ducks remain loaded

Oregon 2017 Outlook - RBs: Royce Freeman's return means Ducks remain loaded

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: Quarterbacks; Tight ends, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Running backs.

Key loss: None. 

Projected 2017 starter: Royce Freeman, Sr., (5-11, 230). 

Key backups: Tony Brooks-James, RJr., (5-9, 185), Kani Benoit, RSr., (6-0, 210), Taj Griffin, Jr., (5-10, 180).

What we know: Freeman's return was not required for Oregon to remain potent at this position but having him back certainly gives new running backs coach Donte Pimpleton less to worry about in 2017.

Freeman, should he remain healthy, will likely break LaMichael James' career rushing mark of 5,082 yards. Freeman, who has 4,148 for his career, needs 934 yards to tie James.

What might be more intriguing than watching Freeman chase history is seeing how Brooks-James evolves as a player. He showed flashes of elite ability last season while filling in for an injured Freeman to the point where he became the primary ball carrier in several games, even starting at USC. Had Freeman entered the NFL Draft, next season would have been Brooks-James' time to shine as the starter, but he should still receive enough carries to surpass the 771 yards he racked up last season on 7.6 per carry. Brooks-James will likely be the featured back in 2018 should he stick around for his senior season. 

Benoit, like Brooks-James, has shown abilities worthy of a starter but he won't get that chance with Freeman's return. Nevertheless, Benoit (300 yards last season) gives Oregon a starting-caliber running back off the bench. 

What we don't know: Griffin was lost for the season with a knee injury in early November. He should be able to recover by the start of next season, but where he fits in as a specialty back in Taggart's offense remains to be seen. Chances are Griffin settles back into his role of receiving spot carries in the hopes he breaks a long one, as he did with a 50-yard touchdown run at Nebraska last season. 

UO has two running backs committed to the 2017 class. Both should plan on redshirting behind this group. 

Final word: This position carries with it the least amount of mystery on the team. Pimpleton should have the easiest transition out of all of Oregon's new assistant coaches.  

Position grade: A. Oregon should lead the conference in rushing once again.  

Next up: Tight ends.

Oregon to hire Donte Pimpleton as running backs coach

Oregon to hire Donte Pimpleton as running backs coach

Oregon football coach Willie Taggart is starting to pull from his former coaching staff at South Florida, beginning with the hiring of running backs coach Donte Pimpleton to serve in the same role with the Ducks, a source has confirmed. 

The news was first reported by Fox Sports

Pimpleton will replace Gary Campbell, who coached UO running backs for 34 years under Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and the recently fired, Mark Helfrich. 

New head coach Willie Taggart and Pimpleton have deep ties.  Both played football at Western Kentucky where Pimpleton later coached under Taggart as the offensive quality control coach (2010-2011) and as the wide receivers coach (2012). 

Taggart coached at Western Kentucky from 2010 through 2012 before taking over South Florida. Pimpleton then moved over the Kentucky Wesleyan for two seasons (2013-2014) and then to Delaware State (2015) before rejoining Taggart at USF for the 2016 season. 

Pimpleton played quarterback and receiver at Western Kentucky from 1997 through 2001. Taggart played quarterback there from 1994 through 1998. 

Pimpleton becomes the third new coach at Oregon under Taggart, joining defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty.