dwayne stanford

Oregon's injuries not an excuse, but a serious reality

Oregon's injuries not an excuse, but a serious reality

When a player goes down for Oregon the team emits the battle cry of "next man up."

It's a valuable mindset that means the following: Nobody is going to feel sorry for you because of injuries. Don't allow injuries to be an excuse. Someone must fill the void. 

That's all well and good but every team has its breaking point and Oregon's rash of injuries cannot be ignored as having played a factor in the Ducks' 2-3 start that could easily move to 2-4 after UO faces No. 5 Washington at home on Saturday.

The loss of left tackle Tyrell Crosby for the season hurt the offensive line. The speed of wide receiver Devon Allen, out for the year with a knee injury, is also missed. 

The pass rush has been decimated by the five missed starts from freshman linebacker Troy Dye and redshirt sophomore defensive end Jalen Jelks (knee). They share the lead for sacks with two each in just five combined starts. Let that sink in for a moment. Both missed the loss at Washington State and its quarterback Luke Falk had all night in the pocket. 

Super star running back Royce Freeman missed seven quarters of action between the Nebraska and Colorado losses. 

And so on, and so on. 

To Oregon's credit, nobody on the team has blamed injuries for the team's poor start. Nevertheless, this is one of the more injury-plagued seasons the Ducks have experienced in recent memory.

Here is a look at some of the key injuries Oregon has suffered this season:

Tyrell Crosby, junior left tackle: Out for the season with a foot injury and being replaced by promising redshirt freshman Brady Aiello. The Ducks are starting four redshirt freshmen along the offensive line. 

Devon Allen, redshirt junior wide receiver: The Olympian and team's fastest receiver had a breakthrough game against Virginia (141 yards and a touchdown) only to suffer a season-ending knee injury the following week at Nebraska. 

Johnny Ragin III, senior linebacker: He was lost for the season when he suffered a leg injury at Washington State. He leads the team with 29 tackles. 

Royce Freeman, junior running back: Injured his right leg during the first quarter at Nebraska then missed the following week's loss at home to Colorado. The Ducks likely wouldn't have called a fade pass to Darren Carrington II from the seven-yard line that was intercepted in the final minute against the Buffaloes had Freeman been in the backfield. 

Troy Dye, freshman linebacker: Already the team's best defensive playmaker, Dye was limited to special teams play at Nebraska due to an illness and missed the team's trip to Washington State because of a concussion. He is expected to return this week against Washington. Despite missing so much time, Dye is tied for third on the team with 27 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two sacks. 

Jalen Jelks, redshirt sophomore defensive end: Jelks had two sacks in the teams' win over Virginia but has not seen the field since due to a knee injury. He is likely out again this week against Washington.

Johnny Mundt, senior tight end: Injured his leg in season opener and hasn't played since. Could return this week.  

Jake Pisarcik, offensive lineman: The backup lineman has missed four games because of injury.

A.J. Hotchkins, junior middle linebacker: He missed the Nebraska loss with a lower leg or foot injury (undisclosed) after being seen wearing a walking boot and limping days before the game. 

Pharaoh Brown, senior tight end: He missed the team's loss against Colorado with a leg injury. 

Drayton Carlberg, redshirt freshman defensive tackle: Carlberg became a starter at Nebraska, got injured and has missed the last two games.  

Dwayne Stanford, senior wide receiver: He left the WSU game after getting injured and fumbling in the third quarter. He is likely out this week against Washington. 

Kani Benoit, redshirt junior running back: Injured his right shoulder when being hit after catching the first ever completion for freshman quarterback Justin Herbert. Benoit is likely out this week against Washington, according to sources. 

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Oregon entered the season with holes that have been magnified by youth and injuries. Yes, all teams suffer from injuries, but not many teams could survive this list of afflictions and still remain a contender. 

 

Lack of discipline costing Ducks close games

Lack of discipline costing Ducks close games

EUGENE - Welcome to the new normal for Oregon. It involves close games against once-middling teams that come down to the wire. Matchups that require greater attention to detail to win. Contests that these Ducks have yet to prove they can emerge from victorious. 

The Ducks, after losing 41-38 at home to Colorado on Saturday, are 3-5 in games decided by seven points or less dating back to last season, and have lost three such games in a row dating back to the Alamo Bowl debacle. Since the Ducks became national title contenders in 2010, Oregon is 7-10 in close contests with just 14 losses in seven seasons. 

Essentially, when opponents keep games close they have had a better than 50 percent chance of winning.  That's bad news for Oregon given that the Ducks (2-2) are likely to play in many more close games this season in what looks to be a balanced Pac-12 Conference led by No. 7 Stanford and No. 10 Washington. The question for Oregon is if it has enough talent and discipline to win the vast majority of such games in order to contend in the North Division. So far, the answer is no. 

That reality led to a players-only meeting following Monday's practice held for the team to yell, point fingers, clear the air and redirect this sinking ship in the right direction.  

"I think maybe that's what the team needed, is to get called out at certain positions," senior guard Cameron Hunt said.

The result was a spirited, fast and physical practice on Tuesday that coaches and players called one of the team's best, especially for the defense, which has woefully under-performed and blown fourth-quarter leads in losses at No. 15 Nebraska and to Colorado. 

Too often Oregon blames itself for losses rather than give much credit to the opposition. However, there is no denying that in their last three defeats the Ducks committed gross unforced errors late in the games that contributed greatly to them losing. 

From 2010 through 2014, Oregon found itself in only nine close games out of 68 contests (13.2 percent). Mistakes made in other games were covered up with blowout victories. However, the post-Marcus Mariota (2012-2014) coupled with the dramatic improvement of offenses within the conference have led to the Ducks finding themselves in eight close games out of 17 played (47.1 percent) dating back to the start of last season.

So what's to blame for the failure in close games?

Some outside of the program blame coach Mark Helrich and his staff. The players, however blame themselves. 

"I think our effort was terrible, both sides of the ball, special teams," Hunt said. "I think we can do a lot better and that's something that shouldn't be questioned. Or effort should be full-go. There shouldn't be anything left in the tank when the game is over."

Part of the problem liess with younger players who arrive at Oregon with a grandiose sense of self worth without ever having accomplished anything at the college level. 

"That entitlement, that cannot exist," Helfrich said. 

It did a bit in 2013, leading to veteran leaders such as Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu working to eliminate bad attitudes among players. The result was a run to the national title game during the 2014 season. Now today's veterans are out to perform the same type of eradication project. 

"We have a lot of young players on the team who really don't understand the culture and how we do stuff here," Hunt said. "That's something that is non-negotiable, 100 percent effort on every play, best you've got."

All that said, the veterans also share heavily in the blame, according to senior wide receiver Dwayne Stanford. 

"It's not just the younger guys making mistakes," he said. 

Stanford also added veterans must share in the mistakes made by younger players within their position groups.

"If a receiver messes up, that's on me," Stanford said. 

One young player who certainly gets it is linebacker Troy Dye, who had a lot to say about the defense's lackluster performance.

"There's too many missed tackles, lack of effort," Dye said. "It's the effort and the fight and the hunger. We have to want it more."

In Helfrich's experience, sometimes it takes failure for players to realize the importance of executing the little things within a game plan. He said that often times failure on a second down in the second quarter is as important as a poorly thrown pass that's intercepted in the fourth quarter. 

Plus, nothing screams undisciplined like frequent penalties. Oregon ranks last in the conference in total penalties (41) and penalty yards per game (97.2). Stanford, in three games, has committed just 13 penalties for 32 yards per game. 

If the players-only meeting helps reaffirm the understanding that they must play with more discipline and effort, the Ducks could turn the corner. 

"I think those kinds of things are almost always positive in the end," Helfrich said of the team meeting held on the field following practice. "Like a lot of things there's words and then there's actions and commitments that come out of things."

Oregon next plays at 1-2 Washington State on Saturday. The Ducks are the superior team. Both teams are in desperation mode. Oregon could win going away. Or, if the players-only meeting doesn't pay off, the Ducks could find themselves in another close game they could easily lose. 

Oregon's discipline, or lack thereof, could determine its fate. 

"I hate losing," Hunt said. "I bet you a lot of guys on our team hate losing, as well. So, I mean, you hate it, but what are you going to do now to fix it? That's the big question. It's up to some of these guys on the team whether they want to grow up fast and fix it or if not, we're going to continue to lose."

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 3 - WRs and TEs hard to beat

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 3 - WRs and TEs hard to beat

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Wide receivers and tight ends. 

Projected starters: WR - Senior Dwayne Stanford (6-5, 205), junior Charles Nelson (5-8, 170) and redshirt junior Darren Carrington II (6-2, 195).  TE - Senior Pharaoh Brown (6-6, 250). 

Key backups: WRs - Redshirt junior Devon Allen (6-0, 190), redshirt sophomore Jalen Brown (6-1, 200), freshman Dillon Mitchell (6-1, 190), redshirt freshman Alex Ofodile (6-3, 200);  TEs - Seniors, Evan Bayliss (6-6, 250) and Johnny Mundt (6-4, 245).

Smelling like roses:  Last season's receiving corps was the greatest in program history. Hands down. Gone, however, are Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall. Devon Allen is running the 110-meter hurdles at the Summer Olympics in Rio. Will he return to the football team? Likely. But even if he doesn't, and even without Addison and Marshall, this group remains loaded. Not quite as deep as last year, but loaded, nonetheless. 

Carrington could be the most talented Oregon wide receiver in program history. He served a six-game suspension last season for violating NCAA drug policies prior to the 2014 national title game, but still caught 32 passes for 609 yards and six touchdowns in seven games. Double his production over a full season and you have a potential All-American. 

Maybe the most fascinating piece will be Nelson. His return to the offense full time after playing safety much of last season could lead to a weekly fireworks show from the slot position reminiscent of De'Anthony Thomas. Nelson should receive touches in a variety of ways (screens, short passes, sweeps, reverses), all designed to get him into space, allowing Nelson to make defenders look silly. No way, if healthy, Nelson doesn't score at least 10 touchdowns this season. 

Stanford will be steady as ever. Jalen Brown is a budding star. Mitchell showed flashes in the spring game. Ofodile is a former four-star recruit. 

Then there's the return of Pharaoh Brown at tight end. He hasn't played since that horrible night at Utah in 2014 when he suffered a severe and grotesque leg injury. Now healthy, Brown could return to his NFL-caliber form. If so, watch out Pac-12 defenses. Mundt and Bayliss are solid, but they lack Brown's overall talent, which was special before the injury. 

Place your bets: Just like with the running backs, the Ducks can afford to lose a couple of pieces and remain potent. The only problem is finding enough opportunities for each star to shine. 

Odds are: The receivers, assuming a quarterback can get them the ball, will be as feared as any in the country. Carrington and Nelson will be the most feared receiving duo in the Pac-12.  

Poker hand: Four of a kind with a healthy and dominant Brown at tight end.  The receiving corps is certainly championship caliber. 

Next up: Offensive line.  

Other posts: QuarterbacksWide receivers/Tight ends; Offensive line; Defensive line; Linebackers; Defensive backs.  

Promising wide receiver Kirk Merritt leaves Oregon

Promising wide receiver Kirk Merritt leaves Oregon

Sophomore wide receier Kirk Merritt is transferring from Oregon, a source has confirmed. 

Merritt's departure, first reported by 247sports, comes as a shock given the great expectations that surrounded the former four-star recruit out of Louisiana.  But sources with knowledge of the situation say that Merritt was concerned with finding enough playing time in Oregon's deep group of receivers. 

Merritt in a Tweet, however, referred to "family situations" as his reasons for leaving the Ducks. No word yet on where Merritt will land.  

Merritt appeard to be a big part of Oregon's future after he played in 12 games last season as a true freshman, catching five passes for 61 yards while displaying elite level elusiveness. It was rather shocking that Merritt did not redshirt last fall given the team's depth at receiver. But his talent forced the coaching staff to use him on special teams and in spot duty at receiver. 

With the departure of receivers Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison to the NFL, Merritt figured to see an expanded role in 2016 behind projected starters, redshirt junior Darren Carrington Jr., senior Dwayne Stanford and junior Charles Nelson. Oregon also returns redshirt junior Devon Allen, a former starter who could once again force his way into the starting lineup, and redshirt sophomore Jalen Brown. 

Carrington is believed to be set to enter next year's NFL Draft. Stanford also will be gone. Logic then would dictate that Merritt likely could have been in line to start by 2017. 

Clearly he didn't see it that way, or didn't want to wait that long. 

It must be pointed out that Merritt last year expressed to CSNNW his desire to play running back, which he played in high school. That could have played into his decision to leave. There also is the emergence of freshman wide receiver recruit Dillon Mitchell, who had two touchdown receptions in the spring game. 

Mitchell, along with redshirt freshman Alex Ofodile, also add to the crowded depth chart at wide receiver moving forward. 

Merritt certainly would have played more this season than he will at any other FBS program given that transfer rules will force him to sit out a year.  Or, he could transfer down a level and play right away. He does have the luxury of still possessing a redshirt year, which he could use at an FBS program this fall and then contend for a starting job in 2017. 

It is also possible that a serious enough "family situation" could result in an appeal to the NCAA for Merritt to play in 2016 at an FBS program near his home. The NCAA can allow transfers to not have to sit out if they are transferring for hardship reasons in order to be close to home. 

Merritt tweeted that he had to do what's best for his family. Oregon certainly could have used his talents, but clearly the Ducks have recruited well enough at the wide receiver position to not only cause his departure, but be able to absorb it as well. 

 

Five musts for Oregon Ducks to contend: 3. WR Darren Carrington Jr. must be special

Five musts for Oregon Ducks to contend: 3. WR Darren Carrington Jr. must be special

The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2016 season with more uncertainty surrounding the program than it has seen since 2009 when former coach Chip Kelly took over for Mike Bellotti. UO went 9-4 last season, the program's worst since 2007 (9-4). This week we will take a look at five things that must go right in order for the Ducks to avoid another 9-win season (or worse), win the Pac-12 championship and contend for a national playoff berth. 

No. 3:  Wide receiver Darrington Carrington Jr. must be special.

The situation: Oregon has had some very good receivers over the years. 

Most recently, Josh Huff, Jeff Maehl and Demetrius Williams stand out among the rest. 

But none were ever that dominant, "you can't cover me," future potential first-round NFL Draft pick that other teams had to fear at all times. 

Carrington, a redshirt junior, has the ability to be that guy.  The Ducks will need him to realize that potential in order to contend in the Pac-12 conference. 

Oregon will be stacked at receiver even after losing Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall to the NFL. Senior Dwayne Stanford and junior Charles Nelson return. Redshirt junior Devon Allen hopes to be completely healthy after not behing quite the same last season. Sophomore Kirk Merritt and redshirt sophomore Jalen Brown have star potential. 

But none are on Carrington's level as an all-around, impact receiver. At least not yet.

Carrington began to blossom as a redshirt freshman in 2014 when over the final four games of the season he caught 18 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns. 

The last two performances came in the Pac-12 championship game (seven receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown) and the Rose Bowl win over Florida State (seven receptions for 165 yards with two touchdowns).  

But just when Carrington's star had risen on a national level, he came crashing back down to earth after testing positive for marijuana during an NCAA adminstered drug test. The results led to a six-game suspension, which included the national championship game. 

Carrington returned to action in game seven of last season and the rest of the way amassed 32 receptions for 609 yards and six touchdowns. 

Over that entire 11-game stretch dating back to 2014, Carrington caught 50 passes for 999 yards and nine touchdowns. 

Fully focused, not entering a season midstream and being highly motivated to raise his NFL Draft stock, Carrington is fully capable of putting up even greater numbers over the course of a full season. 

What he could give Oregon is that true No. 1 receiver that commands being accounted for by the defense as an every-down weapon. Sure, Oregon has had many good playmakers, but most put up numbers by virtue of the offense's ability to create openings. Not to take away from their abilities, but there is a reason Oregon hasn't had a receiver taken in the first round since Ahmad Rashad in 1972 (Patrick Johnson went in the second round in 1998). 

Carrington certainly has first-round ability but his baggage might keep him out of the top two rounds when next year's draft rolls around (Carrington is expected to make this his final season at Oregon). Still, that doen't mean he can't perform like a first-rounder and that makes everyone else in the offense better by being a constant threat. The type of threat where it almost doesn't matter what the defense does, he's going to make plays. 

A potent triplet combination of quarterback Dakota Prukop, running back Royce Freeman and Carrington all meeting their potential would certainly make Oregon's offense a unit capable of leading the Ducks team into contention. 

Now, about that defense...

Next up: No. 4 - Defensive secondary must go from serving up touchdowns to being lock down. 

PAST POSTS

No. 1: Dakota Purkop must be Mariota-like

No. 2: Freeman Gets a December invite to New York