Thomas Graham

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

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. 2: It's time to see what the hype surrounding freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. is all about. 

Oregon freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. seemingly has adjusted well to college football, at least as far as practices go. 

The 2017 recruit, rated as the No. 12 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, enrolled at Oregon early enough to participate in spring drills and immediately began turning heads.  

Oregon coach Willie Taggart has raved about Graham's ability to make plays and his love for the game. Junior cornerback Ugo Amadi said Graham reminded him of when he burst onto the scene as a highly-touted freshman in 2015. Senior cornerback Arrion Springs said Graham has been tremendous and is certainly better than he was as a freshman. 

Then there were these comments from senior safety/cornerback Tyree Robinson: "Thomas Graham has set himself apart form everyone else so far. He's just a competitor. Just from day one, he hasn't backed down from anybody. We just love that toughness."

We've been down this road before, however, with Oregon defensive backs. Early hype, then reality sets in. It's probably best to let Graham fly under the radar for a bit, especially in the Pac-12, typically loaded with strong passing teams. 

But while it might be wise to temper expectations for the young cornerback, it could still be fascinating to see glimpses of what his teammates and coaches have been raving about. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

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."

 

Taggart lands first big recruiting fish, DB Thomas Graham

Taggart lands first big recruiting fish, DB Thomas Graham

Oregon coach Willie Taggart landed his first big fish today when 4-star defensive back Thomas Graham Jr. announced that he will play for the Ducks and then immediately signed on the dotted line.  

Graham made his announcement this morning Rancho Cucamonga High School with friends and teammates in attendance. The ceremony was shown via Facebook Live. Graham thanked some important people in his life, said a few words about his decision and then signed his letter of intent on the spot before flashing the "O" sign with his hands.

Graham, who had an in-home visit with Taggart last weekend, will be an early enrollee and on campus in January.

Graham, originally recruited by former Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal, is rated by Rivals.com as the 11 best player in California, 110th overall in the nation and as the 11th best defensive back in the nation. At 247Sports, Graham is rated as the No. 8 defensive back in the nation and No. 61 overall.

Graham visited Oregon on Nov. 11. He also visited Arizona, Arizona State, Nebraska and Notre Dame.

The signing of Graham came days after Taggart got three-star athlete, Darrian McNeal, out of Florida, to flip his commitment from Arizona to the Ducks. A quarterback in high school, Mcneal likely play slot receiver for the Ducks.

Oregon also signed three-star defensive tackle Rutger Reitmaier out of Nashville, Tenn., to a financial aide package. He will also enroll early. Recruited by former defensive line coach, Ron Aiken, Reitmaier received offers from more than a dozen other programs.

The addition of Graham moved Oregon's class to No. 39 in the Rivals.com rankings but that was short lived. The Ducks fell to No. 44 after losing a commitment from three-star (Rivals and 247Sports) tight end Tre McKitty out of Bradenton, Fla.

It must be noted that Taggart, who left South Florida to take the Oregon job, is also from Bradenton.

Oregon's 2017 class now has 13 commitments. Taggart has made several offers to high-profile recruits already committed to other programs.