Aaron Fentress

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Today won't technically be the first time that the Oregon Ducks take the field under new coach Mario Cristobal when spring drills begin. But in many ways it will be. 

The actual first time Cristobal led the Oregon football team onto a field of any kind occurred in early December shortly after Willie Taggart departed for Florida State, leaving the Ducks in disarray. 

Cristobal did his best to right the ship in time for the Las Vegas Bowl just 10 days later but he simply didn't have enough time to fix the mess at hand. The players, who lobbied for Cristobal to replace Taggart, didn't successfully make the transition from "Do Something" to disappointment and then back to contentment under their new leader (save for defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt being bent out of shape he didn't replace Taggart) in time to avoid a 38-28 loss to Boise State in Sin City. 

There was simply too much disruption in play, and that included star running back Royce Freeman electing not to play in the bowl game in order to avoid a potential injury before departing to the NFL. 

So, let's give Cristobal, the staff (those who returned) and the players the benefit of that doubt that what we saw in Las Vegas was an aberration and that the new era under a man who won national titles as a player at Miami (1989 and 1991) and as an assistant coach at Alabama (2015) begins today with a clean slate.

What Cristobal inherited was a team that should win at least eight games in 2018 given the presence of junior quarterback Justin Herbert, the return of several key players on what was a greatly improved defense, and a weak schedule that included three non-conference powder puffs. 

Reaching 10 wins, or more, will require maintaining the momentum created by Taggart, keeping Herbert healthy (UO went 1-4 in his absence last year due to a broken collarbone) and flushing the offense's showing in Las Vegas while recapturing the magic that had the Ducks averaging about 50 points per game during the regular season when Herbert was in action. 

"I think last year there was a foundation laid between all of us that gave us a chance to start building upon that but there's a big difference between winning seven games and winning eight, nine, 10, 11," Cristobal said.

To reach those levels the Ducks (7-6 last season) must have success against Washington, Stanford and the Chip Kelly-led UCLA Bruins at home, while also finding a way to win potentially tough road games at Arizona and Utah. 

The problem is that there is much mystery to unravel before anyone can rightfully believe that Oregon is going to find those 10 wins and contend in the Pac-12 North. 

Cristobal hasn't been a head coach since being fired from the same position with Florida International in 2012 after going 27-47. The Ducks are on their third coach in 15 months (Mark Helfrich was fired in December of 2016). Backup quarterback remains a huge issue. Wide receiver is in flux. The defensive line lacks depth. Freeman is gone. 

Plus, Oregon's aura as a dominant force has waned. The conference is not longer chasing Oregon. The Ducks are the one doing the hunting. And there's reason to believe that the hierarchy of conference coaches are not shaking in their boots fearful of the Cristobal era sweeping through the conference and laying waste to opponents. 

None of this is to say that Cristobal won't find success. He very well could. He also very well could not. 

We won't know the results for months. But that process begins today. 

Notes: UO will practice five times in March before taking time off for finals and spring break before returning to the field on April 3 to prepare for the spring game on April 21 in Autzen Stadium...Oregon will hold a practice at Franklin High School in Portland on April 7.  The Ducks practiced at Jesuit High School last spring. 

Royce Freeman performed well at the NFL Combine

Royce Freeman performed well at the NFL Combine

Former Oregon running back Royce Freeman ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.54 seconds on Friday at the NFL Scouting Comibine in Indianapolis, Ind.  

His time ranked tied for ninth among the running backs invited to this year's scouting event and made all that more impressive by Freeman's weight of 229 pounds. 

A negative, however, was that Freeman benched 225 pounds just 17 times, which ranked tied for 12th among running backs. Seven running backs did 20 reps or more. One would have though that Freeman, given his size and power, would have done better in this event. 

Freeman did demonstrate great quickness for his size by performing well in the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. 

It was a strong overall showing for Freeman, who shouldn't remain on the draft board beyond the third round. 

Here is how Freeman did in his events:

40-yard dash: 4.54 seconds (ninth. Fastest was 4.38).

Bench press (225 pounds): 17 reps (tied for 12th. The most was 29).

Vertical: 34" (tied for 12th with the high being 41").

Broad jump: 118" (tied for 16th. Best was 128").

3-cone drill: 6.9 seconds (third).

20-yard shuttle: 4.16 seconds (third).

60-yard shuttle: 11.64 seconds (fourth out of six times posted). 

 

 

 

 

Oregon should be above court storming by now

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USA Today

Oregon should be above court storming by now

When Oregon's 98-93 win in overtime over No. 14 Arizona came to an end Saturday night, Ducks' fans - mostly students - stormed the court at Matthew Knight Arena to celebrate UO's biggest win since - Jan. 11.

Wait, what?

Yeah. That happened. 

Look, I'm not against court storming as long as the fans storming the court show respect to the opposing team as they exit the floor.  But standards must be adhered to in regards to the quality of victory warranting that type of grand celebration. 

Court storming should be reserved for when a clear underdog and rising program vanquishes a major power in a monumental upset. 

Saturday's win over Arizona didn't fit that criteria. 

Oregon won 76-72 at then No. 11 Arizona State in January to give the Ducks an upset victory over a ranked team this season. 

Also, Oregon (19-10, 9-7 Pac-12) defeated Arizona (22-7, 12-4) as recently as last season, at home, 85-58. So, it's not as if Saturday's win came after ions of failing to take down the Wildcats. 

Finally - and this is the most important point - Oregon went to the Final Four last season after reaching the Elite Eight the year before. And, along the way, the Ducks took down might Duke during the 2016 NCAA Tournament and then last year defeated Kansas last March in Kansas City, Mo., just 42 minutes east of the university. 

One would think that defeating Arizona less than a year after winning over Kansas and advancing to the program's first Final Four appearance since 1939 wouldn't be worthy of taking the party to the court. 

It must also be noted that the regular season finale at MKA might not even be Oregon's final home game. The Ducks might not reach the NCAA Tournament. That reality would make the win over Arizona a bit hollow. 

No NCAA bid would likely mean an NIT bid, which would almost assuredly result in a home game for the Ducks. 

Is this a big deal? No. But the Ducks' program has reached great enough heights to make court storming following a win over No. 14 Arizona appear to be a bit much

 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 7)...: They replace DL Henry Mondeaux.

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 7)...: They replace DL Henry Mondeaux.

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backsLinebackersDefensive line.   

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 7)...:They replace DL Henry Mondeaux.

Key losses: Senior Henry Mondeaux was an impact, three-year starter. Also gone are Elijahn George and Scott Pagano, who was limited by injuries after transferring in from Clemson. 

Projected starters: Defensive end Jalen Jelks, RSr., (6-6, 245); Nose Jordon Scott, So., (6-1, 200); defensive end Austin Faoliu (6-3, 289). 

Key backups: Drayton Carlberg, RJr., (6-5, 286); Gary Baker, RJr., (6-3, 325); Hunter Kampmoyer, RSo., (6-4, 272); Malik Young, RSr., (6-2, 301)

What we know: Jelks has blossomed into a star. The ultra-athletic and talented Jelks led the team with both 6 1/2 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. He gave the Ducks a pass rusher that they sorely lacked in 2016. He should be all-Pac-12 in 2018, if not make a run at defensive player of the year.

Scott is a beast in the making. As a freshman, he proved to be a valuable run stuffer and pocket destroyer, and he should only get better. 

What we don't know: Faoliu remains a bit of a wild card. There is reason to believe that he will step right in and fill Mondeaux's former spot, but we don't yet know how well he will do in that role full time. 

Plus, the depth situation remains precarious. 

What must happen for Oregon to contend: At the very least, Faoliu must play consistently well. He doesn't need to dominate, just be better than average. If so, Oregon will have one of the best three-man defensive lines in the conference and that will allow the linebackers, where there are some question marks, to flourish. If Faoliu is average, and the depth doesn't come through, the Ducks could have a weakness in play that might prevent them from contending in the Pac-12. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 6)...: Troy Dye gets some help

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 6)...: Troy Dye gets some help

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backsLinebackersDefensive line.   

Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 6)...: Troy Dye gets some help. 

Key losses: Seniors Jimmie Swain, Jonah Moi and A.J. Hotchkins ended their careers at Oregon. 

Projected starters: Inside linebacker Troy Dye, Jr., (6-4, 224); inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu, Sr., (5-11, 200); outside linebacker Justin Hollins, RSr., (6-5, 238); outside linebacker, La'Mar Winston Jr., Jr., (6-2, 214).

Key backups: Sampson Niu, So., (6-1, 215); Fotu T. Leiato II, Sr., (5-1, 198).

What we know: Dye is one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 and easily the best defensive player on the Ducks. He led the team with 107 tackles, far ahead of Swain's 65, second most on the team. 

Hollins came into his own after finally being put into a position to succeed at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense rather than being used as an undersized defensive end in the 4-3 under the previous regime in 2016. His 11 1/2 tackles for loss ranked third on the team behind defensive end Jalen Jelks (15) and Dye (13 1/2). 

What we don't know: Is Winston ready to have a huge impact and who will join Dye at inside linebacker?

Winston, a former four-star recruit, had eight tackles for loss in seven starts last season. Apelu began the year as a starter inside but an early injury knocked him out for the season. 

Apelu has the heart and quickness the Ducks would want inside but at 200 pounds, he is dramatically on the light side for an inside linebacker. But there is no clear threat to his position as a starter entering the offseason. 

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Dye and Hollins give the ducks two impact linebackers, which is more than most teams can boast. But in order to contend, the Ducks will need Winston to build upon last season and become that third outstanding linebacker on the field. Plus, Oregon must find a solution at the other inside linebacker spot. Niu, a four-star recruit last year, is a possibility, but he is also undersized. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 7)...: The D line replaces Mondeaux. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 5)...: Young DBs must develop

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 5)...: Young DBs must develop

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backs; LinebackersDefensive line.   

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 5)...: A young secondary develops.

Key losses: Cornerback Arrion Springs and safety Tyree Robinson completed their careers. 

Projected 2017 starters: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., So., (5-10, 189); cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, So., (5-11, 190); safety Ugochukwu Amadi, Sr., (5-9, 197); safety Brady Breeze, RSo., (6-0, 194).

Key backups: Nick Pickett, So., (6-1, 198); Mattrell McGraw, RSr., (5-10, 193); Billy Gibson, So., (6-1, 179). 

What we know: Graham played well enough as a freshman to indicate that he has true star power. Amadi is versatile enough to start at wither cornerback or safety. Breeze, Pickett and Lenoir showed flashes but mostly performed like the young players that they were. 

What we don't know:  Breeze and Pickett both had strong moments last year but injuries and inconsistent play prevented them from having a huge impact. At least one will be needed to elevate his game to start alongside Amadi, or, should he return to cornerback, both Pickett and Breeze could end up starting. 

How that would work out is a mystery, as would be the results of starting Lenoir opposite Graham, which would give the Ducks two very young starting cornerbacks in a strong passing conference. 

The Ducks could very well be better off with Amadi back at cornerback and rolling the dice on Breeze and Pickett at safety. Both are extremely athletic and have star potential. 

McGraw shouldn't be forgotten. He began last season as the starter but ended up as a backup. At the very least, he provides veteran leadership to a defensive backfield in desperate need of experience. 

What must happen for Oregon to contend:  Graham, Lenoir, Pickett and Breeze could very well make up the starting secondary in 2019 and 2020. But they will be desperately needed to perform at a high level in 2018 if the Duck are going to contend now. 

Having an inexperienced secondary in the Pac-12 is a recipe for disaster, as we all saw in 2015 when Springs (sophomore) and Amadi (freshman) both started at cornerback. 

Some help and depth could be on the way. Freshman four-star recruits, Verone McKinley II and junior college transfer Haki Woods could push for playing time. But they shouldn't be counted on to help create a contending-caliber secondary in their first season in the Pac-12. 

That will require rapid development of the four aforementioned defensive backs that could be a year away from truly blossoming as a group.  

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 5)...: Troy Dye gets some help. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 4)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't sorely missed

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 4)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't sorely missed

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backsLinebackersDefensive line.   

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't sorely missed. 

Key losses: Senior Tyrell Crosby Cameron could be a first-round pick in April's NFL Draft. Jake Pisarcik started at guard in 2017. Senior backup Doug Brenner is also gone. 

Projected 2017 starters: Left tackle Calvin Throckmorton, RJr., (6-5, 307); left guard Shane Lemieux, RJr., (6-4, 317); center Jake Hanson, RJr., (6-5, 302); right guard George Moore, Jr., (6-6, 300); right tackle Brady Aiello, RSo., (6-7, 307).

Key backups: Jacob Capra, RSo., (6-4, 311); Alex Forsyth, RFr., (6-3, 297); Sam Poutasi, RSo., (6-4, 302). 

What we know: Losing Crosby will sting. No way around it. However, returning proven talent with Throckmorton, Hanson and Lemieux, as well as Aielllo, who has made numerous starts, lessons the blow. 

That foursome will make for more than just a legit unit. It could be great and will keep the Ducks' running game humming. 

What we don't know: Who fits where? Throckmorton could remain at right tackle allowing Aiello to start at left tackle, where he saw starts in 2016 during Crosby's 10-game absence. Or, if Throckmorton is the best tackle on the team, he might be better served at left tackle. 

The wild card here is Moore, who could start at a tackle spot, forcing Throckmorton to guard. Or, maybe Aiello plays some guard, but at 6-7 that might not be a natural fit. 

This all, of course, is a good problem for coach Mario Cristobal to have as he searches for the best mix. 

What must happen for Oregon to contend: The Ducks simply need to find a lineup that makes Crosby's departure not hurt too much. That starts with identifying the best left tackle that can keep heat off of quarterback Justin Herbert's backside. Crosby rarely allowed anyone to ever get near the quarterback and he will be rewarded with a fat NFL contract this spring.  If left tackle is properly anchored, then the rest of the line will fall into place. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 5)...: A young secondary develops. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)... They find a compliment for WR Dillon Mitchell

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USA Today

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)... They find a compliment for WR Dillon Mitchell

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backsLinebackersDefensive line.   

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)...: They find WR Mitchell some help.

Key departures: Charles Nelson moves on after a disappointing season that saw him hindered by an ankle injury and gaining just 404 yards on 32 receptions with one touchdown. 

Projected 2017 starting WRs: Dillon Mitchell, Jr. (6-1, 185); Johnny Johnson III, So., (6-0, 205); Brenden Schooler, Jr., (6-2, 195).

Key backup WRs: Jaylon Redd, So., (5-8, 181), Taj Griffin, Sr., (5-11, 178);  Alex Ofodile, RJr., (6-2, 205); Darrian McNeal, So., (5-9, 163); Malik Lovette, RSo., (5-10, 200);

Projected 2017 TE starter: Jacob Breeland, RJr. (6-5, 241).

Key backup TEs: Cam McCormick, RSo., (6-5, 248); Ryan Bay, RJr., (6-3, 231). 

What we know: Mitchell could become a true No. 1 receiver. The type of target that requires extra attention in coverage. Mitchell showed flashes of being that guys last season when he led Oregon with 42 receptions and 517 receiving yards, and he should be expected to take the next step in 2018. 

Breeland has also shown similar flashes. He led the team with five touchdowns on just 18 receptions for 320 yards. 

The statistics for both were hurt by quarterback Justin Herbert's five-game absence.  

What we don't know: Who is going to provide adequate help to keep defenses from ganging up on Mitchell and Breeland?

Johnson demonstrated a gift for making spectacular catches but also at times played like the freshman that he was. Schooler made a few big plays here and there but didn't really strike fear into opposing defenses. McCormick also showed promise. 

Right now, Oregon has a group of largely adequate but hardly spectacular receivers. This group has a long ways to go to match the corps that helped Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr. torch the Pac-12 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. 

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Aside from Mitchell and Breeland reaching the levels of Darren Carrington II and Colt Lyerla (minus the off-the-field troubles), the Ducks need two additional receivers to become strong targets along the lines of a Dwayne Stanford. 

Schooler, after a full season and offseason under his belt since moving to receiver, has the tools to become a consistent threat if he can start to master the nuances of the position that largely escaped him in 2017.

Johnson has probably the highest ceiling on the roster next to Mitchell. How he performed as a true freshman with should offer encouragement that he is just scratching the surface of his potential. In a perfect world, he would have redshirted last season. But Johnson had to play because of a lack of proven targets on the roster. That year of experience could result in Johnson taking off next season. 

McCormick should at least be solid enough as the backup tight end and Oregon typically has just one on the field.

So there keys here are Schooler and Johnson. If they don't deliver, the Ducks could hope that Ofodile finally blossoms, and/or that someone else surprises. 

But the most likely scenario is that either Schooler or Johnson emerges or the Ducks will remain limited at receiver. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 4)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't missed. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backs; LinebackersDefensive line.   

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges. 

Key departures: Senior Royce Freeman moved on to the NFL after breaking nearly every school record imaginable.  Versatile senior backup Kani Benoit is also gone.  

Projected 2017 starter: Tony Brooks-James, RSr., (5-9, 175),

Key backups: Darrian Felix, Soph., (5-11, 178); C.J. Verdell, RFr., (5-8, 192); Taj Griffin, Sr., (5-11, 178); Cyrus Habibi-Likio, RFr., (6-0, 208). 

What we know: Freeman is gone. Let's all take a moment to reflect on his greatness.

Now, let's take a moment to reflect on what his absence could mean for Oregon.

Yikes!

Then toss in the loss of Benoit. 

Double yikes!

Oregon hasn't lost this much running back talent in one offseason since maybe ever. But, in typical Oregon tradition, there is a potentially great running back waiting in the wings. 

Brooks-James has rushed for 1,557 yards in his career on 226 carries (5.9 per carry) and has scored 14 rushing touchdowns. If he managed to put up those same numbers in one season, the Ducks will be in business. 

Essentially, Oregon needs Brooks-James to become the next Kenjon Barner, who after backing up LaMichael James for three seasons, rushed for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior in 2012. 

What we don't know: Can Brooks-James be that guy? And, will he truly need to?

At a listed 178 pounds, it might be a lot to ask of James to carry the ball 20 times per game and survive the season. If he isn't up to the task, the Ducks do have options, albeit of the unproven variety. 

Felix saw minimal time as a freshman and gained 182 yards. The real wild card is Verdell, who by all accounts is the next great UO running back in waiting. He redshirted in 2017 due to injuries and ample depth already in place. 

We can't ignore Griffin, who was moved to wide receiver last season but still received some carries. He has 848 career rushing yards in his career on 6.1 yards per carry. 

Habibi-Likio has a lot of ground to make up on the depth chart in order to crash the rotation next season. But he does offer more bulk at 208 pounds than every other running back, except maybe Verdell, who packs 192 pounds on his 5-8 frame.  

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Clearly, Oregon must be able to run the ball well in order to succeed. Ideally, the Ducks will have a clear No. 1 back, and that man should be Brooks-James. But he doesn't have to match the level of play displayed in the past by the likes of Jonathan Stewart, James, Barner or Freeman. Brooks-James could simply be what Byron Marshall was in 2013 when he rushed for 1,068 yards and 14 touchdowns while Thomas Tyner chipped in 711 rushing yards and De'Anthony Thomas went for 594. 

If Oregon gets that type of production out of its top three running backs in 2018, the Ducks will be just fine. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)...: Someone compliments WR Dillon Mitchell. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backsLinebackersDefensive line.   

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback.

Key departure: Senior Taylor Alie.

Projected 2018 starter: Justin Herbert, Jr., (6-6, 225). 

Key backups: Braxton Burmeister, Soph., (6-1, 204); Tyler Shough, Fr., (6-4, 190).

What we know: Oregon, other than during the Las Vegas Bowl, had one of the best offenses in the nation when Herbert was healthy. He will be the unchallenged starter again in 2018 and could find himself in Heisman Trophy contention should he remain in the lineup and the Ducks improve on last year's 7-6 record. 

What we don't know: Can the Ducks survive any length of time without Herbert in 2018? Unless Oregon brings in a transfer quarterback, the backup will either be Burmeister, who struggled greatly during the five games Herbert missed last season (57 percent completions, two touchdown passes and six interceptions), or Shough, a four-star recruit who plans to enroll in time for spring drills.

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Herbert must avoid injury or one of the two youngsters had better become serviceable enough to prevent the offense from imploding upon their insertion into the lineup. 

Oregon went 1-4 minus Herbert last year while scoring about 15 points per game. Herbert missed the toughest part of the team's schedule last season. If he were to miss a weaker stretch of games next year, maybe the Ducks survive his absence in the short term. If he misses any stretch that includes key games against the likes of Washington, UCLA, Stanford or Arizona, the Ducks could be cooked.   

That is, unless Burmeister grows up in a hurry or Shough turns out to be the next Herbert. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if...: Tony Brooks-James is ready dominate.