Oregon Ducks

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. 

JUST IN: Oregon lands top grad transfer WR, Juwan Johnson

JUST IN: Oregon lands top grad transfer WR, Juwan Johnson

Penn State grad transfer Juwan Johnson is headed to Eugene.

The 6-foot-4, 231 pound veteran receiver, who announced plans to become a graduate transfer in January, committed to Oregon and will soon be receiving catches from Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert.

Johnson shared news of his commitment via social media on Thursday.

In his four years with Penn State, Johnson caught 81 passes for 1,123 yards and two touchdowns. He saw a dip in his production during his junior campaign, notching 25 catches for 352 yards and one touchdown.

Out of high school, he was a U.S. Army All-American and ranked No. 12 nationally, choosing Penn State over offers from Alabama, Ohio State and others.

While Oregon coach Mario Cristobal was at Alabama, he developed a relationship with Johnson during his recruitment and that connection likely carried into early February, when Johnson took his official visit to Oregon.

Johnson’s decision to join UO likely came to fruition due to Ducks need at the receiver group and Oregon football's optimism heading into the 2019 season. Dillion Mitchell, Herbert’s No. 1 target, announced in January he will not return to Oregon and will declare for the 2019 NFL Draft.

UO’s second returning receiver, sophomore Jaylen Redd, had less than half of Mitchell’s receptions and yards with 31 catches for 368 yards. No returning Oregon receiver had more than three catches or 35 yards per game last season.

Johnson will be able to make an impact immediately and provides Oregon with a veteran presence to join incoming freshmen Josh Delgado, Mycah Pittman, Lance Willhoite and J.R. Waters alongside Redd, Johnny Johnson III, Brendan Schooler, Bryan Addison and others.

Leavitt didn’t fit Cristobal’s vision; A decade in the making

Leavitt didn’t fit Cristobal’s vision; A decade in the making

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt are parting ways. I’ve heard the same thing over and over from people inside the Oregon football program… Leavitt was simply "not in Cristobal’s vision".

Have you heard about Leavitt and Cristobal’s rocky start? Their relationship started with a phone call over a decade ago, that I would consider perfect foreshadowing.

Before we get to the beginning, let’s look at the end. You could point to he sticky situation when former Oregon coach Willie Taggart left for Florida State and both vyed for the open position.  Despite Leavitt’s stronger resume, Oregon promoted Cristobal to head coach. Keep in mind, Cristobal had the recruiting prowess, the vision of “Oregon Football 2.0” and a petition with his players signatures lobbying for him to be their new coach.

After his promotion, Cristobal confronted Leavitt about the awkward situation and the two headstrong coaches put aside their personal ambitions for a season. Let’s be honest though, the lure of Oregon’s $600,000 raise probably swayed Leavitt’s decision to stay.

Whether it be that raise or the promotion, there was a tangible imbalance of power. The salaries were not typical; Leavitt earned the sixth most by a coordinator in the nation and only $800,000 less annually than Cristobal. After Leavitt successfully stabilized the Duck defense, improving Oregon's 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 28th in 2017, he took ownership and made it known Cristobal should stick to offense.

My fellow reporter Aaron Fentress said it best, “bottom line is, there was just too much friction between Cristobal and Leavitt.”

Leavitt and Cristobal, according to Fentress, nearly came to blows during a practice in 2017.

The tension has been around for longer than a decade, starting with a phone fight from 2007, detailed by Cristobal during a one-on-one interview with Fentress last year. 

Their relationship started when Florida International University, where Cristobal was head coach from 2007-12, was preparing for their upcoming game against University of South Florida. The FIU program was only three years old, and Cristobal needed to scout USF, so he called them to ask for game film (colleges must share game film with each other). At the time, USF had played two games that season, and FIU had played one game.

Cristobal requested the game film from both games. Leavitt, USF’s coach at the time, answered the call, declined and arguing ensued. 

Leavitt wanted to only share one game because he was only getting one game of film in return. Cristobal wanted to pick which of the games he received, while Leavitt questioned if he already had the film of the other one (he did). The two coaches went back and forth until Cristobal came to a realization.

“I was like, wow, this is like I’m talking to my dad here.” 

It was just a small confrontation over 10 years ago, but the foreshadowing is ironic.

Now Leavitt and Cristobal are no longer on the same team. 

Cristobal wants his coaches, his recruits, his strength and conditioning program, his offense AND his defense. Oregon football 2.0 is his vision and he’s taken another step to get there.

He made a statement by parting ways with Leavitt. If you aren’t in his vision, you won’t be around for long.

The official release from Oregon states 'a national search for a new UO defensive coordinator is underway.' However, according to sources within NBC Sports NW and multiple reports, Cristobal is expected to promote safeties coach Keith Heyward to defensive coordinator.

Heyward is apparently in Cristobal’s vision. Yes, former Oregon coach Willie Taggart hired Heyward, but Cristobal extended Heyward’s contract in 2017, when Taggart left. Cristobal called the defensive backs coach a “rising star” and according to Fentress, Heyward and Taggart were the coaches behind Oregon's defense that shut down Arizona and quarterback Khalil Tate in 2017. Then, entering the 2018 season, Cristobal added co-defensive coordinator duties to Heyward’s role.  

With the highest ever recruiting class coming to Eugene and his staff in place, the 2019 Oregon football season is all on Cristobal, top to bottom. 

Jim Leavitt's departure is addition by subtraction of a distraction for the Oregon Ducks

Jim Leavitt's departure is addition by subtraction of a distraction for the Oregon Ducks

We are two seasons removed from the firing of a legacy staff and save for one strong recruiting class. It's safe to say that the last two years have been rocky off the field more so than on. 

The departure of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, first reported by 247 Sports and verified by sources to NBC Sports Northwest, is the latest chapter in a rather dysfunctional tale of a seemingly unstable program. 

Maybe now things will settle down without Leavitt, who was ridiculously celebrated as the second coming of Buddy Ryan or when Oregon hired him in 2017, and, according to sources, has never gotten along with coach Mario Cristobal, leading to endless friction since the two joined Oregon's staff under former coach Willie Taggart. 

Let's be frank about this. Nothing has ever been copacetic between Cristobal and Leavitt. Anyone out there that believed the new staff sat around the camp fire singing "kumbaya my lord" was living in fantasy land.

Leavitt and Cristobal, according to sources, nearly cam to blows during a practice in 2017. When Taggart left the the program that December for Florida State, Leavitt lobbied hard for the interim and permanent head coaching position leading up to the Las Vegas Bowl, and lost out to Cristobal. An angry Leavitt looked to leave Oregon for a program willing to pay him the $1.15 million per year that the Ducks had coughed up for his services. Reports surfaced that Taggart had offered him $2 million to follow him to Florida State, but those were false.

When Leavitt, who according to sources will be replaced by defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, elected to remain at Oregon, it publicly appeared that he truly wanted to be with the Ducks and most of the public lapped up that storyline, which was being fueled by the 62-year-old coach's always-lively Twitter feed. 

But the truth is that Leavitt stayed because Oregon foolishly tossed an additional $600 K his way to raise his salary to $1.7 million in 2018, compared to the $2.5 million that Cristobal received. The raise smacked of desperation for a program that saw the defense take a dive in 2015 and 2016 only to witness Leavitt bring it back to life in 2017, and had just lost Taggart. 

The goal was to keep as much of the staff together as possible and that meant raises. 

However, Leavitt has never in his life proven himself to be a defensive coordinator worthy of that kind of money. He had only been the lone defensive coordinator at the major college level once before and that was at Colorado, where he helped a young defense in 2015 grow into a great, senior-dominated defense in 2016. That convinced Oregon to throw big money at Leavitt while ignoring the fact that the Ducks that year had put up 508 yards on the Buffaloes in a 40-34 loss at home while without running back Royce Freeman, offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby and wide receiver Devon Allen, and with solid, but not great, Dakota Prukop at quarterback. 

Regardless, Leavitt did have a good season with Oregon in 2017 but he also did benefit from taking over a unit that had lost just one impact senior from the previous season. It only stood to reason that the defense would improve, and it did, greatly, jumping from 128th in the nation to 28th. 

But in 2018, with most of that defense returning, Oregon regressed to 55th in the nation. That wasn't the type of production that Oregon had paid $1.7 million to receive. 

Furthermore, the friction between Cristobal and Leavitt never waned. Leavitt expected and got autonomy on defense and still harbored a grudge for being passed over for the head coaching position. In many ways, Leavitt had a right to be bitter. He had been a wildly successful head coach at South Florida from 1997 through 2009, posting a record of 95-57 while helping the Bulls make the move to the FBS level. There, Leavitt won three bowl games in five seasons while the program was a member of the Big East Conference. 

Cristobal had been a head coach once before at Florida International where he had an unimpressive record of 36-52, albeit under very trying circumstances. 

What truly gave Cristobal the edge over Leavitt was his amazing recruiting ability, which just helped the Ducks land its highest-rated recruiting class ever at No. 7 on Rivals.com, and that he had never been accused of striking a player, an accusation that Leavitt has denied but ultimately ended his run at South Florida and has haunted his career. 

So, with Leavitt's bitterness and the obvious friction between two alpha dog coaches, it only stood to reason that this situation would prove to be untenable and eventually erode. Plus, while Leavitt is a very good defensive coordinator, he is not the mythical figure he has been made out to be since he arrived in Eugene. 

For example: According to sources, Heyward and Taggart were the men behind Oregon's defense that shut down Arizona and quarterback Khalil Tate in 2017. Tate had been ripping up the Pac-12 by gaining 1,207 rushing yards over his first six conference starts before the Ducks held him to 32 in a 48-28 UO victory at home. 

So, it could very well be that the defense will be in great hands under Heyward, however this will be his first run at being a defensive coordinator. Could there be growing pains? Possibly. And if so, how long of a leach will Heyward be given to work through his inexperience in this role?

Since the firing of Mark Helfrich in 2016, Oregon hasn't experienced much in the way of stability or consistency, and there has been plenty of controversy.

  • Assistant coach David Reaves was arrested for DUII and fired in early 2017. 
  • A second assistant coach, Jimmie Dougherty, who was riding with Reaves also was fired. 
  • Players were hospitalized following excessive workouts in 2017. Two of the players, Doug Brenner and Sam Poutasi, are suing Taggart, the NCAA and Oregon. 
  • Taggart left after one season causing Oregon's 2018 recruiting class to fall from No. 1 to No. 18. 
  • Leavitt leaves team after two seasons. 

 

The good news is that the Ducks won a bowl game last season, did land a very strong recruiting class in 2019 and quarterback Justin Herbert elected to return for his senior season. 

And now, Cristobal will have a staff that is made up only of men he hired or wanted to retain. For the first time, it can truly be said that this is Cristobal's program from top to bottom. 

But what happens after Herbert is gone after next season? He, like Leavitt, regressed statistically last season, inexplicable for a junior quarterback with first-round NFL talent. That's a bad sign for the future of the offense beyond Herbert and the future of the defense is in flux with a new coordinator. 

One thing for sure is the past two years for the Ducks' football program have been anything but dull and the next couple of years promise to be equally as intriguing. 

Next man up? With Jim Leavitt out, who will run Oregon's defense

Next man up? With Jim Leavitt out, who will run Oregon's defense

Oregon is parting ways with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. All Pepsi jokes aside, Leavitt stabilized the Ducks’ defense over the past two seasons, helping improve Oregon's 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in the nation in 2018.

As the sixth-highest paid assistant in the nation, Leavitt was earning $1.7 million annually and under contract for two more years. The amount for his remaining buyout would have been $3.4 million, less anything he earns in the next two years.

The athletic department announced Thursday the “mutually reached agreement to part ways” will be funded from private sources over multiple years. Oregon will pay him a maximum amount of $2.5 million, subject to reduction based on future employment.

This news begs the question, with star linebacker Troy Dye returning to lead the 2019 defense and the some of the nation’s top talent signing with Oregon, including incoming freshmen defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who will be in charge of Oregon’s defense?

The official release from Oregon states 'a national search for a new UO defensive coordinator is underway'. However according to sources within NBC Sports NW and multiple reports, Cristobal is expected to promote safeties coach Keith Heyward to defensive coordinator. Heyward was hired as the Ducks’ safeties coach in January 2017. Here is what you need to know about the Oregon State alumnus:

Entering the 2018 season, Cristobal added co-defensive coordinator duties to his role and earns $450,000 annually at Oregon.

“Keith is a rising star in this industry and played an instrumental role in our remarkable improvement defensively across all metrics,” Mario Cristobal said after extending Heyward’s contract in 2017 after former head coach Willie Taggart departed for Florida State. “We look forward to his continued impact in the development of our players.”

Prior to Oregon, he was the secondary coach at Louisville in 2016. In one season as Louisville’s defensive backs coach the Cardinals racked up 15 interceptions.

Heyward is a veteran of the Pac-12 Conference as both coach and player. The leader of the Oregon safeties room has coached defensive backs at four different Pac-12 schools (Oregon, Washington, USC, Oregon State) and was an All-Pac-10 cornerback at Oregon State, ending his career with 35 consecutive starts.

While coaching defensive backs at USC in 2014-15, he also served as passing game coordinator. He helped the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship game and a trip to the Holiday Bowl in 2015.

Can he help Oregon win its first Pac-12 title since 2014?

The defense loses key components including safety Ugo Amadi, linebacker Justin Hollins and defensive end Jalen Jelks. However, after starting six sophomores in 2018, the 2019 defense could make an improvement. Not to be overlooked, the Ducks add Thibodeaux and linebacker Mase Funa, who could make an impact right away.

By the way, don’t worry about Thibodeaux transferring away from Oregon. The nation’s No. 1 recruit tweeted this after the Leavitt news broke.

Here are more reactions from the Duck defense.

Players reactions: Ducks defense is shook over Leavitt news

Players reactions: Ducks defense is shook over Leavitt news

If you are shocked to hear that defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and Oregon are parting ways, you aren't alone.

In the few minutes since the story broke, many Oregon defensive players took to Twitter to share their reactions about Leavitt leaving, one can assume. It appears the Ducks were not aware that Leavitt would not be back for a third season. Very notable is linebacker Troy Dye's response, who made the decision to forgo the 2019 NFL Draft to return for his senior season. Also, is the nation's No. 1 recruit, Kayvon Thibodeaux, HAPPY that Leavitt is gone? The good news is he does not plan on transferring. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little background on Leavitt: Leavitt is the highest paid coordinator in the Pac-12 conference. Over the span of two years as Oregon's defensive coordinator, he has improved the Ducks' 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in 2018 in the nation. Oregon's scoring defense has also improved from 41.4 points per game to 28 points per game.

Ducks defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt leaving Oregon

Ducks defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt leaving Oregon

Reports indicate that Oregon inside linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is to leave the Oregon football program, first reported by Matt Prehm of 247 Sports.

Over the span of two years as Oregon's defensive coordinator, Leavitt improved the Ducks' 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in 2018 in the nation. Oregon's scoring defense has also improved from 41.4 points per game to 28 points per game.

Leavitt joins outisde linebackers coach Cort Dennison as well as wide receivers coach Michael Johnson as the coaches to leave the Oregon program following the 2018 season.

Mario Cristobal now has one more big coaching void to fill after hiring Ken Wilson (outside linebackers from WSU) and Jovon Bouknight (wide receivers from Texas Tech).

According to the 24/7 report, Oregon will appoint co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Keith Heyward to defensive coordinator.

With star linebacker Troy Dye announcing he would return to Oregon for his senior season, all was looking good once again for Leavitt and the Ducks defense. But how will this big time change affect the program as well as the incoming recruits? More to come from our Ducks insider Bri Amaranthus.

 

Keys to an Oregon victory over Oregon State

Keys to an Oregon victory over Oregon State

With nine teams in the Pac-12 Conference within two games of one another, it is crunch time for both the Ducks and Beavers.

Oregon is only one game out of second place and must beat Oregon State, another team fighting for a top four seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

The Beavers won the Pac-12 opener for both teams this season, 77-72, on Jan. 5 at Matthew Knight Arena, their first win in Eugene since 2012. If Oregon State defeats Oregon it will be the first time the Beavers sweep the Civil War since 2009-2010.

How can the Ducks walk out of Gill Colliseum with a victory?

Bri Amaranthus discusses Oregon's keys to victory on the Brian Noe Show. Hint... Get ready for a block party!

Who is Jovon Bouknight? Oregon football to hire new wide receivers coach

Who is Jovon Bouknight? Oregon football to hire new wide receivers coach

Who is Jovon Bouknight (pronounced Juh-vonn Bo-night)? He's Oregon football's new wide receivers coach.

Bouknight, who recently joined the staff at Texas Tech after spending 10 years at Utah State, is expected to join Mario Cristobal’s staff with the Ducks, according to FootballScoop.

Bouknight is a former standout wide receiver at Wyoming and one of the top receivers in Mountain West history. In his career he caught 250 passes for 3,626 yards and 29 touchdowns. As a senior in 2005, he was a Biletnikoff Award finalist. 

He has primarily coached receivers, but at one point held passing game coordinator and co-offensive coordinator titles.

During his time at Utah State the Aggies reached seven bowl games and claimed the 2012 Western Athletic Conference title; the program’s most-successful stretch in school history. 

A native of Denver, Colorado, Bouknight graduated from Wyoming with his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and health promotion.

Bouknight will coach a room of 12 Oregon scholarship players including four new signees. Jaylon Redd is the Ducks' top returning receiver, Brenden Schooler and Johnny Johnson also return.

First sell out of the season goes to Oregon women's basketball

First sell out of the season goes to Oregon women's basketball

I hope you already bought your tickets to this weekend's Civil War, because it is officially sold out. 

No. 3 Oregon women's basketball owns the first sell out of the season (women or men) at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. for the upcoming game vs. No. 9 Oregon State. 

It will be second sellout in arena history for the women's program. The other was the Matthew Knight Arena debut against Oregon State during the 2010-11 season. 

The highest attendance for a men's game at home this season was also against Oregon State; 11,204 attendance on Jan. 5. 

The Oregon women look to extend the nation's longest active winning streak to 17 games vs. the Beavers on Friday. By the way, the Ducks are gaining national recognition after a dominant weekend in the Bay Area