Oregon’s special team battles are waging through fall camp. Starting role decisions have not been made for kicker, punter and both return duties. The return game is wide open and the group of contenders is impressive and potentially electrifying.
Who on the roster is best fitted to replace Ugochukwu Amadi and Tony Brooks-James? Is this the season that Oregon’s special teams thrill once again like the days of Cliff Harris and De’Anthony Thomas?
“It’s up for grabs right now,” said Oregon safety Jevon Holland. The sophomore named running back Travis Dye, wide receivers Jaylon Redd and Mycah Pittman as top return competitors. Then, he couldn’t help but throw his name in the hat.
“You can throw me in the mix too,” Holland said. “I had 10 returns in high school, I’m just putting that out there.”
Return duties have become such a coveted job that leading rusher CJ Verdell also made a case for himself to be considered.
After all the running the receivers, running backs and defensive backs do, you’d think the last thing they’d want is to add an extra duty. However, the Ducks see it as a bonus- as an extra opportunity to touch the ball and effect the game.
Injury is always a concern. Oregon has history with injuries to returners: Thomas Tyner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury versus Washington in 2014 and Devon Allen suffered two season-ending knee injuries as a specialist.
Wide receiver Brenden Schooler is already out, at least for four to six weeks, after suffering a foot injury during practice. Currently, it appears the shifty Dye is leading return man, as he’s been taking the first reps. The sophomore’s breakaway speed and agility make him a solid selection. Four other realistic options for the depth chart are: Redd, Pittman, Holland and cornerback Deommodoire Lenoir.
Redd is dynamic and flashed his deadly speed while true freshman Pittman may be the most hyped new UO receiver and his sure hands make him an interesting option. Defensive playmakers, Holland lead the team last season with five picks and Lenoir totaled three.
“Jevon (Holland) looks really good at catching punts,” said Oregon wide receiver Juwan Johnson. “Jaylon Redd is also a guy who’s very critical in our special teams.”
Last season, the Ducks topped the Pac-12 Conference in punt returns and ranked sixth in kickoff returns. Oregon’s 2018 averages in kick and punt coverage and returns slipped a bit from 2017.
Oregon hopes to better sort the depth chart after scrimmaging this week. With five potentially electrifying options, it appears the Ducks have a good problem on their hands.