Oregon Ducks

Marcus Mariota set to "let it ride" during pivotal season with the Tennessee Titans

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USA Today

Marcus Mariota set to "let it ride" during pivotal season with the Tennessee Titans

Former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has one year to prove his worth or his career in Tennessee could come to an end next offseason. 

It's as simple as that. His response to the situation: “I just try to be the best I can be for this team, and let it ride,” he told reporters during organized team activities this week. 

The gambling analogy fits. The Titans wagered $20.9 million on Mariota in 2019 that he could still develop into a franchise quarterback by picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract signed as the No. 2-overall selection in 2015. Tennessee also hedged that bet by trading for Ryan Tannehill, a 2012 first-round pick by Miami that didn't materialize into the franchise quarterback the Dolphins hoped they were getting. 

Nevertheless, Tannehill can play the position at a high level at times, as evidenced by his 126 career touchdown passes. In fact, he plays it well enough to push Mariota to the sideline should he falter this season.

For now, Tennessee has made it clear that Mariota is the starter.

“His job is not in jeopardy,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters. “I don’t think that’s something we’re even here to talk about."

Sure thing. But that stance could change in a nanosecond. See last year's situation in Tampa Bay between Jameis Winston, the No. 1-overall pick in 2015, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Winston, suspended to start the season, lost his job, then got it back, then lost it again, and now is once again the starter. In between, Fitzpatrick was both brilliant and dreadful. 

The same juggling act could happen in Tennessee if Mariota isn't careful. Should a juggling act transpire, Mariota could be looking for work next offseason. 

Mariota has had an up-and-down career. At times he has looked brilliant. Other times, very ordinary. Meanwhile, other young quarterbacks have passed him by. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes II, Houston's Deshaun Watson, Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas' Dak Prescott and San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo would not be traded straight up for Mariota. All were drafted after 2015 with the exception of Garoppolo, taken by New England in 2014 before being traded to the 49ers midway through the 2017 season when he became a starter. 

If you're the Titans and your once promising franchise star has been surpassed by six younger quarterbacks, it doesn't make much sense to give him a $100 million contract extension. You would, instead, do what Miami did by moving on from the failed experiment and going down another path. 

The irony in all of this is that Mariota might be better off elsewhere. Vrabel is his third head coach in four years and he's working with his fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons. One must wonder if Mariota would be in a different place in his career had he landed on a team with more stability at the top and a better supporting cast. 

Mariota is smart, accurate, takes good care of the ball from a passing standpoint (just like at Oregon he can become careless with ball security while avoiding pressure) and he still has wide receiver speed to make things happen with his legs. 

Mariota had several outstanding games last season when not bothered by injuries that impacted his passing abilities. 

The Titans have plenty of reasons to gamble on Mariota. The Titans narrowly missed the playoffs last season with their starting quarterback battling injuries and producing just 11 touchdown passes. If he comes near the 26 touchdown passes he threw in 2016, Tennessee could very well make the postseason and extend Mariota.

That all said, Tennessee also has legitimate reasons to prepare for the worst-cased scenario that could see the two parties part ways less than a year from now. 

Freshman WR Mycah Pittman injured in Saturday’s Oregon Ducks scrimmage

Freshman WR Mycah Pittman injured in Saturday’s Oregon Ducks scrimmage

Another big blow to the Oregon Ducks wide receiver corps. Already down one with the loss of senior Brenden Schooler (out 4-6 weeks with a foot injury), now freshman Mycah Pittman is out with a shoulder injury following Saturday’s scrimmage. 

“Mycah Pittman did lay out for a ball and landed on his shoulder. He’s getting evaluated and landed on it pretty good,” head coach Mario Cristobal said after the scrimmage. 

On another note, Pittman caught the ball, but that’s not surprising since the freshman arrives to the Hatfield-Dowlin complex at 5:45 AM on fall camp days, stays until approximately 11 PM, absolutely hates dropping balls, and has made those acrobatic catches before. His hands are on another level and so is his effort. 

The depth chart at receiver is something interesting to watch these next two weeks leading into Oregon’s opener against Auburn. The first team seems pretty clear: senior Johnny Johnson III, grad transfer Juwan Johnson and junior Jaylon Redd lead the way. But it’s the players behind them that are definitely talented and rather young. Pittman, the four-star recruit from California, was one of those players pushing the “one’s”. Other freshmen Josh Delgado and JR Waters have also made a big push. 

However, Waters will also miss several weeks (approximately 4-6) now too after a procedure on his lower leg.

Still waiting to hear on a timetable for Pittman’s return, but with his high ceiling and talent, the sooner he’s back on the field, the better for Oregon.

Payton Pritchard's "extremely impressive" weekend at the Nike Basketball Academy

Payton Pritchard's "extremely impressive" weekend at the Nike Basketball Academy

An in-state prodigy. A West Linn High School alumnus. A soon-to-be four year Oregon basketball starter. 

Senior Payton Pritchard is back and his stock is rising higher and faster than ever. 

Remember this breakaway dunk vs. the Washington Huskies in the Pac-12 tournament championship game last season?

Pritchard has been on a different level since then. Stifling defense paired with good decision-making. The 6-foot-2 guard is the glue that head coach Dana Altman has relied heavily upon in the past three seasons with major roster turnover. From a leadership standpoint, Pritchard has helped the younger players get acclimated to the playbook and collegiate basketball, plus he is the guard that sets the pace both on and off the court.

The 2019 Nike Basketball Academy took place last weekend which featured 60 future NBA prospects, Pritchard included. 

According to Jonathan Givony, an ESPN Draft Analyst and Reporter, Pritchard “had an extremely impressive weekend” and was named one of the more interesting collegiate prospect performances among others.

 

You can read the article here.

The moment the 2015 Gatorade Oregon Player of the Year stepped onto UO’s campus, he's made an impact. Pritchard earned the starting spot during his freshman season from then junior guard Casey Benson. That season, the Ducks made it to the Final Four but lost to North Carolina 77-76. 

Last season, Pritchard averaged 12.9 points per game, 68 total steals and shot 83.6 percent from the free throw line. 

Some notables on Pritchard:

- Ranks 2nd in UO career steals with 164. Trails only UO career leader Kenya Wilkins (213/1993-97).

- Ranks 4th in UO career assists with 487. Next up is Luke Ridnour (500/2000-03).

- Became the 37th 1,000-point scorer in UO history at Arizona on Jan. 17.

- Led the nation in total minutes played (1,349), starting all 38 games on 2018-19

Oregon running back Travis Dye’s spin move isn’t his only weapon

Oregon running back Travis Dye’s spin move isn’t his only weapon

As a freshman, Oregon running back Travis Dye quite literally flew onto the scene with his ferocious jump cuts and spin moves. His breakaway speed and agility amounted to 739 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 140 carries.

The 5-foot-10, 192-pound sophomore may be the hardest worker on the team based on the stories his teammates disclose about him.

Wide receiver Jaylon Redd smiled wide when talking about determined Dye. Redd detailed that on multiple occasions, when the defense gets an interception in practice, Dye will be the Duck to sprint all the way down the sideline to keep them from the end zone.

“His effort is there, his heart is there,” Redd said.

Fellow running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio complimented Dye’s integrity. Habibi-Likio was impressed with Dye after he missed a block and linebacker La’Mar Winston Jr. got around him. Later that day in film session, coaches missed the play and instead of dodging the error, Dye brought it back up so that the position room could go over it, correct it and learn from it.

His character earned A+ remarks from his team… And so did his on-field development and refined skills.

“He is a lot more physical this year,” Habibi-Likio said. “He’s able to run in between the tackles a lot more… He’s not afraid to put his head down and if there is someone in the way, he’s going to try to get through them instead of get around them.”
Over the past year, the game has slowed down for Dye, he knows the playbook like the back of his hand, his blocking has improved and he’s playing more physically. He’s ready to one-up himself, specifically when it comes to breaking runs of 10-plus yards and 20-plus yards.

“When I get the ball I’m always trying to shoot for touchdowns, not first downs,” Dye said.

The competition with the defense has been no laughing matter during fall camp. As it’s extremely difficult for any defensive Ducks to compliment their offensive teammates, including Travis’ brother, star linebacker Troy Dye.

“Iron sharpens iron, as everyone says,” Troy Dye said of his brother, Travis. “It’s always fun to compete against anybody and it’s a little more fun when it’s Travis.”

The shifty Dye is also an enticing option for the Ducks at punt and kick returner. He’s been one of a few contenders who have been taking reps and getting a shot during fall camp.

Special teams need aside, the Ducks desperately need Dye to help UO’s transition to Cristobal’s hard-pounding vision. The Ducks struggled with the physical, between the tackles rushing attack in 2018, finishing the season with the 191 rushing yards per game, the least amount for this program since 2006.

The good news? The Ducks return the entire starting offensive line and both leading rushers in CJ Verdell and Dye. Better news? Dye is trending upwards, improving rapidly towards the latter half of the season. Dye had 507 rushing yards after mid point of the season. To close out Pac-12 play, he rushed for 100-plus yards in back-to-back games, including his record setting Civil War performance.

This season, Dye is adding physicality to his determination and naturally agility… Which is just what the Ducks need for a reliable run game and success in 2019.

Oregon Duck Mascot named best mascot in the Pac-12 Conference

Oregon Duck Mascot named best mascot in the Pac-12 Conference

The Oregon Duck earned the “Greatest Mascot in College Football History” in the Pac-12 Conference but was No. 2 in the nation behind University of Georgia's bulldog, according to Sports Illustrated.

Two other Pac-12 mascots made the Sports Illustrated list. In honor of the 150th anniversary of college football, No. 6 University of Colorado: Ralphie the Buffalo and No. 5 Stanford University: The Tree.

The Duck mascot is one-of-a-kind. In case you missed his most recent antics for the Bottle Cam Challenge fad…

A college football icon, the Duck rides a motorcycle, does push-ups, takes selfies and will certainly make you laugh.
From Sports Illustrated:

From the 1920s to ‘40s, a live duck named “Puddles” (and subsequently his offspring) found its way to Oregon football and basketball games, becoming a de facto mascot for the school. Repeated complaints from the Humane Society brought the live mascot era to an end, though, and through a handshake agreement with Walt Disney in 1947, the school was able to fashion a mascot costume in Donald Duck’s likeness. Now, the Duck shoots donuts into gameday crowds, rides a motorcycle, and heckles opposing fans, deviating just slightly from his Disney namesake.

The list went heavy on live animals. The first place pure white English bulldog, Uga X, is the tenth in the line of dog mascots that dates back to 1956.

Here are some of the best recent Duck mascot moments. Let me know your favorites on Twitter or Instagram.

The Oregon Duck does a sorority recruitment parody video.

Remember Gangnam Style? The Duck nailed it.

The Duck has been to the Heisman House with Marcus Mariota.

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🤙 #tbt

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The Duck can plank.

As seen in Autzen Stadium at the Garth brooks concert:

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my friends and I ain’t in low places.

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The Duck’s dance moves are incredible.

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.@cosmo_cougar

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How did he not take the top spot?

Oregon Duck x-factor Isaac Slade-Matautia is emulating Marcus Mariota

Oregon Duck x-factor Isaac Slade-Matautia is emulating Marcus Mariota

A lot has happened in a year for Oregon inside linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia. He experienced his first live college football game, broke his collarbone to halt his strong freshman season, rehabbed and added almost 20 pounds.

Now, the healthy and respected MIKE linebacker is majorly contributing and the front-runner to start alongside senior Troy Dye. Slade-Matautia could be Oregon’s x-factor, yet he’s flying relatively under the radar… And he likes it that way.

A former four-star prospect and a top two player from the state of Hawaii, Slade-Matautia attended St. Louis High School, the same school quarterback Marcus Mariota attended. The two have clear similarities in their soft-spoken nature and intense work ethic; Slade-Matautia emulates the Heisman Trophy winner and aims to follow in Mariota’s footsteps.

“I talk to his brother (Matt Mariota) a lot,” Slade-Matautia said. “I ask his brother, ‘What did Marcus Mariota do when he was in college? Did he go out? Did he have social media?’ The answers are no… I want to do what he did and hopefully get the same result.”

[READ: Mykael Wright: "Silent assassin" true freshman pushing Oregon's secondary]

No Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or burner accounts for 6-foot-1 235-pound linebacker, just like Mariota. The sophomore stays in, studies film, arrives early to practice, leads by example and demands the most from his teammates in a positive way. He’s earned the respect from his teammates by his calm command of the defense. Oregon senior offensive lineman Shane Lemiuex picked Slade-Matautia as ‘Best in Fall Camp’.

“He’s quiet but has become a very vocal guy on the defense and a great pass rusher,” Lemieux said. “He’s not afraid to come down the A-gap and smack someone.”

With Kaulana Apelu’s departure, the starting role is Slade-Matautia’s to take. Lack of size was a slight on Slade-Matautia last season. Not only does he feel more comfortable at 235 pounds, it’ll help with the adjustment for more reps and he has been able to maintain his speed.

His accountability helps the Ducks trust him to make the calls on the field, set the front and get the coverage correct.

“I think he runs the defense really well, he has good control, guys trust him,” Dye said. “We all buy into backing him and believing in him… I know he’s going to have a breakout year this year.”

In Oregon’s latest scrimmage, Slade-Matautia made an impressive interception that displayed his knack for running to the ball and showcasing his strong hands.

“It was a man-to-man coverage. The ball came my way and I was there to jump the route,” Slade-Matautia said. “Knowing everything I was able to overcome, being injured and all that, getting that pick helped other players be confident in my plays.”

Slot wide receiver Jaylon Redd said he’s always aware of the physical presence of Slade-Matautia has in practice.

“You always gotta keep your eye on him,” Redd said. “He might catch you slipping a little bit. He’s focused, a quiet guy. He knows what he is doing.”

Last season, Slade-Matautia saw action in seven games before missing the last six games due to injury. He made 20 tackles, including 13 solo and two for loss.

Fair warning for Pac-12 offenses, it is Slade-Matautia's season and he’s looking to take advantage of slip-ups.

Opposing leadership styles working for Oregon Football

Opposing leadership styles working for Oregon Football

You can hear Oregon strength and conditioning coordinator Aaron Feld before you can see him. And that’s momentous, considering his larger than life dance moves and body builder physique bulging from his all-black Oregon-Nike-Air Jordan collaboration outfit.

From 100 yards away I can hear Feld, clear as the sunny mid-August Eugene day, scream, “Turn it upppp!!!!”

The beat drops to Hypnotize by Notorious B.I.G and the Ducks start their 10th fall football practice, buzzing.

“If you had my arms, you’d be the biggest running back in the country,” Feld says to sophomore Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who ran with the first-team offense. Habibi-Likio laughs, turns around and mouths to me with a shrug, “He’s right.”

Just 15 yards away, the leadership style is much different. Senior quarterback Justin Herbert lines up, commanding the quarterback unit with precise stretching, smiles and quiet high-fives. Lingering nearby, a Los Angeles Rams scout dutifully watches him.

The juxtaposition is palpable.

The reality, of course, is not the extreme. Feld is not a screaming psychopath with a crisp mustache and Herbert is not a shy pushover with a good arm.

Actually, the mustache and arm element ring true.

The 2019 Oregon football team looks to these two completely different leaders in preparation; and it’s working for the Ducks.

Let’s start with the loud. Feld has been igniting energy into the program since January of 2018. It’s easy to see the focus in the weight room is paying off; much of the team has exceeded personal records in most lifts. Last year, Oregon had 29 players who could squad 400 or more pounds. That number has almost doubled to 56 players in the “400 club”, according to coach Mario Cristobal. 15 Ducks can squat 500 pounds compared to three a year ago.

Yes, the Oregon Ducks are feeling swole, hanging around the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex with their sleeves filled.

If you haven’t heard of Feld’s “Fill the Sleeves” motto yet, this tweet will explain.

Their more muscular physiques are adding up to increased physicality, durability and upgraded size. While every position group has benefitted, the difference particularly on the offensive and defensive lines is impressive. Which is imperative, considering the Ducks have a date with Auburn in week one and the better team in the trenches will likely be the victor.

Feld’s most impressive work may be getting UO’s incoming freshmen ready for the college game. Freshman defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux had never squatted before becoming a Duck and he just joined the 500-pound squat club. Brandon Dorlus and Keyon Ware-Hudson are raw talents that may be able to make an impact on the defensive line this season.

Feld can be heard at practice, while Herbert can be seen.

Steady eddy Herbert, standing at 6-foot-6, 240-pounds, on his final season at Oregon, is months away from making millions in the NFL. Entering the second week of fall camp, there hasn’t been much news of the Heisman Trophy hopeful. His junior campaign flashed brilliance that caused NFL scouts to project him as a top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft had he chosen to leave school.

A rare slight on the passer with the powerful right arm and sneaky fast wheels from scouts was his “shy” and/or “immature” personality. That notion has drifted away through Herbert’s evolution. His teammates have noticed exponential growth in his leadership.

"Justin has never been the athlete he is now," Offensive lineman Shane Lemieux said. "Especially off the field, he’s such a better leader… He’s always the one that brings us back in."

Herbert isn’t going to get in your face, unless he needs to. Herbert’s leadership is truly set by his example.

“He’s exactly what you want on your football team,” Cristobal said. “He acts like he’s a freshman that just got here and is trying to prove something.  He lives each day as if he’s the guy who’s trying to prove that he belongs here. When your best players are doing that, you’ve got a chance to be a good football team.”

Quiet, loud…whatever… It’s working. The Oregon football team is motivated and 18 days away from the national spotlight.

REPORT: Oregon men’s basketball signs 5-star center N’Faly Dante

REPORT: Oregon men’s basketball signs 5-star center N’Faly Dante

Dana Altman does it again. His mighty recruiting powers have struck with the signing of five-star recruit N’Faly Dante. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound center from Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas) chose Altman and Oregon over Kentucky, LSU, Kansas and Oklahoma State, among others. 

Dante was ranked the No. 12 overall player in the 2020 class and No. 3 center. He will reclassify and join Oregon for the 2019-2020 season, meaning he's available to play this season. 

In a letter to The Players’ Tribune, Dante explains writes a letter to him mom who is home in Mali.

Read the letter and you can feel just how close he and his mom are and when it came to his decision on where he would attend college, Dante made it very clear to her how much of an impact she was in his thought process.

“Throughout this process it’s been important to me to choose a place that I know you’d be proud of. A place where I will get a strong education and that has a family atmosphere. I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and I’m excited to tell you that next year I’m going to be attending college and playing basketball at the University of Oregon.

Oregon has a program that reflects a lot of the values you taught me when I was growing up. And I hope that someday I get to show you around Eugene. It’s beautiful there!”

Dante explains more in this letter to his mom that someday he will take her to this great restaurant called Chipotle. And he says that if you pay a little more, you can get this stuff called guacamole. 

Dante joins five-star SF CJ Walker, four-star SF Chandler Lawson, three-star C Isaac Johnson, three-star SG Chris Duarte (JUCO), and three-star PFr Lok Wur for the 2019 incoming class.

The Ducks now land at No. 8 in the preseason Top-25 rankings with the Dante signing.

Oregon returns Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Francis Okoro, Luke Osborn and Will Johnson next season. 

Last season, Oregon’s Pac-12 tournament victory gave them an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and a Sweet 16 run that ended in a close loss to the eventual National Champions Virginia Cavaliers. 

Can Oregon repeat this upcoming season with so many new faces? The talent is there, yes, and now Altman can do what Altman does best: put them altogether in a way that very few can see coming. 

Five electrifying options for Oregon's return roles

Five electrifying options for Oregon's return roles

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.

Kayvon Thibodeaux "might cry" in his first collegiate football game

Kayvon Thibodeaux "might cry" in his first collegiate football game

237 days ago, Kayvon Thibodeaux shocked the world. ESPN’s No. 1 high school recruit sat at a table surrounded by friends and family with the world watching and waiting on his decision to where he would play college football. A decision that would impact himself, the college he would attend, as well as the conference he would land in. He narrowed his decision to four schools; Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Oregon.

On that December 15, 2018 day, he chose the University of Oregon.

“It’s all about opportunity,” says Thibodeaux at Oregon media day. “I’ve realized that college is more of a pit stop on my mission, on my legacy, so I had to weigh in where I would have the best opportunity, the best people, the best leap for the future.”

We have yet to see a snap of real-time collegiate football from Thibodeaux but the 6-foot-5, 242-pound defensive end has all the hype. 

In the video above, we sat down with Thibodeaux at Oregon’s media day last Friday (Aug. 2). He explains:

- Why Oregon was the right fit 

- His goals for this upcoming season 

- Where he can make the most impact on defense 

- What he thinks his first college football Saturday and running out of the tunnel into iconic Autzen Stadium will be like. 

“I might cry,” Thibodeaux says. “I can imagine how it might be and I’ve been to a college game, but it’s different when you’re coming out of the tunnel.”

Only 22 days until Oregon vs. Auburn.