Oregon Ducks

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 1 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 1 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 1: Freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

At the very least, Graham will likely be the team's third cornerback behind senior Arrion Springs and junior Ugo Amadi next season. But don't be surprised if Graham becomes a starter.

Graham lived up to his billing as the No. 12-rated cornerback in the nation (Rivals.com) with a strong spring after enrolling early, enough to likely move senior safety/cornerback Tyree Robinson back to full-time safety.

Graham is a dynamic athlete with corner skills beyond his age. Oregon coach Willie Taggart raved about Graham during spring drills, calling him a competitor and an elite playmaker.  Receivers and quarterbacks went at Graham all spring and he never backed down. His competitive nature and love for football, Taggart said, makes him a threat to be an instant impact player.

Springs and Amadi also had high praise for the four-star recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., both stating in so many words that Graham is the real deal and ahead of where they were as freshmen. 

Oregon has started freshmen cornerbacks in the past with mixed results. Amadi was up and down in 2015. Long-time Ducks fans will remember the struggles of Aaron Gipson and Justin Phinisee back in the day. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrence Mitchell and Troy Hill all made starts in 2011 and took their lumps. 

Nevertheless, virtually all of the above - the jury remains out on Amadi - went on to have great careers at Oregon. 

The Ducks' defense, in complete rebuild mode after ranking 128th in the nation last year, improved greatly in the back end last season but received little help from a weak pass rush. That said, the defense lacked playmakers (just nine interceptions, zero from Amadi and Springs).

Graham could help change that reality while also taking a few lumps here and there.  

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

Oregon softball has both the steak and the sizzle

usatsi_9882574.jpg
USA Today Kelvin Kuo

Oregon softball has both the steak and the sizzle

The No. 1 overall seeded Oregon Ducks are built on a foundation of experience. Players like seniors Gwen Svekis, Jenna Lilley, and Lauren Lindvall who have been in the national tournament before. Post-season success relies on experience such as this. But it doesn’t stop there for the Ducks.

Coach Mike White and his staff have made quiet the effort in terms of recruiting and can be seen with the electric underclassmen on this Oregon roster. 

For starters, first baseman Mia Camuso was second on the team last year with 47 RBI’s. Camuso is just a sophomore. Outfielder Shannon Rhodes made her name known last season with her powerful hitting, also just a sophomore. Haley Cruse finds herself sitting higher in the batting order this year in post-season play, combined with her speed, rounds out this impressive sophomore class. 

Two freshmen in particular really jump off the roster. Local kid Lauren Burke out of Marist High School, Eugene, Oregon, hit a two-run homer in the Ducks’ first game vs. U Albany to boost Oregon into round two of the NCAA Eugene regionals. Backing up senior Svekis behind the plate is freshman Mary Iakopo, who looks as confident as ever behind the plate, has a deadly arm, and a threat at bat as well.

Speaking on the freshman and sophomore class, coach White said, "They are putting a lot of pressure on the upperclassmen... we are loding a great senior class and that next class has to be ready to go... That's what we try to do: to have depth."

This roster has potential all-around, but the most solid group of all has to be on the mound. Pick your poison between Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year junior Megan Kleist and sophomore stud Miranda Elish, both with ERA’s under 1. On top of that, sophomore Maggie Balint proved last season as just a freshman that she can make quiet the impact as well. Elish and Kleist allowed zero runs over the course of regionals weekend.

The Oregon Ducks await the winner of the Lexington region to be played next weekend in super-regionals.

After 'OK' season with Ducks, Troy Brown thinks he is ready for NBA

After 'OK' season with Ducks, Troy Brown thinks he is ready for NBA

CHICAGO –Troy Brown’s only season at the University of Oregon didn’t go as he planned.  Not only did the team not make the NCAA Tournament, the heralded wing was only good, and not great, on the court.

Even so, after averaging 11.3, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists for the Ducks, Brown said he saw enough in himself to declare for the NBA Draft.

“I would say it was OK,’’ he said of his freshman season in Eugene. “It wasn’t the best year, or the year I wanted. Every kid dreams of going to college and being the star player, but we all go through our ups and downs, and it’s one of those things I learned from, and I feel I matured from.’’

He said he feels the up-and-down tempo of the NBA will better suit his offensive game and complement his defensive versatility. NBA scouts seem to agree as Brown is projected to be a mid-to-late first round selection.

“I can do everything on the court,’’ Brown said. “I feel like I can score the ball really well, but at Oregon that wasn’t my (role). We had a lot of guys who could put the ball in the hoop. I was more of a glue guy, and I was ok with that. I was fine just showing my versatility and doing the hard stuff - rebounding, guarding the best player, diving for loose balls and stuff like that.’’ 

The 6-foot-7 Brown appears to be the type of hybrid player that is becoming valued in today’s NBA game – long, athletic and able to guard several positions. The knock on his game – his outside shooting – has been a point of emphasis in his predraft workouts. 

“The more repetitions, the better,’’ Brown said. 

He said he is embracing the undefined nature of what position he will play in the NBA, noting that the league is trending more toward positionless basketball. 

“I feel like coming out of college everybody sees me as a small forward, but I can still make my way up to whatever position my coach needs me to do to get the W,’’ Brown said. “That’s what I’m willing to do.’

Four players from Oregon and Washington schools who will make an impact in the NFL

usatsi_10437477_2.jpg
USA Today Images

Four players from Oregon and Washington schools who will make an impact in the NFL

BY TIM KEARNY 

There were nine players drafted from the University of Washington, the University of Oregon and Washington State University in this NFL draft. I have picked four of them that I think will play well in their first year.

Vita Vea, DT Washington- Tampa Bay Bucs, 1st round 12th pick

Vea is an absolute monster on the defensive line. His strength is hard to match and he will have some success with his bull rush as a pro as a rookie. Vea really shows his special ability by how quick he is, he is a smooth athlete even at more than 330 pounds. I believe his first step will still be enough to gain leverage against other linemen in the NFL and I think he could get 5 or 6 sacks his year. He was a First-Team Pac-12 player this year, and won two more Pac-12 defensive linemen awards as well. The Bucs believe in his playmaking ability too, they proved how highly they thought of him by picking him 12th overall. There is no chance for a defensive lineman to go that early unless he can get to the quarterback.

Royce Freeman, RB Oregon- Denver Broncos, 3rd round 7th pick

The Broncos grabbed one of the most dynamic and consistent playmakers at the running back position in the third round with Freeman. His nickname of “Rolls Royce” shows how smooth he can look as he is making plays with the ball in his hands. Did I mention he has more rushing touchdowns in his career than anyone else in Pac-12 history, and is in the top ten all time rushers in the NCAA? C.J. Andersen is no longer the lead running back in Denver so the door is open for Freeman to snag the starting spot over the inconsistent Devontae Booker.

Cole Madison, OG Washington State- Green Bay Packers, 5th round 1st pick

Madison’s number one trait is his athleticism, he moves better than most people his size and even people smaller than him. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers running the show so the offensive line benefits from hi mobility and quick release, this could help Madison make an impact if given the chance early on. Things are unsettled on the right side of Green Bay’s o-line and Madison could be a guy that impresses in training camp and gets the starting gig.

Tyrell Cosby, OG Oregon- Detroit Lions, 5th round 16th pick

Cosby was a First Team Pac-12 player this past season and according to Pro Football Focus did not allow a single sack or quarterback hit in 2017. Many people see his run blocking as his strength and he is very good at it but pass blocking will get him a job in the NFL. The Lions have not had a great o-line in a long time and this is another attempt to bolster it by finding the last piece. I can’t believe Crosby was still on the board in the middle of the fifth round, so he was a bit of a steal in my book. I think he could play tackle or guard for them as a fill in guy this year.

Oregon softball may just crack the National Championship code

img_7067.jpg
NBCSNW

Oregon softball may just crack the National Championship code

Oregon softball may just have the formula for a National Championship and it starts on the mound.

14 strikeouts. 77 pitches with 61 strikes in seven innings. Zero runs. Just a glimpse into the life of Oregon Ducks sophomore pitcher Miranda Elish in game one of the NCAA Eugene regional vs. u Albany. Elish took command of the game right away going three up, three down in the first inning leading the Ducks to a 4-0 victory over the Great Danes.

But this is nothing new. Elish has been doing this all season long. The Ducks head into the post-season as the No. 1 overall seed behind the stellar one-two punch on the mound of Elish and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, junior Megan Kleist. The consistancy of Elish and Klesit have propelled the Ducks to a Pac-12 conference championship in an already gruesome conference with constant top-10 national caliber teams.

Both Kleist and Elish were also selected this season to the First Team All-Pac 12. 

Oregon finished with a 47-7 overall record, a 21-3 conference record, and an overall No. 1 seed in the USA Today poll, heading into the NCAA post season. 

When deciding who would get the starting nod vs. U Albany, coach Mike White said, “We’ve got two number one’s out there…It could have gone either way.” Having not one, but two pitchers in your arsenal combined with the power off the bats for Oregon softball, could call for a deep tourney run…

 

Ducks coach Mario Cristobal announces staff promotions

usatsi_10023831.jpg
USA Today Images

Ducks coach Mario Cristobal announces staff promotions

EUGENE, Ore. – University of Oregon Head coach Mario Cristobal announced title enhancements for three members of his coaching staff on Thursday.

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo has added assistant head coach to his duties. Safeties coach Keith Heyward has added co-defensive coordinator duties to his role entering the 2018 season. In addition to being the associate head coach/defensive line coach, Joe Salave’a will now also serve as co-defensive coordinator/run game coordinator for the defense. The duo will work alongside defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who handles the play calling.

“I’m very happy to announce these promotions for Marcus, Keith and Joe ,” said Cristobal. These guys have played a critical role in the advancement of the program, helping us establish an identity and culture. I have a ton of belief in them as teachers and coaches in the game of football and in life.”

Arroyo joined the Ducks in February of 2017 as co-offensive coordinator while coaching the quarterbacks and tight ends. He was promoted to offensive coordinator this past December. In his first season with the Ducks, the Oregon tied for the Pac-12 lead with seven games of 40-plus points. Oregon is the fifth stop for Arroyo as a play caller, having already done so with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Southern Mississippi, Wyoming and San Jose State.

Veterans of the Pac-12 Conference as both coaches and players, Salave’a and Heyward were part of Leavitt’s defensive staff in 2017 that provided an immediate improvement over the previous year. The Oregon defense made major jumps in nearly every statistical category, highlighted by total defense (from 115th to 46th).

Entering his second season leading Oregon’s safeties room, Heyward has coached defensive backs at four different Pac-12 schools and was an All-Pac-10 cornerback at Oregon State. Prior to Oregon, he was the secondary coach at Louisville in 2016.

An All-Pac-10 defensive lineman at Arizona before playing in the NFL for eight seasons, Salave’a spent five seasons at Washington State prior to arriving in Eugene. While at Washington State, he served as the defensive line coach all five years and was the assistant head coach the final two.

Get to know Oregon’s newest wide receiver, Tabari Hines

Get to know Oregon’s newest wide receiver, Tabari Hines

Welcome to the flock. It was just last week that former Wake Forest star Tabari Hines announced his intentions to leave the Demon Deacons and take his talents to Eugene.

The 5’10”, 175lb wide receiver instantly helps bring some much needed talent and depth to Oregon’s receiving corps. Junior Dillon Mitchell had a productive 2017 for the Ducks, and hopes to build on that in 2018, but the rest of the group is young and unproven.

Hines looks to change that.

As a junior last season at Wake Forest Hines led the team with 53 receptions, and was third on the team with 683 receiving yards and seven scores.

To put that in perspective, Mitchell was the leader in two of those categories for Oregon last season, hauling in 42 receptions for 517 yards, while tight end Jacob Breeland led the team with five touchdowns. Hines would be number one in all three.

There is little doubt that Hines will make a difference on the field, but enough about that. Let’s get to know a little bit more about the newest Duck:

- Hines had narrowed his transfer options to Oregon, USC, and Texas before ultimately deciding on UO.

- Says players and the coaches really helped set Oregon apart.

- Thanks to all the jerseys, he says he actually watched a lot of Oregon football as a kid.

- How does he describe his new quarterback, Justin Herbert? Simply, “he’s the real deal.”

- Hine says he doesn’t know how to fish, but wants to learn how. This is the Pacific Northwest! It might be kind of hard to find someone to teach him, *wink*

- The emoji that best describes him? He says it’s the cool guy with the glasses.

Want to learn even more about the newest Duck? Be sure to tune into The Bridge tonight at 6PM for the full interview with Serena Winters and Bri Amaranthus.

And since Bri does call him a “hastag king,” it would serve you well to follow Hines on Twitter (@TabariHines) and Instagram ( @TabariHines1).

Tyrell Crosby drafted by Lions in 5th round

usatsi_10666057.jpg
USA Today

Tyrell Crosby drafted by Lions in 5th round

With the 153rd pick in the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Offensive Lineman Tyrell Crosby out of the University of Oregon.

Crosby was a first-team all-state selection in Nevada prior to heading to Eugene, and came to Oregon with high expectations. He didn’t start his career as a starter, but injuries on the line thrust him into the spotlight.

Crosby seized the opportunity presented to him, starting nine games at tackle and never letting go of the starting job.

Injuries cut his 2016 season short, forcing to miss all but three games, and gave him the juice to come back better than ever for his senior season. He did just that.

Crosby started all 13 games in his final season in Eugene, winning the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also earned numerous honors, including: First-Team All-Pac-12, College Madness Third-Team All-America, SB Nation and CollegeFootballNew Honorable Mention All-America, and Pro Football Focus First-Team All-Pac-12.

If you need any more evidence of how good he is, just looks at the career stats of the man he opened up running holes for: Royce Freeman

Crosby has all the tools for a long, lucrative NFL career.

 

Broncos select Royce Freeman with the No. 71 overall pick

usatsi_10665177.jpg
USA Today

Broncos select Royce Freeman with the No. 71 overall pick

With the 71st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected running back Royce Freeman out of the University of Oregon.

Freeman is now the highest Oregon running back drafted since LaMichael James was selected 61st overall back in 2012.

Freeman was one of the best running backs in Oregon history. He jumped on the scene as a freshman and rushed for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns, earning a spot on the freshman All-American team.  

He doubled down his sophomore year, rushing for 1,836 yards and 17 touchdowns, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

The Ducks expected big things from him in his junior year, but the injury bug limited him to just 945 yards. At that point in his career many people expected Freeman would declare for the draft, but he surprised everyone by coming back for his senior season.

In his final season in Eugene, Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 scores. When it was all said and done he passed LaMichael James to claim Oregon’s career rushing yards record (5,621) and career touchdowns record (60).

Freeman put up some good numbers at the combine, running a 4.54 40, throwing up 17 reps in the bench press, and showing off a 34 inch vertical leap. Now it is time to see what Freeman will do in Denver at the next level.  

Justin Herbert is taking on a new leadership role

usatsi_10482255.jpg
USA Today

Justin Herbert is taking on a new leadership role

By 

Although Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert is already considered to be one of the favorites this year to win the Heisman trophy, in order to seal the deal, his offense has to thrive. This means that Herbert, along with his young, talented wide receivers will have to step up and make big plays against teams like Stanford, Washington, and Utah. The only problem, however, is that this has been a difficult task for Oregon to accomplish throughout the past couple seasons.

To make matters worse, wide receiver production has crumbled throughout the years in Eugene, ever since the departure of Marcus Mariota — the 2014 Heisman trophy winner. But not all hope is lost for the Ducks, since they have candidates that can turn things. Aside from Herbert himself — who’s demonstrated key leadership skills in the classroom due to his academic achievement, the Oregon Ducks also have their receivers. Dillon Mitchell, Johnny Johnson III, and Brenden Schooler have all shown head coach Mario Cristobal and quarterback Justin Herbert what they can do with the ball in their hands.

In order to be recognized nationally and win the Pac-12, however, the Oregon offense will have to put up big-time numbers. How much are we talking? They’ll have to put up at least 950 more yards than they did last year. In other words, their offense would have to average out between Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr. in order for Herbert to get an invitation to New York in 2019 for the upcoming draft. With that much pressure on their plate, it’s easy for athletes like Herbert to forget how important rest and rejuvenation are when it comes to staying energized and injury free.

What needs to be done moving forward?

Oregon has to find ways to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers. Schooler, who’s become one of those much-needed players did well during his first season as a wide receiver. In fact, he did so well, fans forgot he was once a safety as he caught three touchdown passes and averaged 13.7 yards per catch last year. Now that he has a full year of practice under his belt at the wide receiver position, Schooler has shifted his focus from learning the plays to leading his team to victory.

Mitchell (another much-needed receiver), not only led the team in receptions, he also led the team in receiving yards. That, however, hasn’t slowed down his work ethics, which means this is another key player Oregon can count on. Johnson III, who’s become a return specialist for the team has also improved throughout the off-season. With that kind of potential, along with a healthy quarterback, the Oregon ducks could easily find themselves making a run for the Pac-12 championship.

One other thing that makes the receiver’s abilities even stronger is the relationship they all have with their quarterback. Michael Johnson III, for instance, noted that their quarterback is pretty special and that guys enjoy being around him — another key leadership quality that Herbert has shown his teammates throughout the off-season. The question fans are wondering, however, is with so much talent surrounding Eugene, can Oregon pull through and be the team they were three years ago? If everyone can stay healthy and Herbert can avoid having another season dealing with chronic pain, then the Ducks could possibly be a top contender. For now, however, only time will tell.