Oregon Ducks

Oregon Ducks

One player who has certainly made an impression on new Oregon coach Willie Taggart is freshman cornerback Thomas Graham, a four-star recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. 

During winter workouts, Taggart said Graham tore it up and displayed a level of both talent and passion for the game that could translate into great success. However, Taggart added that he wanted to see Graham perform in a true practice setting before passing judgment. Taggart has had a few days now to watch Graham in action and he's come away even more impressed. 

"He's stood out the last two days," Taggart said on Saturday. "He's really stepped up and made some plays for us."

Oregon returns its top three cornerbacks from last season: senior Arrion Springs, redshirt senior Tyree Robinson and junior Ugo Amadi. But it appears that Graham, the No. 12-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, could crash that party. 

"He was working with the ones yesterday," Taggart said. "That was great. I'm sure you'll see more as spring goes on."

Taggart called Graham a "playmaker" and the Ducks could certainly use some of those everywhere on defense after extremely poor play in all areas in 2015 and 2016. 

Get lined up, kid: New systems bring new expectations that begin with the little things such as lining up correctly. However, one big aspect of how the former staff practiced remains. Taggart, like former coaches Mark Helfrich, Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti, wants his team to practice fast on the field then correct mistakes later in the film room. 

 

"First, we've got to be able to lineup," Taggart said. "First and foremost. But, more importantly - learning how to practice. Learning the way that we want them to practice. Practice at full-speed and not worry about making mistakes. Understanding that we can correct those mistakes on film, but we want guys flying around playing with a lot of energy and passion."

So far, Taggart says he is seeing steady improvement.

"We're not where we need to be, but it's good to see that we're making improvement," Taggart said. "We always talk to our guys about getting one percent better each day, and after two days I feel like our football team is two-percent better."

Darrian McNeal has been impressive: Oregon is in desperate need of some wide receiver depth and so far it appears that freshman Darrian McNeal, a three-star recruit out of Florida that Taggart stole from Arizona, could provide that depth. 

"For a guy that just got here last week, and come in and do some of the things he's done in the first couple of practices has been really impressive," Taggart said. "He's very athletic."

McNeal is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver in the mold of current senior receiver Charles Nelson and former UO running back/wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas. 

Taggart has said that McNeal doesn't have the pure speed that Nelson and Thomas have, but he is as elusive in space. 

Oregon returns just two productive wide receivers: seniors Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson. Sophomore Dillon Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile have a chance to start. After that, UO will look to a group of six incoming freshmen receivers for depth. 

McNeal, who enrolled early, is getting a head start at being an impact freshman. 

Opening practices to the media/public: In 2011, Kelly decided to create a fortress of solitude around his program by closing practices to fans and the media. His successor, Mark Helfrich, did the same thing when he took over in 2013. 

New coach Willie Taggart has loosened things up a bit, allowing the media to see the first 30 minutes of all practices, and by inviting fans and the media to view two full practices this spring.

"We always ask our fans to pay their money and come out and watch during the season, I think it's fair to allow them to come out and see their football team a little bit [during practice]," Taggart said. "Especially with a new staff, they want to see what's going on."