EUGENE- Oregon’s highest-rated recruiting class didn’t just make history, it filled position needs with top talent that could make an impact as early as the 2019 season. Whether it be starting roles, sharing reps, asking the right questions or pushing veterans, the young Ducks have already began their impact on the 2019 Oregon football team.
Now that the rest of the freshmen class is in Eugene, joining the 11 early enrollees, one big question in fall camp is: Will the freshmen transition smoothly and live up to the high expectations?
“I’m very impressed by how smart this freshmen class is as a whole in the game of football,” said junior cornerback Thomas Graham. “Their football IQ is very, very high.”
Realistically, there will be a few freshmen that emerge, while the others take a little more time to adjust to the college pace. Position openings at defensive end, linebacker and wide receiver bode well for starting role battles for Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mase Funa, Josh Delgado and Mycah Pittman.
When meeting with the media after UO’s first practice, second-year head coach Mario Cristobal literally brought out a paper list of freshmen capable of making an instant impact this season. The list included Thibodeaux, Funa, Delgado and Pittman. Cristobal also noted that running back Sean Dollars broke loose in practice and tight end Patrick Herbert, who has seen offseason weight room gains of about 25 pounds, will be in the mix to get on the field with brother and quarterback Justin Herbert this season.
Which young Ducks are impressing veterans?
Ahead of last season, Herbert picked then-redshirt freshman running back CJ Verdell as a player he expected to surprise fans. Herbert was very, very, very correct. Verdell had 1,018 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and 315 receiving yards and two scores last season.
Upperclassmen have largely been excited and surprised, here are some of the best answers, including one prediction that Mykael Wright could be a freshman All-American.
Thibodeaux: No shock here. ESPN's No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class enrolled early, quickly adjusted to college pace and has displayed an array of pass-rushing moves that indicate he will be a high-impact player right away. The true freshman’s goal is to have 10 sacks every season. Justin Hollins led UO last season with 6.5 sacks.
Verdell, Graham and junior defensive tackle Jordon Scott spoke highly of the 6-foot-5, 240 pound defensive end.
“I see him making a huge impact on the field this season,” said Verdell.
Pittman: The wide receiver is possibly the most talked about new option for Herbert after a strong spring where made his presence felt. As one of the highest rated receivers to sign with Oregon, he is already impacting the Duck offense, earning significant reps during spring practice, moving up the depth chart and pushing veterans.
“Pittman has been surprising me,” tight end Cam McCormick said. “Always goes beyond, he always does extra.”
Junior safety Jevon Holland added, “Pittman has got strong hands, makes the catches that he needs and he’s really trustworthy when it comes to catching the ball.”
Dollars: Dollars has all the tools to have a stand out freshman season and develop into a starting running back before his time is up at Oregon. The Ducks have enviable veteran running back experience with Verdell, Travis Dye, Cyrus Habibi-Likio and Darrian Felix. It’s a good problem for UO offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo and running back coach Jim Mastro.
Should Dollars quickly learn the playbook and adjust to college speed, he could be an elite addition to the backfield
“Sean Dollars has been picking up the plays really well, asking a lot of questions, I like that about him,” said Verdell. “He’s very intuitive.”
Mykael Wright: Wright shined in the spring game with five tackles, three pass breakups and an interception. He is No. 3 behind Oregon’s starting corner backs Graham and Deommodore Lenoir.
“Mykael Wright, he’s been pushing me for reps,” said Graham. “And I want him to do that, I want him to get reps because at the end of the day I want him to get in games, I think he could be a freshman All-American.”
Delgado: The wide receiver added 15 pounds during Oregon’s rigorous offseason weight lifting program. Plus, Delgago excelled in the spring, pushing to get on the field sooner rather than later.
Graham praised that Delgado is “probably two years smarter than his entire class” while graduate transfer wide receiver Juwan Johnson said Delgado regularly reaches out to get extra practice in with the senior.
“Josh Delgado works extremely hard with a professional attitude,” Johnson said.
“You could be hearing Herbert to Herbert this season,” said Johnson. “He will be good for this team, not just because he’s Justin’s brother but because he is his own separate player.”
GeMon Eaford: The 6-foot-1, 240 pound linebacker out of Florida will push for reps this season. He earned a nod from Verdell as a player who might surprise fans this season.
NEXT, A SURPRISE FROM OREGON MEDIA DAY: Verdell lived in Japan for three years. No, he cannot speak Japanese, he laughed as he said “That’s the sad part, I forgot all of it.”