Marcus Arroyo

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backsLinebackersDefensive line.   

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback.

Key departure: Senior Taylor Alie.

Projected 2018 starter: Justin Herbert, Jr., (6-6, 225). 

Key backups: Braxton Burmeister, Soph., (6-1, 204); Tyler Shough, Fr., (6-4, 190).

What we know: Oregon, other than during the Las Vegas Bowl, had one of the best offenses in the nation when Herbert was healthy. He will be the unchallenged starter again in 2018 and could find himself in Heisman Trophy contention should he remain in the lineup and the Ducks improve on last year's 7-6 record. 

What we don't know: Can the Ducks survive any length of time without Herbert in 2018? Unless Oregon brings in a transfer quarterback, the backup will either be Burmeister, who struggled greatly during the five games Herbert missed last season (57 percent completions, two touchdown passes and six interceptions), or Shough, a four-star recruit who plans to enroll in time for spring drills.

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Herbert must avoid injury or one of the two youngsters had better become serviceable enough to prevent the offense from imploding upon their insertion into the lineup. 

Oregon went 1-4 minus Herbert last year while scoring about 15 points per game. Herbert missed the toughest part of the team's schedule last season. If he were to miss a weaker stretch of games next year, maybe the Ducks survive his absence in the short term. If he misses any stretch that includes key games against the likes of Washington, UCLA, Stanford or Arizona, the Ducks could be cooked.   

That is, unless Burmeister grows up in a hurry or Shough turns out to be the next Herbert. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if...: Tony Brooks-James is ready dominate. 

Oregon extends contracts of Leavitt, Arroyo and Salave'a

Oregon extends contracts of Leavitt, Arroyo and Salave'a

University of Oregon head football coach Mario Cristobal announced Monday that three assistant coaches have signed contract extensions: defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Jim Leavitt, associate head coach/defensive line coach Joe Salave’a, and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks/tight ends coach Marcus Arroyo. Leavitt’s contract was extended through the 2021 season, with Salave’a and Arroyo’s contracts extended through the 2020 season.

“We are thrilled we were able extend Jim, Marcus and Joe’s contracts,” Cristobal said. “All three have been impactful in establishing the direction of our program as both teachers and mentors for our players. They have been key in helping build our momentum, both on the field and in recruiting. Jim led an amazing turnaround on the defensive side of the ball that saw great improvement in all area of the defense. Joe’s defensive line was a big part of that improvement thanks to his ability to make players better. Under his tutelage, the defensive line led an attack that allowed 118 fewer rushing yards per game than in 2016 while accounting for 63 more tackles for loss and eight more sacks. Marcus’ work on offense, and in particular with Justin Herbert, were critical to the offense’s success. Despite Justin’s absence for five games, we finished in the top 20 in scoring overall while averaging nearly 50 points when at full strength.” 

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Leavitt’s Oregon defense produced significant improvement over the previous year in multiple categories, including total defense (from 115th to 46th), tackles for loss (from 102nd to 22nd), third down defense (from 122nd to 24th), sacks (from 61st to 27th), rushing defense (from 121st to 26th), and interceptions (from 81st to 19th). The Ducks also ranked in the top four in the Pac-12 Conference during the 2017 regular season in rushing defense (2nd), third down defense (2nd), total defense (4th) and fumble recoveries (4th).

Salave’a’s efforts with the Oregon defensive line were a considerable factor in the overall defensive improvement, including an All-Pac-12 second team performance from junior Jalen Jelks, who ranked in the top 10 in the league in both tackles for loss and sacks. Jelks also recorded the first game of five or more tackles for loss by a Duck since 2007, on Sept. 23 at Arizona State. Additionally, true freshman defensive lineman Jordon Scott earned Freshman All-America honors from 247 Sports.

Under Arroyo’s tutelage, the Ducks averaged 49.4 points and 516.5 yards of total offense per game in the seven regular season games started by sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. Oregon also ranked second in the Pac-12 in rushing offense and tied for fourth nationally during the regular season with 40 rushing touchdowns, with senior offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

SOURCES: DL coach Joe Salave'a has told players he will remain at Oregon

SOURCES: DL coach Joe Salave'a has told players he will remain at Oregon

UPDATE: Oregon officially extended the contracts of Joe Salave'a, Jim Leavitt and Marcus Arroyo on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

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Oregon defensive line coach Joe Salave'a has told Ducks players that he will remain with the team next season, according to sources.

Oregon's defensive turnaround in 2017 can largely be attributed to Salave'a's work with the defensive line.

This good news for Oregon comes on the heels of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt reportedly signing a new contract to remain with the Ducks

Retaining Salave'a means that the Ducks will retain their top four assistant coaches from this season. 

STAYING AT OREGON

Mario Cristobal: Athletic director Rob Mullens hired Cristobal as the head coach eight days prior to Saturday's 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Cristobal, formerly the Ducks' co-offensive coordinator, will continue to coach the offensive line.

Jim Leavitt: He is reportedly signing a contract extension to remain at Oregon. 

Marcus Arroyo: He has been retained as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and he will be the primary play caller. Arroyo was a co-offensive coordinator this season. 

Joe Salave'a: He remains on as the defensive line coach and associated head coach. 

LEAVING OREGON

Donte Pimpleton: He will leave UO to coach running backs at Florida State

UP IN THE AIR

Wide receivers coach Michael Johnson.

Special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie

Safeties coach Keith Heyward

Cornerbacks coach Charles Clark.

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

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USA Today

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman made what had to be a tough decision for him to sit out Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

He made the wise decision, even though it might appear to be selfish on the surface. 

"This is hard for him, now," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said today prior to practice at Bishop Gorman High School. "This is not an easy thing for a guy like that."

Freeman, who practiced with the team on Wednesday, was not made available for comment today.

Freeman leaves Oregon as its all-time leading rusher (5,621 yards) and the Pac-12 Conference's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60). He has given 947 carries to the program, a total that's also a record. Going out a winner in a bowl game was probably enticing for Freeman but the risk of injury isn't worth the reward. Few will remember or care who won the Vegas Bowl within days after it ends. An injury could hinder Freeman, projected to go in the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, for the rest of his career. 

Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby would be wise to follow suit. Cristobal said Crosby would announce his intentions on Friday. Projected by many to be a first-round pick, Crosby could literally be risking $10 million or more by playing in the Vegas Bowl. A serious injury could knock him out of the first round and into the later rounds, as it did former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore an ACL during practice prior to the 2014 Rose Bowl. He ended up getting drafted in the seventh round and never fully regained health in his knee. He is now out of the NFL. 

NFL-bound players electing to not play in their team's bowl game is a growing trend. Former Last season, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette sat out their respective team's bowl games. 

Cristobal is not in favor of this development. 

"I like to see key players play," Cristobal said. 

That doesn't mean he isn't with Freeman on his decision. 

"Am I disappointed in him? No, I'm not," Cristobal asked. "Do I want to see him play? Absolutely. But I stand by him just like I gave him my word and I don't break my word for nobody."

Cristobal said the entire team backs Freeman, as they should 

"They understand that this family thing is not just talk," Cristobal said. "This family thing is real. This family will stick together, support each other and we'll press forward."

Oregon's running game should be just fine on Saturday. When Freeman went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter against California on Sept. 30 the Ducks still won 45-24 and rushed for 328 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2016, after Freeman went down with a foot injury at Nebraska, the Ducks managed to rush for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Crosby was lost for the season in that game. 

Interestingly, following practice offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo met with the media and when asked about Freeman's decision said that he was unaware of the situation. 

"It's unfortunate," he said. "Obviously, Royce is such a big part of who we area. But guys are going to made decisions based on the betterment for their life. Royce has done an awesome job for us. We're going to miss him...but just like when he went down, we have to find a way to pull together."

The Ducks will lean on senior Kani Benoit, redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James, who will likely be next year's top back, junior Taj Griffin and freshman Darrian Felix. 

There is plenty of talent there to win with making Freeman's decision ever more on the mark as being the right move for his future. 

Burmeister is the answer in Herbert's absence

Burmeister is the answer in Herbert's absence

EUGENE - Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister must live up to his billing as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the nation coming out of high school if the Ducks are going to survive life without sophomore Justin Herbert, out at least a month with a fractured collarbone. 

It's that simple. The problem is, that's a tough ask. 

Asking any freshman quarterback, regardless of perceived skillset, to perform at an elite level in year one is for the most part unrealistic. 

Few have met such expectations. Equally as unrealistic is asking redshirt senior Taylor Alie to suddenly deliver as a starting quarterback when last year he was moved to wide receiver because he had struggled playing quarterback at this level. 

So, as the Ducks (4-1, 1-1 PAC-12) embark on this journey without Herbert starting on Saturday with No. 11 Washington State (5-0 2-0) at home, they do so with an experienced but limited senior and a talented but promising freshman. 

What could possibly go wrong?

The solution is to shrink the playbook as much as needed and get Burmeister onto the field either as the starter or as the backup. 

But make sure Burmeister plays. He is the more talented of the two. Let that flourish. At the very least, he will have gained that much more experience moving forward rather than burning his redshirt to play backup to a guy in Alie who is only playing quarterback out of necessity. 

Maybe, Oregon gets lucky and Burmeister plays like Herbert did last year when he started his first game at this exact same point in the season. 

We already know what Alie, great person by all accounts who worked his tail off to earn a scholarship after walking on at his hometown university, is all about as a quarterback. 

Former UO coach Mark Helfrich told us during the spring of 2016 when he moved Alie and former quarterback Jeff Lockie, the backups to Vernon Adams Jr. in 2015, to wide receiver behind transfer Dakota Prukop, 4-star recruit Travis Jonsen and 3-star recruit Terry Wilson Jr.  

The move stated clearly that Alie was, at best, the No. 5 quarterback on the team behind two players who had never taken college snaps and Lockie, who certainly didn’t perform well in place of Adams. 

Herbert joined the Ducks in the fall of 2016 making Alie essentially No. 6. 

By the spring of 2017, Alie moved up to pseudo No. 5 behind Herbert, Jonsen, Wilson and Burmeister, but remained at wide receiver. 

Wilson elected to transfer during spring drills, which led to Alie once again receiving quarterback reps. When Jonsen left the program over the summer that put Alie into a competition with Burmeister for the backup role. 

But let’s be clear. Just because a bunch of dominoes fell thrusting Alie into the backup role, and now the likely starter, doesn’t mean that he is your typical backup in waiting. He is not. He is in that position by default. So if Alie starts against WSU, one shouldn't expect miracles. 

Burmeister, however, is here because, unlike Alie, the freshman was recruited to play this position at this level. 

Oregon co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo insisted this week that the team's game plan wouldn't shift without Herbert moving forward. Arroyo said he has worked with both Alie and Burmeister to always be ready

“We’ve made the room very aware, and I’ve been doing this a long time, that all it takes is one play, and there it is,” Arroyo said. “That’s to fruition and so we move forward.”

Yet, we saw the game plan shift against Cal when Herbert went down at the end of the first quarter. He had passed for 86 yards on 7-of-8 passing to that point. Alie threw for 41 yards on 9 of 13 attempts with one interception before going down with a concussion in the fourth quarter. 

Burmeister completed one pass for four yards in the final minutes. 

Those numbers represent a strategic shift of seismic proportions.

This week, however, the staff will have a chance to formulate game plans that best fit Alie and Burmeister against WSU's defense, ranked third and allowing 20.2 points per game. Advanced preparation will also help against the continuation of the heart of the schedule with games at No. 24 Stanford, UCLA, home against Utah and at Washington up next.  

If Herbert is fortunate, he will return in time for a home game against Arizona on Nov. 18. 

Preparation should improve the overall production for both Alie and Burmeister but neither will come close to matching Herbert's NFL-caliber passing abilities. 

The extreme variable in all of this is that Burmeister is a superior runner to both Herbert and Alie. Plus, the freshman has a live arm.

Burmeister rushed for 3,449 yards and 68 touchdowns while at La Jolla Country Day High School in La Jolla, Calif.  That's in addition to the 11,512 yards and 127 touchdowns he threw for with just 33 interceptions. 

Those are video game numbers, and although some have questioned the strength of the league he played in, the bottom line is that he had the skills enough to receive scholarship offers from a couple of dozen programs including Washington, Florida and Arizona. 

UO coach Willie Taggart said Burmeister has come a long way since joining the team in time for spring drills last March. 

"He has a better understanding of the offense and what we're trying to do," Taggart said. 

Burmeister has displayed, according to Taggart, greater confidence as his knowledge of the offense has increased. 

“It’s allowed him to go out there and play fast and execute," Taggart added. 

Arroyo said that Herbert’s experience is the top asset lost when he went down. 

"You can't put a price on that," Arroyo said. "That's huge."

Arroyo said the starter is not clear and will be determined after a week of competition. 

There is a chance, Arroyo said, that UO could play both, something Oregon did with Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife (2002-2003) and Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf (2005-2006). 

Whatever the plan is, Burmeister must be a huge part of it. Start him. Or, at least play him a lot. He came to Oregon as the potential quarterback of the future. He must deliver now. Otherwise, Oregon will be in serious trouble until Herbert returns.

Oregon's QB situation behind Justin Herbert is precarious at best

Oregon's QB situation behind Justin Herbert is precarious at best

EUGENE - If Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert were to go down this season, it's a wrap. Season over. Thanks for coming. See you next year. 

All thanks to Travis Jonsen. 

While most teams would suffer from the loss of its starting quarterback, the Ducks enter this season in worse shape behind their starter than they were from 2013 through 2015. 

The Ducks have five quarterbacks on the roster. Well, one quarterback and four guys wearing red jerseys trying to become collegiate quarterbacks. Things are so precarious that freshman Demetri Burch, recruited as an athlete, is playing quarterback out of sheer necessity. 

Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Marcus Arroyo, when asked to describe the quarterback room simply stated, "minus Justin, inexperience. That's probably the best word."

There you have it. And let's not forget that Herbert is just a sophomore. How bad is the situation? Let's take a look (the following is not exactly a depth chart): 

1. Herbert, a potential phenom and sure-fire future NFL quarterback. 

2. Braxton Burmeister: A true freshman and four-star recruit who by all accounts is not going to be a freshman sensation like Herbert proved to be last season. 

3. Taylor Alie: A senior who played receiver last year and held for kicks after seeing some time at quarterback in 2015 after Vernon Adams Jr. went down with a broken finger. Completed six of 14 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. 

4. Mike Irwin: A walk-on from Lakeridge High School. 

5. Demetri Burch: An athletic, three-star recruit whose high school quarterback highlights consist mostly of running plays. He would likely be playing receiver if not for all of the uncertainty at quarterback. 

"We felt like he was doing some really nice things as a young guy in our room to build some depth," Arroyo said. 

Most teams don't ask a likely receiver to provide depth at quarterback when they already have four quarterbacks in place unless there is a feeling that those quarterbacks are iffy. 

Fortunately for Oregon, Herbert, listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, packed on about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason. Knocking him out of games won't be easy.

But things happen. When Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury in 2007, the Ducks turned to senior Brady Leaf, a very capable backup. But, he went down as well and the Ducks' national title hopes went kaput. 

In 2015, the Ducks endured a rotation of Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie after Adams went down with a broken finger. The results were not pretty. Three of Oregon's four losses came in games Adams did not finish or didn't start. The finale was the blown 31-point lead to TCU in the Alamo Bowl in which Adams left the game with a concussion late in the second quarter.

Oregon hopes that Burmeister will create a situation like the Ducks had with Joey Harrington and A.J. Feeley (1999-2000), Jason Fife and Kellen Clemens (2002-2003), Clemens and Dixon (2004-2005), Darron Thomas and Bryan Bennett (2011) and Benett and Marcus Mariota (2012). 

The 2012 duo was the last time the Ducks had security at the backup quarterback position until last year when Herbert emerged to become the starter with senior Dakota Prukop relegated to backup duties. 

That brings us back to Jonsen. New Oregon coach Willie Taggart hoped the redshirt sophomore would embrace competing with Herbert and remain on the team to at least provide a strong backup. But the former four-star recruit saw the writing on the wall and it read, "Herbert = superstar," so he bounced to a junior college in hopes of latching on to a big time program in the future. 

Jonsen's departure has set Oregon up for potential disaster.  One could also point to redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr.'s decision to transfer during the spring. 

It's tough to keep quality quarterbacks around to sit as backups. Bennett lasted just one year as Mariota's backup before leaving to become the starter at Southeastern Louisiana.

Oregon's 2018 recruiting class is loaded. Missing, however, is a quarterback. Taggart might want to sign two. 

A lot of the predicted doom and gloom depends no only on if Herbert were to get injured by when? If it were to happen later in the season, the Ducks by then might have developed an adequate backup. Although some are saying that Alie is ahead of Burmeister at this point, maybe in two months the freshman would be ready to play solidly within a watered-down game plan.

Justin Roper in 2007 developed nicely over time after Dixon went down and won the Sun Bowl. 

But as it stands now, the Ducks' area of greatest need might be to find someone capable of guiding the ship should something happen to its captain. 

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 5 - TE Jacob Breeland

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 5 - TE Jacob Breeland

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. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland.

No other position on the roster could be more desperate for someone to rise to the occasion than tight end. 

Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt all left the program as seniors after combining for 65 receptions last season. 

That leaves Breeland as the lone returning tight end with playing experience. He caught six passes for 123 yards in 11 games last season with a long reception of 63 yards at Washington State.

While all of this might paint a seemingly hazardous situation at tight end, the truth is that Breeland has the potential to become better than all three of Oregon's senior tight ends from last season. He is certainly more athletic than Mundt and Baylis and he is faster than Brown, who lost some steps after suffering a major leg injury in 2014. 

At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Breeland brings good size to the hybrid position that in coach Willie Taggart's offense, much like in Oregon's previous scheme, will align tight at the line of scrimmage, as a wing and flexed out. 

Depth is a bigger problem at tight end than the starter situation. Behind Breeland is redshirt freshman Cam McCormick, walk-on redshirt sophomore Matt Mariota and a bunch of names that remain mysteries. 

Oregon did not sign a tight end in the 2017 recruiting class. 

So as of now, Breeland is the lone guy Oregon can count on, which makes the tight end position a potential soft spot for the Ducks unless he remains healthy. 

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

 

Justin Herbert must improve temperament, leadership skills to reach potential

Justin Herbert must improve temperament, leadership skills to reach potential

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert on Saturday dealt what appeared to be a virtual knockout blow to end the quarterback competition between him, Travis Jonsen and Braxton Burmeister.

Herbert, while passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns to lead Team Free to a 34-11 victory over Team Brave, displayed what most already knew - that he is by far the best quarterback on the Ducks' roster. 

Redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. knew it. That's why last year's No. 3 quarterback decided two weeks into spring drills that he would be better off transferring. Jonsen, the No. 4 quarterback last year, has to know it by now after completing 5 of 15 passes for 86 yards and an interception while starting for Team Brave during in his third spring game at Oregon. If Burmeister, a true freshman, doesn't already know it then the talented four-star recruit will next fall when the "redshirt" label is slapped on him a week before the Southern Utah game. 

The hunch here is that Oregon coach Willie Taggart knows it, as well. He just isn't ready to state as much publicly. That's because something is gnawing at him, something he can't easily let go despite Herbert's clear superiority to the competition.  

Taggart is looking for a leader at quarterback and he doesn't see one just yet. 

When asked Saturday about Herbert's spring game performance having maybe ended the competition, the first-year Oregon coach first downplayed the performance by stating that it was just one of many outings during 15 days of spring drills.

"He had a hell of a scrimmage today but he had some bad practices, too," Taggart said. "And they all have throughout spring ball...They've all had some up and downs."

Then Taggart attacked the true crux of the situation. 

"For me, personally," Taggart said. "I'm looking for more than just throwing touchdowns. I'm looking for a guy that can lead this football team. A guy that's going to rally everybody on this team, not just the offensive guys but defense and everyone. When we can find that guy, that's when we are going to name a starter."

Translation: Herbert's leadership skills are lacking and holding him back.  

It's a concern for Taggart, a former college quarterback. Unfortunately for UO, this could be a concern that lingers well beyond next season unless Herbert makes a dramatic transformation in his overall demeanor. Taggart wants a vocal leader. Herbert is quiet. Taggart wants someone to motivate the entire roster. Herbert isn't quite fully comfortable getting after his receivers or linemen, let alone everyone in a helmet. Taggart wants a quarterback who rolls through adversity. Herbert sometimes struggles when things go badly. 

The rub here is that Jonsen and Burmeister haven't distinguished themselves as leaders, either. So while Taggart is clearly looking for that alpha dog quarterback, he might have to settle for a beta at the helm of his offense next fall. 

That doesn't have to be all bad, especially if that beta is as talented as Herbert, who last year threw for 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions over seven starts.  

Taggart talked yesterday about how the Ducks used to rally around former quarterback Marcus Mariota. Taggart wants to see the same dynamic develop under his first starting quarterback at Oregon. 

The irony here is that Taggart might have had some of the same reservations about Mariota at the same age as Herbert is now.

Let's jump into the wayback machine for a minute. 

Mariota had the benefit of redshirting as a freshman behind Darron Thomas before becoming the starter his redshirt freshman season in 2012. Mariota was hardly a leader of men at that time. In fact, there were still major questions about his leadership abilities following the 2013 season, his third year in the program.

One of the reasons Mariota elected to make the NFL wait and return to UO in 2014 was because he and his family didn't believe that he was ready to lead an NFL locker room full of grown men. Mariota stayed and improved his leadership skills during his final season at Oregon while also winning the Heisman Trophy. Still, he never blossomed into a classic vocal, alpha male quarterback. NFL scouts even questioned his leadership abilities heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. Those questions persist even today, albeit they have lessened annually as he continues to grow as a leader and develop as a quarterback with the Tennessee Titans. 

Then there's Herbert, who grew up idolizing Mariota and has the ability to one day contend for a Heisman and become a high draft pick. Not simply for his abilities, but for his demeanor. When Herbert took the program by storm, some called him "Mariota 2.0" and "Herbiota" because he mirrored Mariota's innate ability to process information, remain cool under pressure and make the right play, as well as make the spectacular seem routine. 

But they also share another trait that isn't a positive for the quarterback position. Like Mariota as a redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore, Herbert is more of an introvert on the field. Being a leader does not come naturally for him, as it didn't for Mariota. 

Herbert also is a mirror image of Mariota during interviews. Trying to squeeze a good quote out of either of them is like attempting to extract the milk from a coconut with a can opener. 

Herbert said Saturday that he is gradually becoming more comfortable with his role and that Taggart has been instrumental in his development. 

"Having a guy like coach T, it definitely helps," Herbert said. "He's very personable. And having guys around me that I'm comfortable with is also a huge bonus because I can be myself around them."

It cannot be understated just how much Herbert is still a kid. At this point last year he was playing high school baseball and getting ready for the Sheldon High School prom. Now he is viewed as the potential savior of a program that just underwent an emotional and difficult separation from it's former staff of long-time coaches following a disastrous 4-8 season and handed the reigns to a young coach easing into his first Power Five Conference job.

Herbert is learning his second college offense in nine months, so one would expect him to have "ups and downs" during a 15-practice spring stretch. Herbert had bad days last fall, as well, which is why he didn't beat out senior Dakota Prukop during fall camp. But once he settled into the offense, it became clear to former coach Mark Helfrich and his staff that they had to get Herbert onto the field.

If not for UO's pitiful defense (41.4 points allowed per game), and a down season for injury-plagued running back Royce Freeman, Herbert's impressive play might have saved the jobs of the former coaching staff. His numbers per game were on par with Mariota's in 2012 when the team went 12-1, and and in 2013, when the Ducks were 11-2. 

But while Herbert played his position well, he wasn't nearly ready to carry a team on his back, physically or emotionally.  Anyone who believes a young Mariota could have won more with last year's team would be mistaken. The 2012 Oregon defense allowed 21.6 points allowed per game. Running back Kenjon Barner flirted with being a Heisman Trophy candidate while assisting Mariota with 1,717 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

All of that said, one major difference exists when comparing the two at the same age. Mariota better handled adversity. Herbert, according to a source on last year's team, could at times become fragile emotionally when things went badly. That trait popped up again here and there during spring, according to a current team source. Mariota, on the other hand, led by example with his demeanor despite not being vocal, and inspired his teammates with his steely presence. 

Again, we're talking about a young man who just turned 19 in March and has yet to have completed his first year of college. So, it's not a knock on Herbert that he is still maturing. It's just a fact, and one that Taggart is allowing to be a factor as he evaluates the quarterback position. 

That all said, Oregon's best chance for a quick turnaround in 2017 is for Herbert to be at the helm, not Jonsen or Burmeister. But Taggart believes that if Herbert can improve his temperament and leadership skills, the Ducks could win more games than it would otherwise. 

Taggart has seen quarterbacks with strong personalities turn teams around before. 

While a running backs coach at Stanford in 2009, Taggart watched Andrew Luck blossom into a leader and change the overall culture and mentality of the team as a redshirt freshman. As the head coach at South Florida, Taggart didn't start tasting success until quarterback Quinton Flowers grew into a leader that his teammates rallied around as a sophomore in 2015.

Herbert will be entering year two of his college career next fall. He has accomplished more than Luck, Flowers and Mariota had entering their second years on a college campus, but Herbert lags behind in just that one area of concern.  

Another point must also be made here. Taggart might be looking for a leader but he needs a baller at quarterback, first and foremost. 

In the days leading up to the spring game, Taggart said he wanted to see which players would "show up and show out." Strange things, as he put it, happen to players when they enter a game situation and must perform under the spotlight.

To that end, Herbert delivered, as he did most of last season, while Jonsen and Burmeister faltered. 

Whatever temperament issues Herbert might have, this is still a guy who played better as the game went on against eventual Pac-12 champion Washington during a 71-20 loss at Autzen Stadium. He brought Oregon back at California with six touchdown passes only to fall short in overtime. And, Herbert led the Ducks on a game-winning drive in the final minute at Utah. The game-winner, with seconds remaining, went to Darren Carrington II in the corner of the end zone on a throw that NFL superstars, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady could not exceed.  

So, Herbert has indeed proven he can bounce back from adversity. His talent is undeniable. The question entering the summer will be, can he take is overall mental makeup to the next level sooner, rather than later. 

Taggart said he is looking for team leadership across the board over the summer on a team that last season suffered from a severe lack of leaders. 

"I think the offseason is going to be big," Taggart said. "When I talk about who can lead this team, who can get their teammates out there to work on their craft when the coaches can't be there."

Taggart said he didn't see enough of self-starter mentality in January from anyone, even the quarterbacks. He hopes to see it more this summer. 

"It starts with the quarterback," Taggart said. "Who can get his teammates to go out there and work when the NCAA doesn't allow us to be out there with them. That's what's going to make us a better football team."

Herbert's physical play will give the Ducks a chance to win most games on their schedule next season. But UO likely won't contend for a Pac-12 title until Herbert's leadership skills and temperament catch up with his elite-level physical gifts. 

Oregon co-OC Marcus Arroyo brings that "juice" to the field

Oregon co-OC Marcus Arroyo brings that "juice" to the field

EUGENE - Oregon co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo has “that juice,” Ducks coach Willie Taggart covets.

That’s why he hired him. That’s what onlookers have witnessed from the Ducks’ passing game coordinator during spring drills.

“He’s smart. Very smart,” Taggart said. “Very articulate. He does a great job with the players. He’s very energetic. That’s everyday. He’s like coach (Jim) Leavitt. Got that juice everyday. He’s a team player. All about the team.”

New defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, often "juiced" carbonated, sugary beverages, is a ball of energy on the defensive side while Arroyo is his counterpart on the offensive side of the ball.

Always bouncing. Always on the hop. Arroyo physically exudes the excitement he expresses about being at Oregon.

And it all began with an interrupted phone call following an unfortunate incident.

If Taggart had had his way, Arroyo would already be on year three with his staff. Taggart, while at South Florida, tried to hire the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer' quarterbacks coach when he became available after the Bucs made staff changes following the 2014 season. However, Taggart said USF lacked the financial resources to land Arroyo, who received a better offer from Oklahoma State, where he coached running backs the past two seasons.

When Taggart accepted the head coaching job at Oregon last December he brought David Reaves with him from South Florida to be the Ducks’ passing game coordinator. His tenure didn’t last long. A poor decision to drive while intoxicated led to a DUII arrest on Jan. 22, prompting Oregon to begin the process of terminating him. Reaves ultimately resigned a couple of weeks later.

That put Taggart back on the hunt for a passing game coordinator to compliment running game coordinator and offensive line coach, Mario Cristobal. That trail led Taggart back to Arroyo. This time, armed with greater financial resources from UO, Taggart felt confident he could land his man.

A phone call was placed, somewhat surprising Arroyo.

“My first response was, “I’ve got to buckle my seatbelt, I’m about to take off, I’m on an airplane right now,’” Arroyo explained following Wednesday’s practice. “And, I’ll call you back when I land.”

Arroyo did call back. Taggart answered and offered. Arroyo accepted, eager to work with Taggart.  

“In our business it’s a small circle,” Arroyo said. “When you find really, really good people you want to work with you stay in contact, and it worked out.”

Getting back to west coast appealed to Arroyo, who hails from Colfax, Calif., and played quarterback at San Jose State (1998-2002), passing for 4,672 yards and 28 touchdowns over his career.

Arroyo also worked at California under coach Jeff Tedford, a former UO offensive coordinator (1998-2001), as the the quarterbacks coach in 2011 before adding the responsibilities of passing game coordinator in 2012.

Arroyo, who coaches quarterbacks and tight ends for UO, has also coached wide receivers in his past, doing so at Southern Mississippi in 2013 when he was also the offensive coordinator.

“From an experience standpoint, he has everything you’re looking for,” Taggart said.  

Right now Arroyo's main focus is on coordinating the Ducks' passing game and evaluating the play of four talented quarterbacks: sophomore Justin Herbert, redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr, redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen and freshman Braxton Burmeister. 

Arroyo said the group is getting equal-enough snaps to allow for a true competition. Herbert, who started seven games last season, is the logical favorite to win the job. Arroyo likes what he's seen from him so far. 

"What I saw on film coming in was a young man with great poise, some really good traits and intangibles," Arroyo said.

Jonsen said he's enjoyed working with Arroyo, who stresses the importance of being a student of the game.

"He's just been really on us watching film," Jonsen said. "Really taking that free time and really watching yourself in 7-on and team."

Pushing the quarterbacks to match his intensity is part of that “juice” Taggart likes about Arroyo, who came to Oregon with high expectations for himself and the Ducks' offense.

“There’s no barriers for success at Oregon,” Arroyo said.

Oregon QB Justin Herbert welcomes competition

Oregon QB Justin Herbert welcomes competition

Don't miss: Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five burning questions

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Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert did all he could to save the Ducks last season. 

He threw for six touchdowns in a loss at California. He tied a passing record with 489 yards during a win against Arizona State. He threw the winning touchdown at Utah in the final seconds. 

All told, Herbert passed for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions in seven starts as a freshman, and he looked quite amazing while doing so. 

Nevertheless, his performance came under UO's former coaching staff during a 4-8 season in which he won just two games. Herbert hasn't done anything under new coach Willie Taggart. For those reasons, Herbert must compete for his job, and he's fine with that. 

“Competition is great for everyone," Herbert said Wednesday morning prior to the start of spring drills. "It pushes everyone and I think it’s great. I’m going to do my best and if it’s me, great, but if it’s not, I’ll be supportive of whoever it is. I just have to do my best and let things take care of themselves.”

The "whoever" in that quote refers to redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr., the No. 3 quarterback last season, and redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen, last season's No. 4. 

Taggart likes the talent he sees in both challengers. He says he wants to give them a fair chance to earn the starting job. If one comes remotely close to challenging Herbert, that would signal that the Ducks are would be set at this position for years to come. 

Herbert certainly is an interesting position. Former coach Mark Helfrich, former offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and quarterback coach David Yost believed in Herbert enough to start him after senior transfer Dakota Prukop struggled. Now Herbert must adjust to a new system and new coaches, including co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo.

“It was definitely tough saying goodbye to the past coaches," Herbert said. "We built a great relationship with them…But this new staff has come in and they’ve made a great relationship with us, and so they’ve actually made the process quite a bit easier.”

Taggart will spend more time evaluating quarterback than any other position. It's the spot he played at Western Kentucky. Leadership at that position, he said, is paramount. 

"He says he has to earn our trust," Herbert said, "like we have to earn his."

At least it appears that the new system shouldn't be tough for Herbert to grasp. 

“I would say it’s really similar (to the former system)," Herbert said. "The plays just have different names. But a lot of the concepts and formations are very similar."