Marcus Arroyo

Oregon football "hasn't had someone like" wide receiver Juwan Johnson in awhile

Oregon football "hasn't had someone like" wide receiver Juwan Johnson in awhile

When asked about graduate transfer wide receiver Juwan Johnson, his new Oregon Duck teammates can’t help but smile.

Senior offensive lineman Shane Lemieux named Johnson the scariest big play threat for next season. “He’s a big guy, who has caught some really good balls with a big body… We haven’t had someone like that in awhile.”

6-foot-4, 230-pound Johnson is stepping into a prime opportunity at Oregon and he’s already climbing the depth chart. He could be the answer to the biggest question of the 2019 football season: How can the Ducks get the most out of quarterback Justin Herbert in his final season at UO?

After arriving from Penn State, Johnson has made a strong first impression on the Ducks. His large, powerful, physical frame is unlike the other receivers currently on Oregon’s roster along with his ability to power through and over defensive backs.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo’s first thought when seeing Johnson in pads at Oregon? “Wow, he was as big as I remember, bigger even in pads.”

“The thing about Juwan is how engaged he’s been,” Arroyo, who is already planning to have Johnson play multiple positions, said. “He didn’t come out as a guy who’s played a ton – which he has, he’s played a lot, he’s been in a big-time program and been in big-time games – he’s been very humble and his work ethic and the way he’s been, come early and stay late, that’s really good to see. I think that’s good for our young guys to see too.”

After only four practices, Johnson went from being a new roster addition to working with the first-team offense. During Thursday’s practice, Johnson replaced Johnny Johnson III (unknown injury) in a two receiver, two tight end package alongside wide receiver Brenden Schooler and tight ends Ryan Bay and Cam McCormick.

You may have just learned Johnson’s name this month but he has been on coach Mario Cristobal’s radar since Cristobal's coaching stint at Alabama. As Johnson grew up in in Glassboro, New Jersey, his childhood dream was to play for Oregon. From across the country he was in awe the Oregon brand, LaMichael James, Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas. Huff is his favorite Duck receiver, Johnson followed Huff’s career when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles for three seasons.

“My mom, at the time, was like, ‘No, that’s too far,’” Johnson said when discussing a possible future at Oregon. “Now I’m sort of a man on my own and paving my way, writing my own story. So I came out here and wanted to live out my childhood dream and play for Oregon.”

The newcomer is studying the Oregon playbook and putting work into connecting with quarterback Justin Herbert, on and off the field. The two Ducks bonded over an ‘Oheroes’ volunteer event last week, where they coached middle-schoolers.

“It’s exciting,” Johnson said of catching passes from Herbert. “He sees the field. He knows what he’s doing… We are building a relationship. I’m trying to feel him out and he’s trying to feel me out.”

Herbert is already on 2019 Heisman Trophy watch lists and, with Dillon Mitchell’s NFL departure, needs someone reliable to throw to. Letting catchable balls hit the turf was one of the main problems for Oregon’s receivers in 2018, something new wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight will be tasked with fixing.

[READ: First Herbert, then Ionescu: The time for Oregon Duck titles is now]

Johnson is coming off a season that was plagued with his own dropped passes, something he owned up to when asked about. Bouknight has implemented a new tactic to eliminate bad habits: when a player drops a ball, they also have to drop and do 10 pushups.

Johnson’s size isn’t his only asset. He brings needed experience to the position: playing in 16 more games than the Ducks’ most veteran wide receiver, Schooler (21 games). He’s proved he can put up big numbers and play in big games; in 2017, he caught 54 passes for 701 yards and averaged 13 yards per reception. His spectacular sophomore season included a game-winning touchdown catch on fourth down as time expired at Iowa.

Johnson’s 81 receptions over his three seasons include 57 that resulted in a first down (70 percent).

"I’m here to be a leader," he said. "That’s my job here, come in and bring a leader and bring that energy to the team. I want to bring the guys up so we can win a Pac-12 championship, national championship and those sort of things."
Five Ducks on the roster have the last name Johnson, and as Juwan says, he’s still searching for his Oregon identity and nickname. Come August, could the fresh face become an Oregon household name? Will he separate himself from the other playmakers? The fight for playing time is on.

Oregon football can't let history repeat itself at quarterback

Oregon football can't let history repeat itself at quarterback

After throwing his name in the NCAA transfer portal, former Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister has found a landing spot at Virginia Tech. Burmeister’s fresh start with the Hokies means that the Ducks are down to just three scholarship quarterbacks for the 2019 season.

Burmeister’s transfer was anything but surprising after starting quarterback Justin Herbert decided to return to Oregon for his senior season. However, losing Burmeister’s experience raises the urgency to develop a backup behind Herbert with only two options; redshirt freshman Tyler Shough or true freshman Cale Millen.

It’s a predicament the Ducks have been in before. Remember when highly recruited quarterbacks Morgan Mahalak, Travis Jonsen, and Terry Wilson left the program during the Marcus Mariota era? After Mariota declared for the NFL Draft, Oregon was left with three inexperienced freshmen without a single collective college start.

Then-coach Mark Helfrich found Oregon’s answer in Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams Jr. and Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop the next season. Two transfer quarterbacks in back-to-back seasons undoubtedly damaged internal development and locker room leadership.

How can Oregon learn from history for the sake of the future of the program?

The answer of that question lies in the upcoming battle between Shough and Millen; one must emerge as the true backup to ensue a smooth transition for life after Herbert in 2020.

“Underwhelming” is the perfect word to describe Shough’s 2018 season. The four-star recruit played in three games but did not attempt a pass. The former top-ranked recruit from the state of Arizona, not attempting to test his arm in live game? That raises alarm bells. However, it’s not a reason to count him out.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Shough has all the tools to become a Pac-12 level starting quarterback. His big frame, sharp arm and football IQ have been compared as Herbert-like to those who watch him in practice. For the six weeks that Burmeister was rehabbing an injury, Shough received all second-team practice reps, something coach Mario Cristobal said the freshman greatly benefitted from.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said he was confident in Shough’s abilities and Oregon’s top returning receiver Jaylon Redd agreed.

“Tyler is smart and he has good reads, I like the way he throws the ball,” Redd said.

Oregon’s priority must be to turn that raw potential into a dependable and ready backup.

Then there is Cale Millen. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound incoming freshman led the state of Washington with 4,260 total yards as a senior. His size and arm should excite Duck fans. The son of former NFL and Washington Huskies quarterback Hugh Millen, Millen showed off this size and strength in the Elite-11, a quarterback-focused camp held by Nike. 

“I felt that I was needed more at Oregon rather than just kind of being another guy filling a spot,” Millen told the Register Guard. "At other schools it was kind of, ‘Oh, we need a quarterback for the class, let’s take him.’ At Oregon, I felt like it wasn’t just filling a position. It was, ‘We need you here.’"

Will either one of these quarterback live up to their hype? It’s a question Oregon football need to answer sooner rather than later; Herbert is injury prone and will be gone in 10 months.

The hunt is on for Oregon football’s next leading receiver

The hunt is on for Oregon football’s next leading receiver

Ring the alarm bells, warm up the searchlight, the hunt is on for Oregon’s next leading receiver. Quarterback Justin Herbert has lost his most reliable target for 2019.

Coming off of one of the best seasons a Duck has ever had, Dillon Mitchell will not return to Oregon for his senior season and has declared for the 2019 NFL Draft.

Mitchell’s parting moment following Oregon’s victory over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl was touching. After setting a new program single-season receiving record with 1,184 yards (breaking Josh Huff’s 1,140 record set in 2013) and catching the game-winning touchdown pass, he was awarded offensive MVP during the on stage trophy presentation… Which he then gave to his dad in the stands.

"It has been great living a childhood dream these last three years. Ever since 7th grade, I wanted to be an Oregon Duck. I fell in love with the uniforms, the players, the fast spread offense, and the Nike brand,” Mitchell said in an announcement on his Twitter account. “I will always cherish my time here and know that I am an Oregon Duck for life.”

Mitchell, the Pac-12 leader in receiving yards this season, had 75 receptions for 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns, both ranking as third-most in a season in program history. He became quarterback Justin Herbert’s go-to receiver, and in a season plagued with dropped passes, his most reliable target. Herbert was even criticized for throwing to Mitchell too often.

Oregon's receiving corps will severely miss Mitchell. UO's second returning receiver, sophomore Jaylon Redd, has less than half of Mitchell's receptions and yards with 368 yards on 31 catches.

The Ducks will return all 10 of their other starters on the offensive side of the football for the 2019 season including; Herbert and offensive linemen Calvin Throckmorton, Shane Lemieux, and Jake Hanson. But is there a reliable pass-catcher on the roster who can be an offensive weapon?

The pool is large for Oregon’s next No. 1 receiver, with new names added to the list that could make an impact immediately.

Redd, a junior next season, is an option. He finished second on the team in receptions (38), yards (433) and touchdowns (5). He’s listed as 5-foot-8, 178-pounds, but his smaller stature doesn’t stop him from getting physical. His blocking ability has impressed his coaches and teammates. He gives Oregon a speed option in the slot.

Also returning is Brenden Schooler and Johnny Johnson. Neither had much production in 2018, dropping key passes, and would need to greatly improve to become a go to target for Herbert.

The jury is still out for Bryan Addison and Isaah Crocker, who both redshirted this season. Addison, the 6-foot-5 former Top 100 recruit, played in four games and caught one pass for 12 yards. Addison made huge strides as a redshirt, according to offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. At 6-foot-1,175-pounds, the former four-star recruit, Crocker, has the tools to also make an impact in 2019.

The Ducks needed talented pass catchers in the 2019 class and they signed four, four-star receivers and one underrated three-star athlete during the early signing period. There are at least two commits that could conceivably make an impact as soon as next season.

Mycah Pittman, remember that name. Pittman is the third-highest rated wide receiver to ever sign with the Ducks. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder is the type of talent that could step in from the start. Pittman has strong hands, a running back body and excels at getting separation. He also could make an impact on special teams. Cristobal called him, "an explosive and strong route runner.”

The lone in-state prospect, four-star tight end Patrick Herbert, also could contribute right away. He is the fourth highest-ranked tight end prospect to ever sign with Oregon and the little brother of quarterback Justin Herbert. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, Herbert’s strength is catching the ball in traffic.

Oregon also adds four-star athletes Lance Wilhoite and Josh Delgado, two of the 10 highest-ranked wide receivers to ever sign with Oregon, to its roster.

The opportunity for playing time is plentiful. Can Oregon’s young talent make the transition to college football, impact the 2019 season and live up to expectations? Will the returning Ducks find a way to increase production from 2018?

Hopefully the answer to those two questions is yes, otherwise Herbert and Oregon’s offense could be in trouble.

On senior day, the Ducks are counting on a true freshman; Travis Dye

On senior day, the Ducks are counting on a true freshman; Travis Dye

No jokes. No frills. No gloves…?

Picture a 1970s or 80s running back, maybe at Green Bay in the snow; a workhorse scraping and crawling for yards on the ground.

According to junior offensive lineman Shane Lemieux, that’s what true freshman Travis Dye is like.

Dye is the younger brother of Oregon’s star linebacker junior Troy Dye, but he jokes around a lot less than his “class clown” brother.

"Travis is an example of you go your career coaching and you'll have a few true freshmen that right away are mature enough to handle that pressure," offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. "I think him having grown up with Troy a little bit and his upbringing, they've done a really nice job… I think his maturity has showed.”

Dye enrolled early in January and has become Oregon’s No. 2 running back, behind CJ Verdell. However, this Saturday on senior day at Autzen Stadium, the 18-year-old may be asked to shoulder a bigger load due to the Ducks’ depleted depth chart.

Verdell’s and Cyrus Habibi-Likio’s status is unclear, after suffering a neck sprain and quad contusion at Utah, respectfully.

At Utah, Dye had the longest run of 18 yards and finished leading the team with 66 yards on nine carries. The best game of his excellent freshman season came at California; leading the Ducks’ rushing attack with 18 carries for 115 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown.

Among Pac-12 freshmen, Dye ranks in rushing yards (417) and rushing yards per game (41.7). Adding to his 83 carries and two rushing touchdowns, he also has 10 completions for 73 yards and one touchdown.

UO quarterback Justin Herbert complimented Dye on his route running and pass blocking. Dye has also impressed Lemieux.

“(Travis has) a mental capacity almost like a redshirt junior or senior would have,” said Lemieux. “He understands the ins and outs of defensive scheme, pass protections, where to hit the holes and how to be patient behind the blocks.”

Another major strength for Dye is his shiftiness and ability to run hard without hesitation. At 5-foot-10, 200-pounds, Dye has worked hard this season on breaking tackles and making defenders miss.

“I can’t get tackled by one guy,” Dye said.

This Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Dye will face a surging Sun Devils (6-4, 4-3) team that is looking for their fourth straight win to keep their Pac-12 South division title dreams alive.

Arroyo’s game plan is to pound the rock against an Arizona’s rushing defense that ranks 56th in the nation and allows an average of 153 rushing yards per game. In their last three losses (Washington State, Arizona and Utah), the Ducks have averaged just 86.3 yards per game.

If Troy is most likely to be Oregon’s class clown, what is Travis most likely to do?

“Score a touchdown,” Travis said.

With two conference games remaining, the Ducks (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) are counting on it.

A rare talent, Justin Herbert is a hot commodity, but is he NFL ready?

A rare talent, Justin Herbert is a hot commodity, but is he NFL ready?

A NFL career awaits Oregon's ultra-talented junior quarterback Justin Herbert. The question is, how long will that career have to wait?

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior with the powerful right arm and sneaky fast wheels is already being talked about as a potential top target for NFL teams wallowing at or near the bottom of the league and in need of a quarterback. 

The New York Giants (1-6), Oakland Raiders (1-6), Arizona Cardinals (1-6), Denver Broncos (3-4) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) appear to be the teams that most likely could be in the market for a new quarterback and in a position to pounce on Herbert at some point in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The Raiders, of course, would only be interested if coach Jon Gruden decides to move on from Derek Carr. And why wouldn't he? The Raiders have already dealt away two of their best players from the past few years, linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper. Gruden has a 10-year deal that affords him the opportunity to take his time rebuilding the roster to his liking. 

Carr, quite productive in his first four seasons, is having his worst year under Gruden. Some reports indicate that the Raiders have soured on Carr. However, NFLNetwork's Ian Rapoport has reported that Carr will not be dealt. Gruden has been notoriously hard on young quarterbacks so it makes more sense that he would stick with Carr rather that start over with a rookie. 

In the end, none of the above could matter in regards to Herbert. Justin Herbert fits the profile of one that would return to college despite being projected to be a first-round pick.  Just like Stanford's Andrew Luck did in 2011, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota in 2014, Herbert could very well decide that the NFL can wait for his services.

According to Herbert, the NFL isn't on his radar. 

"I haven't thought three seconds about it," he said. "I haven't even talked to my parents about it, and it hasn't crossed my mind at all. I know that coach (Mario) Cristobal and I, and the team, we made a decision to not talk about it or think about it. I'm not quite sure what was reported but I haven't really spent any time on it at all."

--- Not just a football player ---

Keep in mind that Herbert is not one for hyperbole. 

Granted, the lure of the NFL and the riches that come with it are tough to resist. But Herbert is not your typical athlete easily seduced by the glitz, glamour and fortune of professional sports.

He is extremely academically driven and hopes to become a doctor. He grew up a Ducks fan, living in Eugene, Ore., about the equivalent of a few touchdown drives away from Autzen Stadium. Herbert loves the college life and his teammates. If he stays, he would get to be teammates with his brother, four-star tight end Patrick Herbert who has committed to Oregon's 2019 classn. Plus, Justin is very much like Mariota in terms of temperament. Mariota elected to remain in school following his redshirt sophomore season in order to mature as a person before taking on the rigors of the NFL. Herbert could very well choose the same path. Although, according to UO coaches, he has grown immensely over the past two seasons, it was only a year ago that former Oregon coach Willie Taggart worried publicly about Herbert's maturity. During his freshman season, Herbert took losing and making mistakes so personal that they sometimes drove him to tears on the sideline. Don't mistake that for weakness, however. His emotions stem from a competitive fire that burns deep and drives him to succeed and not let him teammates down. 

Still, he needed time to outgrow that phase and has done so. Yet and still, that doesn't mean he is fully ready make the leap. Finally, it would take a minor miracle at this point for Oregon to capture the Pac-12 Conference title. Should Herbert leave following this season, he would have done so without ever winning much of anything. He would become Oregon's first first multi-year starting quarterback to not win the conference since Dennis Dixon in 2006 and 2007, and he only failed because a knee injury ended his season early. 

According to his teammates, Herbert is destined to remain in Eugene for another season. 

"When I asked him during this off-season when the talks started happening, I asked him are you going to come back and he said 'yeah, I’m coming back',” junior wide receiver Brenden Schooler said.

Sophomore receiver Jaylon Redd said that he would not be shocked to see his quarterback stay because of his commitment to education and desire to work in the medical field. Herbert, majoring in biology, could work on his masters degree if he stayed another year.

Herbert’s go-to receiver, Dillon Mitchell, has been referring to Herbert as  "the No. 1 NFL pick" throughout the season, added that Herbert would have “a lot going for him” if he decided to return for his senior season.

--- A NFL Scout's Perspective ---

NFL scouts have fallen hard for Herbert. Eugene’s small, eight-gate airport has welcomed in an abundance of scouts, including 13 in attendance when Herbert led the Ducks to a 27-24 upset victory over rival Washington.

His pocket presence, arm strength and accuracy, paired with an ability to hurt opponents with his legs, are some of the reasons he’s become a hot commodity. Many rank Herbert as one of the best draft-eligible quarterbacks in the 2019 draft class.

NFLDraftScout.com has Herbert rated as the No. 3 quarterback prospect and No. 21 overall. However, Ryan Wilson of NFLDraftScout.com has Herbert going No. 1 to the New York Giants in his latest 2019 Mock Draft while Chris Trapasso has him going No. 8 to Denver. NBCSportsWashington.com has Herbert going No. 18 to Denver in its latest mock draft.

All that said, mock drafts should always be viewed as being for entertainment purposes, especially six months out from the actual draft. 

According to one NFL scout, speaking anonymously, Herbert certainly has a chance to become the most coveted quarterback in the 2019 draft class. However, the scout said, Herbert is hardly a finished product and would benefit greatly from returning for his senior season.

“He certainly has the physical tools and traits to be a top pick, certainly,” the scout said. “But being the top pick doesn’t certify you.”

The scout went on to explain that while Herbert has shown flashes that should excite fans, scouts and draft experts, he also displays flaws that reveal a still very raw talent despite his 22 starts.

“I just think he needs to get more experience and learn to pay his position further,” he said.

The scout compared Herbert to Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who returned to Wyoming for his senior season in order to polish his game. Allen also returned to a much lesser team than the one he had played for as a junior. That didn’t help him statistically, but according to the scout, Allen grew as a leader and as a player while going through the adversity that comes with playing for a lesser talented team.

Plays like the touchdown pass Herbert threw to Redd in the left corner of the end zone while rolling to his left are eye-popping and prove that he can make big throws. However, the scout, who says he has watched in person or on video just about every game Herbert has played, has noticed entire halves of football in which Herbert played just, “okay.”

More playing time and experience could fix Herbert's flaws, according to the scout. It could all click for Herbert by the end of this season, or he might need another year. 

The scout would like to see Herbert display better overall pocket presence. The ability to step up and stay more consistently, rather than step up and run. His reads and ability to locate receivers needs work. At times, his accuracy, especially on deep passes, is lacking due to flawed overall balance and mechanics.

“He has to pull all of this together,” the scout said.

That all said, there is one major trait the scout says he has been very impressed with.

“I think even at this stage since he’s played at Oregon, one thing I think he has as a real positive is that he’s made people around him better,” the scout said. “He is a very hard-worker, tremendous person but his effort and attitude on the field is what you want. He plays hard and he’s a competitor.”

The scout said that Mariota was more polished and better mechanically when he came out in 2014 after his redshirt junior season. Again, that extra year played a factor.

--- Prolific Duck becomes leader ---

Herbert's statistics speak for themselves. His streak of 22 straight games with a touchdown pass is now the longest in the nation. He has thrown 205 consecutive passes without an interception in Pac-12 road games and is the fastest player in program history to 4,000 and 5,000 passing yards. His impressive season stats (131-for-212, 1883 yards, 61.8 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) don’t adequately display the area of his game that has improved the most this season. According to UO co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, Herbert has become the toughest player mentally on the field.

"He’s taken a leadership role and (improved on) small things that help us win like carrying out fakes," Arroyo said. "That stuff goes unseen in the box score but has given him a chance to escalate his game."

Arroyo, a former quarterbacks coach and interim offensive coordinator for Tampa Bay, gave insight into how he believes Herbert’s skills will translate in the NFL.

"He's got a skillset that's pretty special, pretty rare," Arroyo said. "Having been there and been through those drafts, he's got a skillset that is going to be comparable to as good as anybody. We are going to cross that bridge when we get there.”

Herbert is loved by his teammates, who describe him using numerous superlatives. When asked to finish the sentence, “Justin Herbert, most likely to…” UO senior running back Tony Brooks-James said: “Throw a touchdown pass, be our president, do whatever Justin Herbert wants. Anything he puts his mind to.”

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal has repeatedly called Herbert a “field general” who understands the run game like a coordinator does. The offense relies heavily on Herbert’s advanced knowledge of protections and the running game. He’s able to quickly get the offense into the right play, based on shifting defensive looks.

“He seems to get better and better as the moments get bigger,” Cristobal said. “He is driven. He hungers for that… He won’t allow himself to flinch.”

--- Not always clutch in close games ---

The NFL scouting process involves dissecting prospects to the point of looking for something, anything to mark in the cons column.

A legitimate negative is that although Herbert has been great in blowout wins he has very rarely risen up in clutch moments to lead his team to victory in close games. For what it's worth, Herbert is 3-5 as the starting quarterback in games decided by 10 points or less. 

But, to be fair, Herbert typically has performed well statistically in such games. In the eight games in question, Herbert completed 192 of 280 passes (68.6 percent) for 2,189 yards and 21 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. 

As a freshman in 2016, Herbert led the Ducks on a game-winning touchdown drive to upset No. 12 Utah. But he failed to close out a win at California when he threw an interception in overtime and he couldn't prevent Oregon's offense from falling to pieces in the second half at Oregon State in the Civil War. The Ducks led the Beavers 21-14 in the third quarter before the rains came and the Ducks lost 34-24. 

In 2017 at Arizona State, he had two chances in the fourth quarter to lead the Ducks to a game-winning field goal before losing 37-35. In the Las Vegas Bowl, he managed to put up just 14 offensive points in a 38-28 loss to underdog Boise State. 

This season, he led the Ducks on a clutch drive in the fourth quarter to go on Stanford up 31-21 at home before the defense and a late fumble by a redshirts freshman running back allowed the Cardinal to send the game into overtime. There, Herbert failed to put one touchdown on the board and the Ducks lost 38-31. 

Herbert got the job done in the second half and in overtime against Washington helping the Ducks win 31-28 over the favored Huskies

However, with a shot at the Pac-12 title hanging in the balance, he couldn't prevent the Ducks from falling behind 27-0 at Washington State before ultimately losing 34-20. Granted, Herbert did lead a strong second half charge but it was too little too late. 

Quarterbacks often receive too much praise for a team's success and too much blame for its failures. However, in the NFL where most games are close (last year's Super Bowl champion Eagles won nine games by 10 points or fewer) a quarterback that can perform well in the clutch is a must. Herbert's resume is lacking in that area. 

The scout said that Herbert's play in tight situations would be evaluated by NFL teams. How quarterbacks perform while behind matters. But, all factors surrounding any quarterback are also taken into account. Herbert's record in such games wouldn't be a deal breaker.  

Whenever Herbert decides to turn professional, whichever team covets him enough to make him their top target, and despite all of the warts scouts will uncover - imaginary or otherwise - Herbert will soon become the face of a NFL franchise. But not until he is good and ready. 

Travis Dye and his ferocious jump cuts could be special this season

Travis Dye and his ferocious jump cuts could be special this season

Oregon’s rushing attack is legendary and the history of offensive weapons is impressive. The past four seasons, No. 23 Oregon could count on Royce Freeman, who carried the bulk of the rushing load and holds Oregon’s career rushing yards record (5,621) and career touchdowns record (60).

Those are some big cleats to fill. Oregon (1-0) has pegged senior Tony Brooks-James as their every down back, and he has goals to dominate in his final season as a Duck.

Behind Brooks-James are five scholarship running backs that each have a special skill set. If you are looking for special, look no further than the first running back off the bench last Saturday, freshman Travis Dye and his ferocious jump cuts.

Dye replaced Brooks-James for the third series in Oregon’s 58-24 victory over Bowling Green, he rushed for 37 yards on seven attempts and demonstrated why his teammates and coaches talk wildly about him.

“I think he’s darn good. Shoot, he’s a lot better than his brother (Troy),” Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt teased. “I just had to say that for Troy because Troy will get fired up on that one. Travis is really so talented. He has so much balance, runs with his shoulders out front and has good vision.”

Football is a family affair for Travis, as Dye has four older brothers that have played (or are playing) college football, including star UO junior linebacker, Troy.

Troy said he was proud of Travis’ performance in his college football debut. Travis sat a few feet to his right on the podium and ended it with some brotherly love: "But at the end of the day, he's still a bum."

Travis enrolled early at Oregon for spring football after rushing for 2,383 yards and 34 touchdowns as a high school senior at Norco High school in California. Dye was banged up with a minor injury in UO's fall camp but rebounded and is fully healthy.  

Brooks-James smiled wide when talking about Dye’s strengths. He complimented his shiftiness and ability to run hard without hesitation.

“With those things combined, when he hits a hole, he’s gone,” Brooks-James said.

Dye can juke anyone with his jump cuts but it was the freshman’s maturity that impressed quarterback Justin Herbert. 

“He knows what he’s doing,” Herbert said. “He made some mistakes but he gathered himself and came back and ran really hard.”

The lights weren’t too bright for Travis in his college football debut. He was one of six running backs that totaled 212 rushing yards with an average of five yards per rush. Once pac-12 conference play starts, Oregon will likely shrink its rotation. Dye has put himself in the position to contribute to Oregon's power-tempo offense this season and for many to come.

“He’s going to be really, really good for a long time here,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “We are really excited about him.”

Oregon’s unpredictable power/tempo offense brings the "thump"

Oregon’s unpredictable power/tempo offense brings the "thump"

The Ducks have all the pieces for an excellent offense: A top-tier quarterback in Justin Herbert, an experienced offensive line with insane depth, running backs that can dazzle down the field, tight ends that can stretch the field and proven wide receivers.

Will all that potential be realized under new offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo?

Arroyo and coach Mario Cristobal are polar opposites in their offensive backgrounds.

Cristobal’s smash mouth approach emphasizes winning the line of scrimmage. Not only have Oregon’s lineman gained in the weight room this offseason, the whole team has added strength, including running back Tony Brooks-James(15 lbs) and Herbert (20 lbs). Arroyo runs a quarterback-friendly spread offense that harps on attention to detail paired with tempo. Also, don’t forget that UO running backs coach Jim Mastro helped former Nevada coach Chris Ault pioneer the pistol offense, which has become the base of the Ducks’ playbook.

Adding all of those philosophies together could create a very unique offense, a blend of power and tempo, different than what Oregon fans have seen in the last decade. Oregon’s spread offense was once ground breaking. Now, it could be considered the norm, unsurprising and expected.

“When I first came into this league there weren't many spread offenses and we were the only team that had shiny helmets, and now everybody runs the spread offense and everybody has shiny helmets,” said Chip Kelly at Pac-12 media day.

So what will be different? An offense that relies on a balance of speed and muscle to keep opponents off balance.

“The most important thing we do, is have balance,” Cristobal said. “Make sure that people can’t zone in on what we are doing and know what we are going to do. Be less predictable.”

The offense relies heavily on Herbert’s advanced knowledge of protections and the running game, something that Cristobal is confident in. Cristobal has repeatedly called Herbert a “field general” who understands the run game like a coordinator does. Cristobal has prepped Herbert to able to quickly get the offense into the right play.

Who will Herbert sling the ball to? The Locks, Contenders and Longshots at receiver

“Our offense is built with answers. Our players are familiar with those answers,” Cristobal said. “If plan A isn’t working with a particular pressure, the answer is Play B. And we’ve worked that already.”

[READ: How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon]

UO’s associate head coach/co-defensive coordinator Joe Salave’a lights up when talking about the strength in Oregon’s power-tempo blend offense. Salave’a highlighted how tremendous of a change he’s seen a short amount of time.

“Now we get to move with all the speed and with ‘the thump’”, Salave’a said. “A whole lot more thump. We are excited about that.”

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.