Mario Cristobal

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Today won't technically be the first time that the Oregon Ducks take the field under new coach Mario Cristobal when spring drills begin. But in many ways it will be. 

The actual first time Cristobal led the Oregon football team onto a field of any kind occurred in early December shortly after Willie Taggart departed for Florida State, leaving the Ducks in disarray. 

Cristobal did his best to right the ship in time for the Las Vegas Bowl just 10 days later but he simply didn't have enough time to fix the mess at hand. The players, who lobbied for Cristobal to replace Taggart, didn't successfully make the transition from "Do Something" to disappointment and then back to contentment under their new leader (save for defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt being bent out of shape he didn't replace Taggart) in time to avoid a 38-28 loss to Boise State in Sin City. 

There was simply too much disruption in play, and that included star running back Royce Freeman electing not to play in the bowl game in order to avoid a potential injury before departing to the NFL. 

So, let's give Cristobal, the staff (those who returned) and the players the benefit of that doubt that what we saw in Las Vegas was an aberration and that the new era under a man who won national titles as a player at Miami (1989 and 1991) and as an assistant coach at Alabama (2015) begins today with a clean slate.

What Cristobal inherited was a team that should win at least eight games in 2018 given the presence of junior quarterback Justin Herbert, the return of several key players on what was a greatly improved defense, and a weak schedule that included three non-conference powder puffs. 

Reaching 10 wins, or more, will require maintaining the momentum created by Taggart, keeping Herbert healthy (UO went 1-4 in his absence last year due to a broken collarbone) and flushing the offense's showing in Las Vegas while recapturing the magic that had the Ducks averaging about 50 points per game during the regular season when Herbert was in action. 

"I think last year there was a foundation laid between all of us that gave us a chance to start building upon that but there's a big difference between winning seven games and winning eight, nine, 10, 11," Cristobal said.

To reach those levels the Ducks (7-6 last season) must have success against Washington, Stanford and the Chip Kelly-led UCLA Bruins at home, while also finding a way to win potentially tough road games at Arizona and Utah. 

The problem is that there is much mystery to unravel before anyone can rightfully believe that Oregon is going to find those 10 wins and contend in the Pac-12 North. 

Cristobal hasn't been a head coach since being fired from the same position with Florida International in 2012 after going 27-47. The Ducks are on their third coach in 15 months (Mark Helfrich was fired in December of 2016). Backup quarterback remains a huge issue. Wide receiver is in flux. The defensive line lacks depth. Freeman is gone. 

Plus, Oregon's aura as a dominant force has waned. The conference is not longer chasing Oregon. The Ducks are the one doing the hunting. And there's reason to believe that the hierarchy of conference coaches are not shaking in their boots fearful of the Cristobal era sweeping through the conference and laying waste to opponents. 

None of this is to say that Cristobal won't find success. He very well could. He also very well could not. 

We won't know the results for months. But that process begins today. 

Notes: UO will practice five times in March before taking time off for finals and spring break before returning to the field on April 3 to prepare for the spring game on April 21 in Autzen Stadium...Oregon will hold a practice at Franklin High School in Portland on April 7.  The Ducks practiced at Jesuit High School last spring. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 4)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't sorely missed

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 4)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't sorely missed

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 2)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't sorely missed. 

Key losses: Senior Tyrell Crosby Cameron could be a first-round pick in April's NFL Draft. Jake Pisarcik started at guard in 2017. Senior backup Doug Brenner is also gone. 

Projected 2017 starters: Left tackle Calvin Throckmorton, RJr., (6-5, 307); left guard Shane Lemieux, RJr., (6-4, 317); center Jake Hanson, RJr., (6-5, 302); right guard George Moore, Jr., (6-6, 300); right tackle Brady Aiello, RSo., (6-7, 307).

Key backups: Jacob Capra, RSo., (6-4, 311); Alex Forsyth, RFr., (6-3, 297); Sam Poutasi, RSo., (6-4, 302). 

What we know: Losing Crosby will sting. No way around it. However, returning proven talent with Throckmorton, Hanson and Lemieux, as well as Aielllo, who has made numerous starts, lessons the blow. 

That foursome will make for more than just a legit unit. It could be great and will keep the Ducks' running game humming. 

What we don't know: Who fits where? Throckmorton could remain at right tackle allowing Aiello to start at left tackle, where he saw starts in 2016 during Crosby's 10-game absence. Or, if Throckmorton is the best tackle on the team, he might be better served at left tackle. 

The wild card here is Moore, who could start at a tackle spot, forcing Throckmorton to guard. Or, maybe Aiello plays some guard, but at 6-7 that might not be a natural fit. 

This all, of course, is a good problem for coach Mario Cristobal to have as he searches for the best mix. 

What must happen for Oregon to contend: The Ducks simply need to find a lineup that makes Crosby's departure not hurt too much. That starts with identifying the best left tackle that can keep heat off of quarterback Justin Herbert's backside. Crosby rarely allowed anyone to ever get near the quarterback and he will be rewarded with a fat NFL contract this spring.  If left tackle is properly anchored, then the rest of the line will fall into place. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 5)...: A young secondary develops. 

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 names Donte Williams as outside linebackers coach

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Oregon names Donte Williams as outside linebackers coach

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal announced today that Donte Williams has joined the staff as the outside linebackers coach. Williams joins Cristobal’s staff after spending last season at Nebraska where he coached cornerbacks and sub-package specialists (nickels and dimes), while also being involved in the pass defense coordination.

Williams will replace Raymond Woodie who went to Florida State with former Oregon coach Willie Taggart. 

“We are excited to add Donte to the staff,” Cristobal said. “His leadership skills and impact on student-athletes will be of great benefit to our program. Donte is an excellent coach and a nationally recognized top recruiter, and we look to forward to utilizing his efforts, knowledge and energy to move our program forward.”

Before his season at Nebraska, Williams served as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona during the 2016 season where he was credited for energizing the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.

Williams began his full-time Division I coaching career at San Jose State in 2013. After a season coaching cornerbacks for the Spartans, he was promoted to secondary coach and recruiting coordinator for his final two seasons in San Jose.

The Spartans’ defense made immediate improvements with Williams’ addition. In his first season overseeing the entire secondary in 2014, San Jose State’s total defense improved 71 spots in the FBS rankings, while passing yards allowed improved 85 spots and passing touchdowns allowed jumped 102 spots.

In 2014, SJSU led the country in both passing yards allowed (117.8) and passing touchdowns allowed (6), while ranking 33rd in total defense (357.3). Those numbers were a decrease of 102 yards per game in total defense, as well as 126.9 yards per game in passing yards allowed with 20 fewer touchdown passes allowed. In Williams’ final season at San Jose State, the Spartans ranked second in passing yards allowed (157.8), 29th in passing touchdowns allowed (16) and 34th in total defense (358.5).

In addition to his on-field work, Williams earned recognition for bolstering San Jose State’s recruiting efforts. In 2015, Sports Illustrated named Williams a top 10 recruiter in college football. He was also named the top recruiter in the Mountain West Conference in 2014 by 247Sports.

Williams joined the Spartans staff after spending two seasons as a graduate assistant at Washington where he coached cornerbacks and linebackers. He started his career as the secondary coach at Los Angeles Harbor College before working in the same position at El Camino College (2008) and Mount San Antonio College (2009). Williams spent the 2010 season as a quality control coach at Nevada assisting with linebackers.

Williams graduated from Idaho State in 2006 where he served as defensive team captain and earned first-team All-Big Sky honors during his junior and senior seasons.

Oregon extends contracts of Keith Heyward and Michael Johnson

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USA Today

Oregon extends contracts of Keith Heyward and Michael Johnson

Oregon announced today that the football program has extended the contracts of safeties coach Keith Heyward and wide receivers coach Michael Johnson through the 2019 season, further keeping intact most of the coaching staff following the departure of coach Willie Taggart to Florida State.

New coach Mario Cristobal has now successfully retained defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, defensive line coach Joe Salave'a, Heyward and Johnson. 

No official word yet on cornerbacks coach Charles Clark. However, according to sources he is expected to return to Oregon.

Gone with Taggart are running backs coach Donte Pimpleton and special teams coordinator/outside linebackers Raymond Woodie. Botch coached with Taggart at South Florida. 

“We are excited to extend the contracts of Keith and Michael,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said in a prepared statement. “Keith is a rising star in this industry and played an instrumental role in our remarkable improvement defensively across all metrics, and we look forward to his continued impact in the development of our players. Michael has great experience in developing offensive talent in both college football and the NFL, and his tremendous contributions this season were reflected in the improvement of our young receivers and an offense that scored 40 or more points in seven games in 2017. Both Keith and Michael have a strong commitment to the Oregon program, and their leadership and efforts will continue to provide great value to the Ducks moving forward.”  

Retaining most of the staff is huge for the Ducks, who had a strong showing during last week's early signing period but signing 15 recruits in a class ranked No. 13 by Rivals.com. Five commits remain unsigned but Oregon did see seven four-star rated players decommit following Taggart's exit in early December.

 

Oregon off to good start during early signing period

Oregon off to good start during early signing period

The positive aspect of the new early signing period, which started today and ends Friday, is that programs such as Oregon are able to lockdown recruits well in advance of the Feb. 7 National Signing Day. 

The negative side of the new early signing period is that players that don't sign by Friday will most certainly create anxiety for programs regarding their true level of commitment.

If you're truly committed to a program, why not sign ASAP?

With these thoughts in mind, it's safe to say that today was a good one for Oregon. The Ducks received signatures from 13 out of 20 committed recruits. That's a great start especially considering the turmoil the team went through following the departure of former coach Willie Taggart to Florida State and the team's lackluster performance on Dec. 16 during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"I'm really excited," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. "We're really happy about the results. But I want to emphasize that this is kind of the halfway point."

If the Ducks can double what they did today then all well be right in Eugene after taking a brutal hit in recruiting following Taggart leaving.

Of the 13 players signed, seven were ranked as four-star recruits by 247Sports.com and six on Rivals.com.  That's well below the 17 four-star recruits the Ducks had committed before Taggart left. 

At that time, Oregon's class ranked No. 1 on Scout.com (since merged with 247Sports) and No. 5 on Rivals.com. As of Wednesday night, Oregon's class was ranked 11th on Rivals and No. 13 on 247Sports. 

That's still very good for Oregon, which has had just one top 10 recruiting class since such things were tracked. 

But much of the class' ranking is due to volume while other high-end programs are lurking in the shadows ready to potentially race past Oregon in the rankings. 

The Ducks' average star ranking is now 3.4 for their 20 commits. That average ranks 19th on Rivals.com.  Power recruiting programs that could still move ahead of Oregon are No. 12 LSU (3.45 average), No. 16 Michigan (3.32), No. 22 Florida (3.6), No. 28 Tennessee (3.5), No 34 USC (4.0), No. 43 UCLA (3.64) and No. 51 Florida State (3.89), which now has Taggart guiding the ship. 

The Ducks could need a few more four-star signees in order to fend off at least some of these programs. 

A huge loss for Oregon was defensive end Malcolm Lamar out of Seffner, Fla.  He decommitted soon after Taggart left Oregon. Two other Florida recruits also bailed on the Ducks hurting their class ranking. 

But, in the end, these rankings only mean so much.  We've all seen enough high-end recruits flame out at Oregon to know that these rankings only go so far. The bottom line is that if Oregon can keep this class within the top 15. That would be a huge deal for a program that has seen so much flux in the last 12 months. 

What matters most is the young man who leads the list of Oregon's signees and that's four-star quarterback Tyler Shough (Chandler, Ariz.), the No. 5-rated pro-style quarterback in the nation. Oregon must hit on him or trouble is not too far off.

Shough will compete with freshman Braxton Burmeister for the backup job next season. Should Shough win the job, expect Burmeister to transfer sooner rather than later. Starter Justin Herbert is academically driven, which means he could stick around through 2019. But should he instead enter the 2019 NFL Draft, the Ducks will need either Shough or Burmeister to deliver or they will certainly face a potentially poor season. 

If the Ducks hit on Shough, or develop Burmeister, the rest of the class will fall into place and prove talented enough to win.

So, regardless of where the Ducks end up ranked when this is all said and done, just remember that all of the four-star athletes in the world won't matter if the quarterback position isn't locked down. 

For more on the signees, visit the following link.

 

Ducks go CristobALLIN on 13 commits: National Signing Day 2018

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Ducks go CristobALLIN on 13 commits: National Signing Day 2018

Let's recap real quick on the last few weeks for Oregon football: makes Las Vegas bowl game after going 7-5 in PAC-12 conference play; heart-break from a head coach leaving his team to coach somewhere else before the bowl game; players created and signed a petition to appoint co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal to head coach; Mario Cristobal named head coach; Las Vegas bowl defeat... talk about a roller-coaster for players, fans, and coaches.

In all that, try adding in recruiting the best and brightest to the Oregon football program.

Well that's exactly what this program did and on this National Signing Day, signed 13 future Ducks:

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.

REPORT: Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to remain at Oregon

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USA Today

REPORT: Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to remain at Oregon

Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt will remain with the Ducks after signing a new contract, a source has confirmed. 

The story was first reported by Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports. 

According to Feldman's report, Leavitt signed an extension that will pay him an average of $1.7 million per year through 2021. That's a hefty raise over the $1.125 million Leavitt made this season after leaving Colorado. 

Leavitt remaining at Oregon appeared to be in doubt after the Ducks named Mario Cristobal head coach following the departure of Willie Taggart for Florida State.  Leavitt, who was the head coach at South Florida from 1997 through 2012, lobbied for Oregon's head coaching position but was passed over for Cristobal, who was the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Taggart.

Oregon's defense ranks 46th in the nation in total defense after finishing at 128th in 2016.