Mase Funa

Legacy of a Leader: Troy Dye's intensity guiding Oregon to a season worth coming back for

Legacy of a Leader: Troy Dye's intensity guiding Oregon to a season worth coming back for

Flashback to a beautifully crisp winter day and Oregon’s win over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Junior Troy Dye hoisted his defensive MVP trophy in the air as fans congratulated Oregon’s leading tackler for three-straight seasons on possibly his last victory in a Ducks uniform.

It wasn’t. Despite gaining traction as a “freak athlete” in NFL circles with an opportunity to make major money in the 2019 NFL draft, Dye chose to stay at Oregon for his senior season. 

317 days later, Dye is still leading No. 6 Oregon in tackles, has jumped up to a projected first round 2020 NFL draft selection and has the opportunity to be hoisting a more prestigious trophy in the air in his actual final season.

Through eight games, Dye’s senior tour has featured 42 tackles with 6.5 for a loss including a sack, three pass breakups and an interception on one of Oregon’s strongest defenses in program history.

His highlights are stunning:

  • In his final home opener, the smiling linebacker danced alone to the familiar tune of “Shout” letting loose and pumping up the rowdy crowd in a moment that will go down in history.
  • Dye recorded a career-high 15 tackles and the most in a season opener in Oregon history vs. Auburn.
  • Dye performed a snow angel in the middle of the W at Husky Stadium after overcoming the largest second-half deficit since 2008.
  • Back in his home of southern California, Dye jumped into the stands after handing USC its worst home loss since 2009.

The Ducks are undefeated in Pac-12 Conference play, one win from claiming the North Division and contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

On a scale from 1-10, how much fun is Dye having?

“I’m at a 12. I’m having a blast. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face, I come here (to practice) with a smile on my face and I’m going to leave with a smile on my face.”

The most telling moment of his season may have come from suffering a broken thumb and gutting it out at Washington. The injury kept him on the sideline against Washington State, snapping his consecutive start streak at 40 games and bringing a reality that it takes only one snap for a football season, or career, to be over. In a cast the size of a club, Dye returned one game later to beat up on the Trojans and show the truth of his character.

“That’s a significant injury that a lot of people would have probably waited to be fully healed and then go and play,” Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. “But what he chose to do is different. When guys like Troy speak, those are strong, powerful and impactful words. This (season) means a lot to him and it shows in the way he approaches practice and everything he does. I can’t say enough great things about him, I think he’s as good as it gets in the country.”

His words impacted Oregon's home opener, in which the Ducks trailed Cal 7-0 at halftime. Dye’s halftime speech eloquently made it clear the Ducks needed to play to their standard. The sentiment was echoed and the Ducks overcame their slow start to beat the Bears 17-7.

His actions speak louder than his words. Since returning and still in a cast for his thumb, the linebacker has hit a new level with three conference games left to play.

“He’s done a tremendous job over the course of the season but you really see it now, down the stretch,” Oregon Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos said. “In my opinion, I think he’s turned it up in practice, since the injury. It made him want it even more.”

Troy Dye agrees that he has hit a new intensity.

“I realized that it can be taken from you. Within a snap, it can be gone,” Dye said. “I’m super fortunate to be able to come back and play with my brothers and end the season how I want to end it. I’m happy, I’m having fun with it and enjoying my time here.”

His teammates couldn’t be happier for him, either. True freshman Mase Funa beams when he details all the tips he’s learned from Dye. Junior Thomas Graham loves to see Dye prosper after witnessing him help change the program from a 4-8 team (2016) to a team on an eight-game winning streak with the biggest goals, a conference title and playoff berth, still possible.

What’s it like for Cristobal to witness Dye live his best life this season?

“I’m jealous. I want to go back to college and do it like he’s doing it,” Cristobal said.

In his final season, the future opportunities are ever-present for Dye. Every Oregon game, more and more NFL scouts grace the media press box. Dye accepted a Senior Bowl invite, where he can show off his elite agility and lateral quickness.

But before all of that, the Ducks need their leader to finish a potentially history-making season, which is exactly the kind of season a junior hopes to return for.

Why Oregon's highest-rated recruiting class is impressing and concerning

Why Oregon's highest-rated recruiting class is impressing and concerning

Oregon’s highest-ever rated recruiting class didn’t just make history, it filled position needs with top talent with lofty expectations of making an immediate impact.  Some of those expectations are being exceeded and some are not.

Whether it be sacks, interceptions, catches, kicks, sharing reps, asking the right questions or pushing veterans, the young Ducks have already began their impact on the 2019 Oregon football team. 

 “I’m very impressed by how smart this freshmen class is as a whole in the game of football,” said junior cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. “Their football IQ is very, very high.”

Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal literally brought out a paper list after the first fall camp practice of freshmen capable of making an impact in their first season. Cristobal’s list included Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mase Funa, Josh Delgado, Mykael Wright, DJ James, Jamal Hill, Sean Dollars, Trikweze Bridges, Isaac Townsend, Brandon Dorlus, Kristian Williams, Patrick Herbert and Mycah Pittman.

In the first four games, which of those true freshmen have transitioned smoothly and lived up to the high expectations?

IMPRESSING

The highest ranked linebacker recruit in school history, Funa is already making an impact and providing highlights for Oregon. The Mater Dei High School alum is the only freshman to have two sacks in a game this season in the FBS, leading the Ducks and nation’s freshmen in sacks (three) and tackles for loss (five).

He’s comfortable in Andy Avalos’ STUD position because it is a similar position to what he played in high school. Although, Funa played at 245 pounds in high school and is currently at 268 pounds after missing his senior season with an injury. His goal is to get closer to 255 pounds, which the 6-foot-2 freshman feels most natural at.

"He's got a lot pent up now," Cristobal said. "He missed his entire senior season due to injury. This is his first action in over a year. It's impressive to see what he's done so far, but again, his best football is ahead of him."

Already totaling nine tackles, I believe Funa will continue to have success this season in the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position backing up senior Bryson Young.

Wright, 2019’s top-ranked cornerback in the nation by ESPN, has earned the nickname “silent assassin” on the Oregon football team. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback doesn’t talk much but humble confidence has turned heads and earned the respect from his teammates.

“Mykael Wright, he’s been pushing me for reps,” said junior cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. “And I want him to do that, I want him to get reps because at the end of the day I want him to get in games. I feel he will be a freshman All-American.”

Backing up Graham Jr., Wright’s limited reps have been impressive. His potential shined against Montana when he picked off his first career pass, made three tackles and two pass break ups.

Delgado has been apart of Oregon's regular wide receiver rotation this season with the mounting injuries at the position. The former four-star recruit is the only true freshman who earned a start in the season opener vs. Auburn and has proven to be reliable. He’s caught a pass in every game so far this season, totaling seven receptions for 86 yards.

PENDING

Realistically, while a few freshmen have emerged ready from the start, others will take a little more time to adjust to the college pace.

Cristobal named Thibodeaux a “game changer” from the moment he committed to the Ducks. ESPN's No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class set a goal of 10 sacks every season. After completing non-conference play without a sack, he notched his first (assisted) sack on Saturday against Stanford.

Thibodeaux has appeared in all four games and is seeing his role increase each week. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with explosiveness, scary speed and agility that creates major chaos… it feels like his breakout game is coming.

Pittman, who was expected to contribute or possibly start this season, has been sidelined with a shoulder injury for the beginning of the season. Before the injury, he was turning heads and splitting first team reps at slot receiver. Pittman has strong hands, a running back body and excels at getting separation

The initial 6-8 weeks projection would mark Pittman healthy as early as Oregon’s game against Cal on Saturday, Oct. 5.

Dollars and Patrick Herbert were both named by Cristobal as Ducks who broke loose in practice and in the mix to get in the rotations at running back and tight end, respectively.

Dollars is the highest rated running back on Oregon's 2019 roster and the nation's No.1 all-purpose back, per 247sports. While the Ducks have a plethora of options at the position, UO has struggled to successfully run the ball, leaving Dollars with little contributions and opportunity so far. Dollars has only played in two games, against Nevada and Montana and totaled 81 rushing yards on seven carries with two receptions. Will he get more reps or will he burn his redshirt?

Patrick Herbert has only appeared in the Nevada game and has not caught a pass from brother, senior quarterback Justin Herbert. Will the two connect as Ducks before Justin Herbert moves on to the NFL? To be determined…

CONCERNING

The Ducks have yet to score a field goal in their first four games. Former five-star prospect Lewis is 0-for-2 on both attempts that were less than 30-yards out: missing against Auburn and Stanford. The second missed kick was caused from a bad snap.

Oregon is utilizing Lewis for kickoffs, point-after attempts, and field goals. He’s nailed all his extra points but it’s less than ideal that Lewis hasn’t seen the ball go through the uprights for a field goal through the first four games. Lewis is the only remaining scholarship placekicker for the Ducks after Adam Stack elected to transfer. 

 

By the way, eight true freshmen have played in all four games and would burn their redshirt if they appear in the Ducks’ upcoming game against No. 15 California at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5 in Autzen Stadium. After a peek into Oregon’s not-so-far-off future, are you impressed with the 2019 class?

How Oregon’s highest-rated recruiting class is making an impact through four games

How Oregon’s highest-rated recruiting class is making an impact through four games

Oregon’s highest-ever rated recruiting class didn’t just make history, it filled position needs with top talent with lofty expectations of making an immediate impact.  Some of those expectations are being exceeded and some are yet to be determined.

In Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal’s two seasons as head coach, the Ducks have signed 21 ESPN300 recruits, which is the same total as the previous five years (2013-17) combined. The 2019 class finished No. 7 by 247Sports, the highest in program history.

Cristobal’s recruiting prowess is evident but have the Ducks reaped the benefits yet? After Oregon’s first four games, let’s check in on the true freshmen. The Ducks have played sixteen members of the 23 true freshmen the Ducks signed in the 2019 recruiting class. Are they living up to the lofty expectations? Does the future of the program look to be in capable hands?

REDSHIRT STATUS

If you aren’t familiar with the new redshirt rule established in 2018 by the NCAA, college football players can play up to four games in a season and still redshirt without burning a year of eligibility. College football players are granted five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.

Eight true freshmen have played in all four games and would burn their redshirt if they appear in the Ducks’ upcoming game against No. 15 California at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5 in Autzen Stadium.

  • Wide receiver Josh Delgado (one start vs. Auburn)
  • Outside linebacker Mase Funa (one start vs. Montana)
  • Cornerback Mykael Wright
  • Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux
  • Kicker Camden Lewis
  • Cornerback DJ James
  • Safety Jamal Hill
  • Inside linebacker Ge’Mon Eaford

I would expect each of the eight Ducks listed to play and burn their redshirt this season. Funa, Wright, Thibodeaux, James, Hill and Eaford have stepped into defensive roles to bolster the depth while also making crucial plays. With multiple injuries at wide receiver, Delgado is the only true freshman who earned a start in the season opener vs. Auburn and has proven to be reliable. Lewis is the only remaining scholarship placekicker for the Ducks after Adam Stack elected to transfer.

(More on the most concerning and impressive true freshmen)

ROUNDING OUT THE REST OF THE CLASS

Played in three games:

  • Defensive tackle Keyon Ware-Hudson (Nevada, Montana, Stanford)
  • Defensive tackle Brandon Dorlus (Nevada, Montana, Stanford)

Played in two games:

  • Running back Sean Dollars (Nevada, Montana)
  • Defensive tackle Kristian Williams (Nevada, Montana)

Played in one game:

  • Cornerback Trikweze Bridges (Montana)
  • Offensive lineman Jonah Tauanu’u (Montana)
  • Tight end Patrick Herbert (Nevada)
  • Defensive tackle Sua’ava Poti (Nevada)

TO BE DETERMINED

Freshmen who have yet to play:

  • Wide receiver Mycah Pittman (shoulder injury, could return for Cal game)
  • Wide receiver Lance Wilhoite (hamstring injury)
  • Wide receiver JR Waters (season ending injury, will redshirt)
  • Quarterback Cale Millen
  • Running back Jayvaun Wilson
  • Running back Cross Patton
  • Safety Max Wysocki
  • Outside linebacker Treven Ma’ae
  • Tight end Tyler Nanney
  • Offensive lineman Cole Young
  • Outside linebacker Isaac Townsend

 

NEXT: Most concerning and impressive true freshmen

Mailbag: Which true freshman has been most impressive through two games?

Mailbag: Which true freshman has been most impressive through two games?

Oregon's final non-conference game is this Saturday, which provides the opportunity to learn a lot about the entire Ducks roster. This week's mailbag focuses on true freshmen, season predictions, and injuries to the wide receiver position. 

Which true freshman has been most impressive through two games?

Mase Funa.

The highest ranked linebacker recruit in school history, Funa is already making an impact and providing highlights for Oregon. The Mater Dei High School alum is the only freshman to have two sacks in a game this season in the FBS. Funa’s four tackles for loss currently lead the Pac-12 Conference.

He’s comfortable in Andy Avalos’ STUD position because it is a similar position to what he played in high school. Although, Funa played at 245 pounds in high school and is currently at 268 pounds after missing his senior season with an injury. His goal is to get closer to 255 pounds, which the 6-foot-2 freshman feels most natural at.

"He's got a lot pent up now," Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. "He missed his entire senior season due to injury. This is his first action in over a year. It's impressive to see what he's done so far, but again, his best football is ahead of him."

I believe Funa will continue to have success this season in the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position backing up senior Bryson Young.

Who/what are you watching for in another non-conference should-be blowout?

The obvious answer here is backup quarterback Tyler Shough. Non-conference games are a great way to gauge the redshirt freshman’s development and command of the game. In last week’s 77-6 beat down of Nevada, Shough found success and gave fans a little insight into the future as Herbert’s heir. In the most substantial playing time of his career, Shough threw his first college pass and finished 8-of-9 for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

I’m watching to see if he will build off his performance. He made solid decisions and showed his accurate arm. Now, it’s time to see his sneaky fast wheels he’s been working on and if he can top his longest pass of 21 yards. If he gets in the game with starters, what will the chemistry be like?

I’m excited to watch two true freshmen in particular: corner back Mykael Wright and running back Sean Dollars. Both received a lot of praise coming out of fall camp and Saturday is likely their best chance for some serious playing time.

Will the offense evolve when the receiving core is healthy?

Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo laments not attempting more downfield passes to Oregon’s inexperienced receivers in the Ducks’ loss to Auburn.

Of course, hind sight is 20-20. In week two, quarterback Justin Herbert racked up 310 passing yards and five touchdowns. However, the Nevada defense paled in comparison to Auburn’s. This Saturday against Montana, expect the Ducks to go long again.

This time last season, 12 different Ducks had scored touchdowns before Herbert narrowed in on favorite target Dillon Mitchell. 

Elevn Ducks have currently caught a touchdown pass, but don't expect that to be the norm after non-conference play ends. When healthy, senior Brenden Schooler, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson and freshman Mycah Pittman will be excellent targets for Herbert. However, Cristobal is not going to move away from his run-first, win the battle in the trenches, physical offense.

Thoughts on if I will cash in on the Ducks winning the Pac-12 and winning over 8.5 games?

The latest odds are in your favor.

Oregon’s current win-loss total projection is 9.9 wins. Oregon opened 2019 with a 35.2 percent chance of winning the Pac-12 North and conference title, according to ESPN’s football power index. Following week two, Oregon's likelihood to win the division and the title have surged to 52.4 percent. Utah is second with a 19.7 percent projection to win the conference championship game.

We are entering week three so a lot can change but I predict Oregon will win 10 games and play for the conference championship. If I were you, the sneaky game I would be concerned about is vs. Washington State. I'm impressed with what Anthony Gordon has done in two games leading the Cougar offense. He’s another perfect fit for Mike Leach’s offense.

 

Oregon vs. Montana: 10 numbers to know

Oregon vs. Montana: 10 numbers to know

Pac-12 after dark could get ugly this week in No. 15 Oregon’s matchup against Montana. The Ducks’ massively overmatch the Griz in their final non-conference game, which kicks off at 7:45 pm in Autzen Stadium in Eugene. Montana has won four of their last five road games and look to improve to 3-0 with a monster road upset over Oregon (1-1).

The Ducks and coach Mario Cristobal aren’t looking past Montana to their Pac-12 Conference opener at Stanford and neither should you. Here are 10 stats and numbers you need to know to be the fan dropping knowledge at the tailgate:

1. INJURY UPDATES

Oregon has yet to see two of its largest offensive weapons play this season and the wait may continue. Cristobal gave an injury update on senior wide receiver Juwan Johnson and junior tight end Cam McCormick.

Johnson’s (leg) availability is likely a Friday or Saturday decision. "It’s a soft tissue thing, so we expect progress and it’s going to be close," Cristobal said. "I think now we’re coming around to this thing could actually be a go.” McCormick (ankle) is unlikely to play this week and is eyeing a return for Oregon's Pac-12 opener at Stanford. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass catcher went through pregame warm-ups prior to the season opener against Auburn but not before last week’s game against Nevada.

2. EAGER PITTMAN

True freshman receiver Mycah Pittman, who was expected to contribute or possibly start this season, suffered a shoulder injury in a fall scrimmage that was supposed to sideline him for six to eight weeks. Pittman tweeted, "2 more weekkksss!" on Sunday, implying a quicker than expected return.

Cristobal addressed the tweet that excited fans who are anxious to watch one of the most praised incoming freshman from teammates and coaches.

“I know everyone is excited about Mycah’s tweet," Cristobal said. "He’s pretty ambitious. We’ve still got to wait a little bit, but he’s getting better. We hope to have him with us in a couple of weeks practicing again."

The initial 6-8 weeks projection would mark Pittman healthy as early as Oregon’s game against Cal on Oct. 5.

3. CRISTOBAL ON FIRE AT HOME

Oregon is looking to improve to 8-1 at home under coach Cristobal.

4. THE SHOUGH SHOW

Back-up quarterback has been a point of contention for Oregon in the last five seasons. The Ducks have seen countless quarterbacks transfer away, leaving a void: Bryan Bennett, Terry Wilson, Travis Jonsen, Braxton Burmeister, etc.

This season, four-star quarterback Tyler Shough has earned the back-up role behind senior Justin Herbert. Shough found success in the home opener and gave fans a little insight into the future as Herbert’s heir. In the most substantial playing time of his career, Shough threw his first college pass and finished 8-of-9 for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

His performance wasn’t the type of awe-inspiring play that causes someone to bet Oregon will win the national championship next season. However, Shough made solid decisions, showed his accurate arm and toughness under pressure. He also used his legs to rush for 11 yards and made a couple heads up plays including one flick to tight end Spencer Webb while getting blitzed on third and nine.

“He was accurate and made a play with his feet as well, got outside the pocket, got tripped up or he would have gone for a little bit more,” Cristobal said. “We felt that since spring, his progress has been great. We trust him to go in there and make plays.”

5. HELLO, FUNA!

The highest ranked linebacker recruit in school history, Mase Funa, is already making an impact for Oregon. The Mater Dei High School alum is the only freshman to have two sacks in a game this season in the FBS. Funa’s four tackles for loss currently lead the Pac-12.

6. DEFENSE TURNING HEADS UNDER ANDY AVALOS

Oregon’s defense has dominated through the first two games of the season under defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. Opponents have reached Oregon territory just 10 times in 30 drives. Oregon’s defense has not allowed a first half touchdown in four consecutive games (28 drives). Also, the Ducks forced four turnovers against Nevada that resulted in 28 points.

7. A DUCK WIN WOULD…

Mark Oregon's 25th consecutive nonconference home win.

Improve Oregon to 8-0-1 against Montana.

Be Oregon's 11th win in the last 12 games at Autzen Stadium.

8. “MR. ELECTRICITY”

Montana senior punt returner Jerry Louie-McGee or “Mr. Electricity” earned ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after juking his way to a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown. Louie-McGee is the Griz’s special teams star and speed threat at wide receiver. In Saturday’s victory, he averaged 30 yards per kick on five returns for a total of 150 yards - the most in a game of any player in FCS football so far this season by a nearly 40-yards.

9. GRIZ QUARTERBACK IS “HEART AND SOUL OF THE TEAM”

Quarterback Dalton Sneed a fifth-year senior that has impressed Cristobal.

“(Sneed is) very tough, will throw his body around, there’s no hesitation in his game whatsoever,” Cristobal said. “The ball is out quick and it’s accurate. I think he’s a special player.”

Sneed has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 696 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions this season.

10. HIGH-FLYIN’ GRIZ

Montana totaled 520 yards of offense in their victory over North Alabama last Saturday. The Grizzlies have the No. 7 passing and total offense in the FCS.

BONUS

The Ducks opened as five-touchdown favorites over Montana. Currently, the Ducks are 36.5 point favorites. 

Veteran Ducks impressed by “how smart the freshman class is”

Veteran Ducks impressed by “how smart the freshman class is”

EUGENE- Oregon’s highest-rated recruiting class didn’t just make history, it filled position needs with top talent that could make an impact as early as the 2019 season. Whether it be starting roles, sharing reps, asking the right questions or pushing veterans, the young Ducks have already began their impact on the 2019 Oregon football team.

Now that the rest of the freshmen class is in Eugene, joining the 11 early enrollees, one big question in fall camp is: Will the freshmen transition smoothly and live up to the high expectations?

“I’m very impressed by how smart this freshmen class is as a whole in the game of football,” said junior cornerback Thomas Graham. “Their football IQ is very, very high.”

Realistically, there will be a few freshmen that emerge, while the others take a little more time to adjust to the college pace. Position openings at defensive end, linebacker and wide receiver bode well for starting role battles for Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mase Funa, Josh Delgado and Mycah Pittman.

[READ: Shining personalities, injury updates and first Oregon football fall camp impressions]

When meeting with the media after UO’s first practice, second-year head coach Mario Cristobal literally brought out a paper list of freshmen capable of making an instant impact this season. The list included Thibodeaux, Funa, Delgado and Pittman. Cristobal also noted that running back Sean Dollars broke loose in practice and tight end Patrick Herbert, who has seen offseason weight room gains of about 25 pounds, will be in the mix to get on the field with brother and quarterback Justin Herbert this season.

Which young Ducks are impressing veterans?

Ahead of last season, Herbert picked then-redshirt freshman running back CJ Verdell as a player he expected to surprise fans. Herbert was very, very, very correct. Verdell had 1,018 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and 315 receiving yards and two scores last season.

Upperclassmen have largely been excited and surprised, here are some of the best answers, including one prediction that Mykael Wright could be a freshman All-American.

Thibodeaux: No shock here. ESPN's No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class enrolled early, quickly adjusted to college pace and has displayed an array of pass-rushing moves that indicate he will be a high-impact player right away. The true freshman’s goal is to have 10 sacks every season. Justin Hollins led UO last season with 6.5 sacks.

Verdell, Graham and junior defensive tackle Jordon Scott spoke highly of the 6-foot-5, 240 pound defensive end.

“I see him making a huge impact on the field this season,” said Verdell.

Pittman: The wide receiver is possibly the most talked about new option for Herbert after a strong spring where made his presence felt. As one of the highest rated receivers to sign with Oregon, he is already impacting the Duck offense, earning significant reps during spring practice, moving up the depth chart and pushing veterans. 

“Pittman has been surprising me,” tight end Cam McCormick said. “Always goes beyond, he always does extra.”

Junior safety Jevon Holland added, “Pittman has got strong hands, makes the catches that he needs and he’s really trustworthy when it comes to catching the ball.”

Dollars: Dollars has all the tools to have a stand out freshman season and develop into a starting running back before his time is up at Oregon. The Ducks have enviable veteran running back experience with Verdell, Travis Dye, Cyrus Habibi-Likio and Darrian Felix. It’s a good problem for UO offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo and running back coach Jim Mastro.

Should Dollars quickly learn the playbook and adjust to college speed, he could be an elite addition to the backfield

“Sean Dollars has been picking up the plays really well, asking a lot of questions, I like that about him,” said Verdell. “He’s very intuitive.”                                                                       

Mykael Wright: Wright shined in the spring game with five tackles, three pass breakups and an interception.  He is No. 3 behind Oregon’s starting corner backs Graham and Deommodore Lenoir.

“Mykael Wright, he’s been pushing me for reps,” said Graham. “And I want him to do that, I want him to get reps because at the end of the day I want him to get in games, I think he could be a freshman All-American.”

Delgado: The wide receiver added 15 pounds during Oregon’s rigorous offseason weight lifting program. Plus, Delgago excelled in the spring, pushing to get on the field sooner rather than later.

Graham praised that Delgado is “probably two years smarter than his entire class” while graduate transfer wide receiver Juwan Johnson said Delgado regularly reaches out to get extra practice in with the senior.

“Josh Delgado works extremely hard with a professional attitude,” Johnson said.

Herbert, (Patrick): Herbert’s listed weight increased 25 pounds from 220 to 245, benefitting from a strong offseason. The lone in-state prospect in 2019, four-star Herbert’s strength is catching the ball in traffic.

“You could be hearing Herbert to Herbert this season,” said Johnson. “He will be good for this team, not just because he’s Justin’s brother but because he is his own separate player.”

GeMon Eaford:  The 6-foot-1, 240 pound linebacker out of Florida will push for reps this season. He earned a nod from Verdell as a player who might surprise fans this season.

NEXT, A SURPRISE FROM OREGON MEDIA DAY: Verdell lived in Japan for three years. No, he cannot speak Japanese, he laughed as he said “That’s the sad part, I forgot all of it.”

Next man up? With Jim Leavitt out, who will run Oregon's defense

Next man up? With Jim Leavitt out, who will run Oregon's defense

Oregon is parting ways with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. All Pepsi jokes aside, Leavitt stabilized the Ducks’ defense over the past two seasons, helping improve Oregon's 126th ranked defense in 2016 to 67th in the nation in 2018.

As the sixth-highest paid assistant in the nation, Leavitt was earning $1.7 million annually and under contract for two more years. The amount for his remaining buyout would have been $3.4 million, less anything he earns in the next two years.

The athletic department announced Thursday the “mutually reached agreement to part ways” will be funded from private sources over multiple years. Oregon will pay him a maximum amount of $2.5 million, subject to reduction based on future employment.

This news begs the question, with star linebacker Troy Dye returning to lead the 2019 defense and the some of the nation’s top talent signing with Oregon, including incoming freshmen defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who will be in charge of Oregon’s defense?

The official release from Oregon states 'a national search for a new UO defensive coordinator is underway'. However according to sources within NBC Sports NW and multiple reports, Cristobal is expected to promote safeties coach Keith Heyward to defensive coordinator. Heyward was hired as the Ducks’ safeties coach in January 2017. Here is what you need to know about the Oregon State alumnus:

Entering the 2018 season, Cristobal added co-defensive coordinator duties to his role and earns $450,000 annually at Oregon.

“Keith is a rising star in this industry and played an instrumental role in our remarkable improvement defensively across all metrics,” Mario Cristobal said after extending Heyward’s contract in 2017 after former head coach Willie Taggart departed for Florida State. “We look forward to his continued impact in the development of our players.”

Prior to Oregon, he was the secondary coach at Louisville in 2016. In one season as Louisville’s defensive backs coach the Cardinals racked up 15 interceptions.

Heyward is a veteran of the Pac-12 Conference as both coach and player. The leader of the Oregon safeties room has coached defensive backs at four different Pac-12 schools (Oregon, Washington, USC, Oregon State) and was an All-Pac-10 cornerback at Oregon State, ending his career with 35 consecutive starts.

While coaching defensive backs at USC in 2014-15, he also served as passing game coordinator. He helped the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship game and a trip to the Holiday Bowl in 2015.

Can he help Oregon win its first Pac-12 title since 2014?

The defense loses key components including safety Ugo Amadi, linebacker Justin Hollins and defensive end Jalen Jelks. However, after starting six sophomores in 2018, the 2019 defense could make an improvement. Not to be overlooked, the Ducks add Thibodeaux and linebacker Mase Funa, who could make an impact right away.

By the way, don’t worry about Thibodeaux transferring away from Oregon. The nation’s No. 1 recruit tweeted this after the Leavitt news broke.

Here are more reactions from the Duck defense.

Beyond the rankings; Oregon football fills needs with historical 2019 recruiting class

Beyond the rankings; Oregon football fills needs with historical 2019 recruiting class

Oregon’s 2019 highest-rated recruiting class didn’t just make history; it filled position needs with top talent that could make an impact as early as next season.

The Ducks' recruiting class is ranked fifth in the country and for the first time ever, holds a firm grip on the Pac-12 Conference's top football recruiting class. As Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said, it’s an “awesome day to be a Duck.”

You knew that though.

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It’s incredible that Oregon collected a pool of talent of 22 new Ducks, including the program's highest-rated recruit in program history and 11 four-star athletes, after a predictable 8-4 season. Cristobal expects 12 or 13 to enroll early and be on campus for spring football practices. Most impressively, the 2019 class is full of athletes that are seriously needed when looking at the roster for next season.

NEEDS

Let’s start with the quarterback.

Justin Herbert’s decision to turn professional or not most likely won’t be known until after Oregon’s bowl game. Regardless if Herbert stays for his senior season or not, the Ducks needed to secure a quality 2019 quarterback and Cale Millen was the their answer.

6-foot-4, 200-pound Millen competed in the Elite-11, a quarterback-focused camp held by Nike, and led the state of Washington with 4,260 total yards as a senior. His size and arm should excite Duck fans. He completed 75.9 percent of his passes for 3,807 yards with 51 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a senior. 

Oregon’s current backup quarterbacks were underwhelming this season. If Herbert forgoes his senior year, then Millen would be part of a three-player position battle starting next fall with Tyler Shough and Braxton Burmeister.

Should Herbert return for his senior year, Millen would be a lock to redshirt in 2019 and then compete to be Oregon’s starting quarterback in 2020.

“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.’"

Receivers

2018 was the Dillon Mitchell show, and the junior wide receiver is considering striking while the iron is hot and declaring for the NFL. Should he choose to declare, Oregon's receiving corps would 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 needed talented pass catchers in the 2019 class and they signed four, four-star receivers and one underrated three-star athlete. There are at least two commits that could conceivably make an impact as soon as next season. 

Four-star wide receiver Mycah Pittman is the third-highest rated wide receiver to ever sign with the Ducks. 5-foot-11, 200-pound Pittman 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.

Running back

Speaking of offensive weapons, 2018 saw the emergence of Ducks duo CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who will be excellent for years to come. But beyond those two freshmen, Oregon’s depth is very limited at the running back position.

Enter Sean Dollars. “You name it, he can do it,” Cristobal said.

Dollars, 247Sports’ top ranked all-purpose running back, has an opportunity to make an instant impact. The four-star out of Mater Dei High School is a workhorse, every-down type of back that can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Look for Dollars to enter the rotation as a freshman.

Linemen

“We’re going to keep investing in the trenches,” said Cristobal. And he wasn’t kidding.

The Ducks are set to return all five starters from this year's offensive line for next season, but bolstered their roster with the nation's best junior college offensive lineman, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. He's the fifth-highest rated offensive lineman to ever sign with Oregon. At 6-foot-7, 345 pounds, Aumavae-Laulu will push competition for a starting position, and at the very least, see minutes in rotation. 

Oregon’s pass rush will lose two leaders in Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks to graduation. But no fear, Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top-rated high school player in the country is here! Thibodeaux will compete for a starting job from day one and should be an immediate impact player. Oregon recruited him to play defensive end. Listed at 6-foot-5, 234 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with scary speed and agility that creates major issues for offensive lines.

Inside Linebacker

At inside linebacker, Oregon loses senior Kaulana Apelu and possibly junior Troy Dye, if he elects to go to the NFL. The Ducks signed a four-star linebacker that could jump in right away at the rather thin position. 

Mase Funa is the highest-rated linebacker to sign with the Ducks in program history. Cristobal referred to Funa as "hands down the best linebacker out there." Funa’s strength and great instincts could make an impact right away for the Ducks.

Kicker

Oregon did not have a reliable option when it came to field goals last season. Sophomore Adam Stack struggled, finishing 6-of-10 from 40 yards-or-more this season.

Oregon’s first national letter of intent came from three-star place kicker Camden Lewis. Lewis has elite leg strength and performs under pressure. Scouting reports say Lewis is college ready. Cristobal says he will “elevate competition” at kicker. It’s extremely possible that Lewis is Oregon’s answer to its field goal problem. 

AREA OF CONCERN

Safety 

Oregon will need to replace major playmaker senior Ugo Amadi at safety in 2019. Who will step up? This has yet to be determined, but the Ducks signed only one safety during the early signing period. Oregon wanted to sign three prospects but whiffed on Jeremiah Criddell, who switched his commitment from Oregon to Oklahoma, and junior college safety Quandre Mosely, who was considering Oregon, but later signed with Kentucky. 

Between now and February’s Signing Day, Oregon will have to re-evaluate their options at safety for the 2019 class.

BONUS!

Cornerback

Oregon’s Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham were impressive in 2018. The duo returns and will be pushed by the highest-rated cornerback to sign with Oregon in history, Mykael Wright. Wright is extremely physical and excels in open field tackling. Look for the four star to make an impact in the rotation as a freshman.

Which new Duck do you think will make the biggest impact for Oregon next season?

Nation's No. 3 linebacker commit edges Cristobal closer to best ever Oregon football recruiting class

Nation's No. 3 linebacker commit edges Cristobal closer to best ever Oregon football recruiting class

Can you believe college football early signing period is less than a week away? Recruits can ink their National Letters of Intent from Dec. 20-22 and officially join their programs of choice or wait until the traditional signing day on Feb. 7.

Undoubtedly, there will be some surprises between now and February 7. However as it stands, the Ducks 2019 recruiting class is No. 7 in the nation and tops the Pac-12 Conference. Today, Oregon added the highest-ranked linebacker in program history and the nation's No. 3 inside linebacker, Mase Funa.

“Obviously we are on the road right now, recruiting, going 100 miles per hour,” coach Mario Cristobal said in a press conference last week over the phone.

Cristobal came to Oregon in 2016 with a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country. While at Alabama, he was instrumental in helping the Crimson Tide haul in top prospects year after year. This success earned him National Recruiter of the Year in 2015 from 247 Sports.

Fast forward to 2018, Cristobal is Oregon’s head coach and the Ducks are having one of their best recruiting classes in school history. Oregon has never finished with a class ranked in the top 10 of the 247Sports team rankings.

The #M19ghtOregon class received a nice boost with the addition of its 19th commit in Funa. The inside linebacker is the 13th highest commit in UO history. Funa shut his recruitment down and committed to Oregon after an official visit to USC.

Who is next?

Five-star defensive end prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux is on commitment watch. According to 247Sports, Thibodeaux is rated as the No. 2 prospect in the 2019 class and would be the highest ranked commitment in program history. 

He has narrowed his decision to four schools; Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Oregon. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native will make his announcement at his commitment party on December 15th.

Here are the major recruiting moves that Oregon made at the beginning of this month.

Will Oregon finish with a top 10 recruiting class? Stay tuned!