Tabari Hines

It’s Juwan Johnson’s opportunity to grasp or waste

It’s Juwan Johnson’s opportunity to grasp or waste

Penn State graduate transfer Juwan Johnson is stepping into a prime opportunity at Oregon.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound veteran receiver, who announced plans to become a graduate transfer in January, committed to Oregon and will soon be catching passes from Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. The senior is already on 2019 Heisman Trophy watch lists and, with Dillon Mitchell’s NFL departure, needs someone to throw to.  

In other words, there is a vacancy for Oregon’s next top receiver.

Wait, are you having deja vu?

Probably. The same question surrounded Oregon’s wide receivers and tight ends entering the 2018 season: Who will Herbert sling the ball to?

Last season, Wake Forest grad transfer Tabari Hines was brought in to provide a veteran presence. Expectations were high for Hines, however, he had a procedure performed on his left knee and played sparingly before announcing he'd leave the Oregon program midway through the season. Hines utilized his redshirt, transferred to N.C. State and is looking forward to a healthy final year of college football. 

“It’s a blessing itself just to have the opportunity (at Oregon)”, Hines said of Oregon’s new grad transfer Johnson. “But opportunity itself doesn’t guarantee anything without preparation”.

Hines’ advice to Johnson?

“With the amount of resources there are at Oregon, if you put them to use you should take huge strides as a player and person.”

Last season will be remembered as the year of Mitchell, who had the best individual receiving season in program history.

Johnson could be the answer in 2019. He will enroll at Oregon this summer after completing a communications degree at Penn State. He brings needed experience to the position: played in 16 more games than the Ducks’ most veteran player Brenden Schooler (21 games). 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. He’s proved he can put up big numbers; in 2017, he caught 54 passes for 701 yards and averaged 13 yards per reception.

However, proceed with caution before you write him in as Oregon’s next offensive weapon. Johnson is coming of a low production 2018 season (25 passes for 352 yards) after a lot of preseason hype (like being named a top-10 2019 NFL Draft pick). His season was plagued with dropped passes and he missed games with injuries. By Penn State’s bowl game, Johnson was demoted to second string.

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: The hunt it on for Oregon's next leading receiver]

Johnson isn’t the only new face vying for playing time in Oregon’s receivers room. The Ducks signed incoming freshmen Josh Delgado, Mycah Pittman, Lance Willhoite and J.R. Waters. Any of the four signees could make an impact immediately.

The fresh faces join returners Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III, Brendan Schooler, Bryan Addison and Isaah Crocker. Redd gives Oregon a speed option in the slot and finished second on the team in receptions (38), yards (433) and touchdowns (5) in 2018.

Will the returners figure out how to improve production? Will there be one fresh face to become an Oregon household name in 2019?

Hines says he’s looking forward to current players on the roster who could emerge this season. Specifically he mentioned the trio of Addison, Crocker and Johnson III, who he says have been “waiting for their moment”.

The moment has arrived and Juwan Johnson is the newest (and biggest) receiver to join the fight for playing time.

Expectations remain high for transfer WR Tabari Hines

Expectations remain high for transfer WR Tabari Hines

A question mark surrounds Oregon’s wide receivers and tight ends entering the 2018 season: Who will dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate Justin Herbert sling the ball to?

Enter Wake Forest graduate transfer wide receiver Tabari Hines. After missing part of fall camp practices and undergoing a small knee procedure, Hines is getting “more into a groove”, according to coach Mario Cristobal.

[WATCH: Mitchell and Herbert's chemistry growing to "elite" level]

Joining a team as a grad transfer carries its difficulties, plus Hines had the extra challenge of getting dinged up and not being able to practice right away. But expectations remain high for Hines.

The 5’10”, 175lb receiver could be a big key to Oregon's passing game this season. Hines last year caught 53 passes at Wake Forest for 683 yards and seven touchdowns. Hines can be utilized in the slot and out wide. If he duplicates last season's production, he would be a significant weapon alongside UO's leading receiver Dillon Mitchell

“His work ethic is admirable,” Cristobal said. “Today he looked like his legs are getting underneath him again.”

Check out the locks, contenders and longshots at receiver

 

Five Ducks that must rise if UO is to contend

Five Ducks that must rise if UO is to contend

Oregon began fall camp on Friday with a team that should win eight games without breathing hard this season providing that quarterback Justin Herbert remains healthy. 

The Ducks went 7-6 last season with Herbert missing five games (1-4) and this team should at least be as good. Plus, the Ducks' non-conference schedule is a joke. Home games against Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State (the trio combined for four wins a year ago) will go down as one of the least interesting three-game stretches in terms of competitiveness in program history. 

Assuming Oregon wins all three - if UO doesn't then everyone on staff should be fired and every player should lose his scholarship (half joking) - all the Ducks would have to do is win four out of nine Pac-12 Conference games to reach seven victories.

That shouldn't be a problem. The trick will be winning seven conference games to reach 10 wins and potentially contend for the North Division title. Washington is the real deal and will be a tough challenge for Oregon. So will Stanford. Fortunately, both matchups will occur at Autzen Stadium where anything can happen, especially if UO develops in certain areas that appear to be question marks at the moment. 

Here are five players that must deliver at a high level in order for the Ducks to contend:

1. Running back Tony Brooks-James must be a true No. 1 back: Oregon ranked second in the conference in rushing last season with running back Royce Freeman finishing third at 1,475 yards. He is now with the Denver Broncos leaving Oregon scrambling to identify a lead back. 

That man should be Brooks-James, a redshirt senior who has bided his time while waiting for his shot. He has amassed 1,557 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns during his career. Should he put up similar numbers this season, the Ducks would be in business.

But Cristobal on Thursday stopped short of making it clear that Brooks-James is the unchallenged lead running back while also praising the work he has put in to win the position. 

"I see a lot of competitiveness (at that position)," he said. "It starts with what TBJ has done with his game. He's really elevated his game. Not only as a ballcarrier but as a blocker, as a physical presence."

Cristobal said Brooks-James has bulked up about 12 pounds. He was listed at 180 last year. Increased size to go along with Brooks-James' blazing speed certainly makes for a featured back. Brooks-James is also operating as a leader. 

"I think that when you combine all of these factors and TBJ's want-to, and the realization that this is his senior year, he has created a better running back room," Cristobal said. 

Still, competition is thick, according to Cristobal. Redshirt freshman C.J. Verdell has opened eyes with his all-around abilities. Sophomore Darrian Felix played last season. Senior Taj Griffin is back at running back after spending some time at receiver last season. In the end, it doesn't really matter how Oregon gets back over the 3,000 yard rushing mark. It could be five players each rushing for 700 yards. That said, having that veteran guy lead the way would create stability at the position and give the running game a true identity.  That guy should be Brooks-James. 

2. Deommodore Lenoir must be as good as Thomas Graham Jr. was last season: Oregon is searching for two starting defensive backs after the departure of safety Tyree Robinson and cornerback Arrion Springs. Oregon has several options at safety opposite senior Ugochukwu Amadi. Sophomore Nick Pickett made starts last season, as did redshirt senior Mattrell McGraw. Redshirt sophomore Brady Breeze could become a star. Cornerback is a bit thinner making Lenoir's development imperative. 

A highly-touted recruit last year, Lenoir earned playing time as a true freshman but now as a sophomore must at least perform as well as Graham did last year as a true freshman. Graham took his lumps at times but for the most part took to big time college football relatively easy thanks to his physical gifts and mental approach to the game. 

Lenoir, as a sophomore, must do the same. However, UO does have other potential options. Freshman Verone McKinley III is a four-star recruit who enrolled early and reportedly had a strong spring. Junior college transfer Haki Woods Jr. could also challenge. 

3. Wide receiver Johnny Johnson III must become more consistent: The sophomore made some spectacular plays last season as a true freshman and certainly looked like a future star. He started 10 games and played in all 13. However, he caught just 21 passes for 299 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers must go up by at least 150 percent. 

No. 1 receiver Dillon Mitchell, proven tight end Jacob Breeland and graduate transfer Tabari Hines (nursing a few weeks with a knee injury) will give the team three strong targets. But that's not enough.

[RELATED: Ducks transfer WR Tabari Hines missed start of all camp with knee injury]

The Ducks will need Johnson to ball out to the tune of at least 600 yards and five touchdowns. If Herbert has four viable receiving threats and a strong running game to work with, the Ducks would be able to put up massive offensive numbers on just about anyone, including Washington and Stanford. 

But if the targets are limited and remain green, Oregon would be much easier to defend, limiting its chances of winning the Pac-12. 

4. Linebacker La'Mar Winston must pick up where he left off in 2017: Watch out for Mr. Winston. 

He played in all 13 games last season while making seven starts. Five of those starts came over the final six games when he delivered 31 tackles with five for loss. He finished the season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. 

Give Winston a full season as a starter and he could flirt with 80 tackles with 12 for loss. He is that talented. 

The Ducks know they have two stars at linebacker in junior Troy Dye and senior Justin Hollis. Should Winston become a regular impact player, the Ducks would have one of its more talented group of linebackers in history. Yes. In. History. 

The fourth linebacker remains a question mark, but three beasts out of four would get the job done at a championship-caliber level.

5. Kicker Adam Stack must be lights out: The kicker position might not make for a sexy topic, but when the game is on the line and a team trots out its kicker and asks him to win the game that guy had better be as mentally tough and as skilled as any other player on the roster.

Stack struggled as a punter last season (his 38.4 yard average ranked 10th in the Pac-12), but now he slides over to kicker to replace Aidan Schneider. 

If Oregon is going to sneak up on the top teams in the conference the Ducks will likely have to win some close games. That will likely require Stack to make some big field goals in pressure situations. 

Get to know Oregon’s newest wide receiver, Tabari Hines

Get to know Oregon’s newest wide receiver, Tabari Hines

Welcome to the flock. It was just last week that former Wake Forest star Tabari Hines announced his intentions to leave the Demon Deacons and take his talents to Eugene.

The 5’10”, 175lb wide receiver instantly helps bring some much needed talent and depth to Oregon’s receiving corps. Junior Dillon Mitchell had a productive 2017 for the Ducks, and hopes to build on that in 2018, but the rest of the group is young and unproven.

Hines looks to change that.

As a junior last season at Wake Forest Hines led the team with 53 receptions, and was third on the team with 683 receiving yards and seven scores.

To put that in perspective, Mitchell was the leader in two of those categories for Oregon last season, hauling in 42 receptions for 517 yards, while tight end Jacob Breeland led the team with five touchdowns. Hines would be number one in all three.

There is little doubt that Hines will make a difference on the field, but enough about that. Let’s get to know a little bit more about the newest Duck:

- Hines had narrowed his transfer options to Oregon, USC, and Texas before ultimately deciding on UO.

- Says players and the coaches really helped set Oregon apart.

- Thanks to all the jerseys, he says he actually watched a lot of Oregon football as a kid.

- How does he describe his new quarterback, Justin Herbert? Simply, “he’s the real deal.”

- Hine says he doesn’t know how to fish, but wants to learn how. This is the Pacific Northwest! It might be kind of hard to find someone to teach him, *wink*

- The emoji that best describes him? He says it’s the cool guy with the glasses.

Want to learn even more about the newest Duck? Be sure to tune into The Bridge tonight at 6PM for the full interview with Serena Winters and Bri Amaranthus.

And since Bri does call him a “hastag king,” it would serve you well to follow Hines on Twitter (@TabariHines) and Instagram ( @TabariHines1).