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Fear Not Duck Fans, Better Days Ahead

It has been a rough start to the season, yet Oregon is loaded with youthful talent for the future

Washington v Oregon Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Let’s forget about Saturday. It never happened. Woo-saa.

For the last decade, the Oregon Ducks have dominated all those who have crossed their high-powered path. The quack attack built a program based on speed. It caught the nation by storm, as the relentless offensive surges encapsulated how out of shape teams were against the Ducks.

The entire reason Oregon is struggling right now is because every other team in the Pac-12 has adopted the Duck ways, aside from Stanford. We understand the highest form of flattery comes from imitation, but this is getting ridiculous.

Turn on basically any team in the country now-a-days and you will see it. Spread formation, fast-paced attack, placing athletes in space and explosive wide receivers blocking well upfield. That is a stolen piece of property, courtesy of the University of Oregon. At the very least, a percentage should be paid.

Unfortunately for the Ducks, with all the impersonators comes the vaunted “hunted versus being the hunter” ideology. After years of holding the throne, there is bound to be a hiccup or two. We are all currently trapped in the center of the vortex, but you have to trust that this 2016 season is the aberration to the norm.

The future is bright in Eugene and I don’t just mean the limitless sunlight on game-day from Autzen Stadium on a fall afternoon. The ducks are abound with young talent and recruits to back them up.

Tony Brooks-James is just a sophomore, but you couldn’t tell from his play this season. He has taken the lion-share when Royce Freeman has been unable to play. So far, TBJ has rushed 47 times for 331 yards and six touchdowns. He is not too far from the star-studded Freeman’s pedestrian 513 yards. He also is an elite pass-catcher with five grabs for 39 yards and a score, with only opportunity holding him back.

Virginia v Oregon
Tony Brooks-James has looked elite in his limited action this season. Should he ever receive a major workload, TBJ could surprise the Pac-12.
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Running back teammate Taj Griffin has also impressed in limited action this year. Griffin has rushed the rock 29 times for 168 yards, including three scores with a long of 50 yards at Nebraska. He has hauled in five for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Don’t forget junior Kani Benoit either, who has earned his time with stellar play. The 6-foot, Phoenix native has rushed for 222 yards on 32 carries with two scores thus far. He will certainly compliment the backfield trifecta next year. Benoit has also inhaled four balls for 24 yards, exhibiting the entire backfield’s solid hands.

The leading receiver for the Ducks, Darren Carrington, could return for his senior season. He has snagged 24 balls for 351 yards and three scores six games into the season. Nevertheless, he has showed poise and big-play ability aside from being the main possession receiver of the group.

Yet, the worry with DC3 is that he is the prototypical NFL size for a wide receiver at 6-feet, 2-inches and 195 pounds with room to grow, literally. Some don’t believe he will want to leave campus with a bad taste in his mouth.

Jalen Brown will be a big playmaker for his junior season in 2017. The coaching staff has lofty expectations for this 6-foot, 1-inch freak athlete. This season, he has just three grabs for 21 yards and one touchdown, but has major upside.

Don’t forget about do-it-all man Charles Nelson, who should also return for his senior season. This year, he has simply done it all with the ball in his hands. From wildcat quarterback to kick return star, Nelson’s athletic ability is limitless.

Aside from the talent just mentioned, the most exciting part about 2017 will be the group of offensive linemen. Four of the five starters this season are freshman, so next year should be the season the sophomore’s put it together as a whole. The second season is usually when collegiate offensive linemen take a huge leap in their growth and development.

Danny Aiello, Shane Lemieux, Jake Hanson and Calvin Throckmorton make up a massively large group. Sure, they have had their bumps in the road, but they have also been elite in run-blocking for moments during the season. In total, they have opened up gaping holes to the tune of 20 Oregon rushing touchdowns thus far.

Competition will be entering the fold in the form of four-star recruit and offensive lineman Alex Forsyth. The West Linn, Oregon kid turned down Michigan, UCLA, USC and Washington amongst many others for Eugene.

Justin Herbert may be the diamond of the group, as the true freshman will enter his sophomore campaign with a great idea of how college football works. The experience he is gaining right now will be invaluable.

Through one game and a drive, the Eugene kid has completed 24-of-39 passes for 249 yards and two scores, including one interception. Yet, it is his poise and competence within the pocket that excites everyone in the Oregon locker room.

Head coach Mark Helfrich has noticed his presence.

“Yeah, he threw a couple that looked like big time plays,” said Helfrich. “The touchdown to Tony-James on the broken route. Kept his poise and made a great throw. Another time we completely blew the protection and he kept it alive. That was the one that Taj (Griffin) ended up making the play on for a touchdown. And so, a bunch of stuff to build off of. Just have to support all those around.”

He has very sneaky athletic ability, enough to scamper for first downs or have the defense respect it on play-action. His arm is very good and has an easy release, which will throw off the defense the more he is unleashed. Herbert is likable as well.

On the defensive end, there hasn’t been much positive but Troy Dye has impressed on multiple occasions. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for the first week of the season with 12 tackles certainly opened some eyes against lowly UC Davis, but he will need to continue to develop and grow within the defense.

Colorado v Oregon
Troy Dye intercepted Colorado quarterback Steven Montez during the Ducks Pac-12 opener from Autzen Stadium.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

As far as recruiting goes, the Ducks have some serious talent headed to Autzen Stadium. The defense is sure to find room for four-star defensive tackle Rutger Reitmaier from Nashville, Tennessee. The 6-foot, 3-inch 270-pounder is looking to start almost immediately. He is the No. 7 ranked player in the country, at his position.

From South Jordan, Utah is the four-star defensive tackle Langi Tuifua. He teamed up with another four-star defensive tackle recruit and childhood friend at the U.S. Army All-American Game in the form of Duck signee, Jay Tufele. It has long been their dream to play at Oregon together.

Last but certainly not least is three-star running back C.J. Verdell from Chula Vista, California. The coaching staff has already acknowledged that at 5-foot, 9-inches the running back reminds them of Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James. Not too bad company, as James (1) and Barner (3) both rank in the top 3 for the all-time rushers in Oregon football history.

This season may have not been what you were expecting from the Ducks, but the future is bright with athletic talent headed toward Eugene. It certainly can’t get much worse for Duck fans right now.

Oregon is trying to rest on their bye week currently, but will be back in action in two weeks when they travel to Berkley, California for a match-up with the Golden Bears.

Remember to follow ATQ on Twitter @AddictedToQuack for everything Ducks