HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The Oregon Ducks took the stage on the second day from the 2017 Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday morning. Head coach Willie Taggart, quarterback Justin Herbert and linebacker Troy Dye represented the Ducks.
Entering the preseason gathering, Oregon is predicted to finish the Pac-12 North in fourth place. Not many experts are expecting much success from a new regime in its first season. In fact, only one media member selected Oregon to finish in first place.
Nevertheless, the Duck representatives were full of positive energy on Thursday and it was contagious throughout the large media contingent.
Herbert and Dye’s Q&A will be posted on Friday, stay tuned!
Here is the Q&A session with Coach Taggart from Thursday’s Pac-12 Media Day:
Today, I have here with us Justin Herbert and Troy Dye. Two young guys on our football team. Two young stars in the making, and excited to have them here with me. Been really excited being at the University of Oregon and the support we're getting from our administration and our fans and how everyone in our building is working to change the culture at the University of Oregon. That's been fun to see. It's great to ride around Eugene and see how excited everyone is about football season and things going on. It's great to see our guys' bodies change in the weight room and the things they're doing from that standpoint and seeing their confidence come.
What is the biggest challenge?
Taggart: The biggest challenge? I wouldn't necessarily call it a challenge. It's just I think now having the third time of doing this, it's just trying to change the culture. I think, if there's anything, it would be that. Anytime you come into a new program, changing the culture is probably the biggest thing and the hardest thing to do because they have been doing it a certain way for a while. So it's hard changing behaviors.
Can you walk us through the Darren Carrington situation?
Taggart: Well, I think it's always tough because you always want to help young people. You know you don't ever want to throw them out or kick them to the curb. You want to help them reach their dreams, goals, and aspirations, but in the same sense, we have rules. And the rules, you have to abide by the rules, and when you break the rules, there are consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences for Darren were for us both to move on. I wish him nothing but the best. He's a great football player, and I hope things get right for him.
How has Justin Herbert been doing?
Taggart: Oh, he's been awesome. It seemed like Justin went to bed one night and woke up and said, ‘okay, it's time to go.’ He's just changed, you know. Whether it's in the weight room or competing with other guys. He's changed his body. He's gained about 15 pounds since last year, and Justin's walking outside with his shirt off now. And if you all know Justin, that wasn't him before. But he's laughing. He's hanging out with his guys. I get a text from him almost every other day. It's been great. I'm excited for the young man. Again, I think he's a star in the making.
What needed changing when you arrived on campus?
Taggart: Well, I wasn't necessarily looking at changing what it was before. I wanted it to be the way that I want it. The way that I want a football program to be, and how I want our culture to be. So that's what we were doing; I think when you're changing cultures, you're changing behaviors, and you want to get it to the way you know how you want it to be. It wasn't necessarily broke or anything. I don't know what it was like before. It was just important that we get it the way that we want it, and knowing that that was going to take some time. We're still in the process of changing that. But it's been great, getting our guys coming together and working the way that we want them to work.
What do you want the culture to be at Oregon?
Taggart: Well, I want those guys to play for each other, first and foremost. Our guys got to understand that the way that they play is like a gift to their teammates. Those guys got to love each other, and they can't love each other if they don't know each other. They can't look out for each other if they don't know each other. So it was really important that we get everyone, not just our players, but coaches and all, to be around each other and express; talk to each other and get to know each other a lot better than what we did, because we didn't know anyone, and they didn't know us. We didn't know them. Hell, we had coaches that didn't know each other, so we all had to come together. That's important that we as coaches come together first. We've got to set a good example in order for our young people to follow us. That's so important. If you look at any good football team out there, and you can see it when they play, they really play for each other. That's really important that we get our guys to play that way.
How do you describe your recruiting presence in Southern California?
Taggart: I think the O and the Nike swoosh helps going in there. Then the tradition. Oregon has won a lot of football games. I think I saw a stat where the last 20 years probably the winningest team in the Pac-12. The players in Southern Cal and the players around the country, they all know about the University of Oregon. It's just for us getting them up there and get around our coaches and players and sell our vision and what we want it to be, seeing if that's something they want to be a part of. But I know in the past Southern Cal has been great for the University of Oregon.
How much impact can these new coaches really make?
Taggart: I think they can make a huge impact on the defensive side of the ball, just getting our guys to be fundamentally and technically sound and playing with great effort. I think, again, like I mentioned earlier, they've got to play together and play for one another. I think that's huge in anything that we do. But I think we'll make big improvements. Again, our guys, we play a lot of young guys, you know. They took their lumps. Probably, again, they're playing in another defense, so that part they're going to learn. I think going back to the 3-4 is going to help a lot of these guys because a lot of them were recruited to play in a 3-4 system, so hopefully that helps. Hopefully, with Coach Leavitt and our defensive staff, they'll do the things we know they're capable of doing and get our guys to play at a high level.
Is it hard to adapt to the personnel you have?
Taggart: I think it's always tough when it comes to just learning something new. Every year has been something new for these guys for like the last two or three years. So having a defense that can be there for a while is going to be important for us. But I think it all goes back to teaching and being simple enough so these guys can understand and play at a high level and fast, where they're not running out and thinking too much. I think playing on that side of the ball, our guys got to react and not think, and that's going to be important when it comes to teaching our guys and implementing our system.
Thoughts on Darren staying in the conference with Utah and playing against him?
Taggart: I wish Darren nothing but the best, wherever he plays. Except against us.
Are there some younger guys coming in that will make an impact?
Taggart: Hopefully all of them. They're all going to have an opportunity to. When we recruited every single one of those young men, we told them we're going to give them the opportunity to come in here and take somebody's job. And it's on our current guys to keep their job. Starting Monday, or those guys started this summer, but starting Monday on the football field, they'll get an opportunity to go out and compete and try to work their way into a starting position playing for our football team. Hopefully in a couple weeks we start to see a little more out of guys. Probably then I can probably answer that question a little better. But they're going to have an opportunity to compete, and we've got some really talented young guys coming in. I'm sure a lot of them will play for us because of depth.
What was it that attracted you to Braxton Burmeister?
Taggart: Braxton was always intrigued with Oregon. That was one of his schools. Just like a lot of those kids, they all say Oregon has been their dream school. So when a kid says that and you watch the film and see he's a good football player, you love that as a coach. But Braxton's a winner. He's a really good football player and he's a gym rat. That kid lives in the meeting room, and you've got to kick him out of there and make him go home. He's always there and trying to learn. But he's a winner.
What do you know about the Oregon vs Washington rivalry?
Taggart: I know that's a big rivalry. It's tough, and I know they won last year. So we've got to get back to our winning ways.
Any thoughts on the rule change that eliminates two-a-day practices?
Taggart: It is what it is. They changed the rules, and we've got to abide by the rules. I don't think many people were doing two-a-days anyways. So it will just give us another way of teaching and developing our guys. I know there will be a lot of walk-throughs. But whatever it is to keep our guys safe and healthy. I'm all for it, developing our guys. I know there will be a lot of walk-throughs. But whatever it is to keep our guys safe and healthy, I'm all for it.
What about signing day?
Taggart: Early signing day, if that's going to help the game, I'm all for it. I'm one of those guys, I didn't think anything was wrong with the other one. You've just got to go out and compete and recruit until you can get them all there. But if early signing day is going to make things better and make the game better, I'm all for that too. At the end of the day, you've got to recruit, recruit, recruit and get guys to come into your system, the right guys.
What is your approach for a guy who has committed to a school already?
Taggart: If we like him and if he's showing interest in us, then we're going to recruit him. There's nothing in the rule books that says you can't recruit a guy that's committed somewhere else. Until they sign, once they sign, you turn and go the other way. But if they're open and they're interested in you, then you're going to recruit them and see if you can get them to change.
Your Florida connections, will that continue or will you emphasize the West Coast?
Taggart: It's always going to be the West Coast first and foremost. We're going to recruit the West, we're going to recruit Oregon first and foremost. We're going to recruit Oregon like it's our in- state. Then we'll go off and try to get the best football players we can get. We feel Oregon is a national brand and we can go nationally to get guys. If we can go nationally and get a football player that's interested in the University of Oregon and it can help us, then we're going to go. Whether it's Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, no matter where it is, that's what we're going to do. I don't think it would be smart for us not to use those ties that we have in Florida and bringing guys out here. Because there are a lot of kids in the state of Florida that want to leave Florida and see the world and go out. So if we get those guys and they fit what we're trying to do, we're going to recruit them too. But we're going to put a big emphasis in Oregon and in California.
What are three fun things you did this summer?
Taggart: Three fun things I did this summer, the biggest, I moved my family out here. Yes! Yes! They got here. I went kayaking for the first time, so that was pretty cool, with the staff. That was fun and funny. We went out on the coast. I forgot the name of the place, but it was beautiful. Something you wouldn't see in Florida. Plus I wouldn't be in the river in Florida. They've got alligators. But that was fun. The third thing was we're going to continue to get to know them.
What is your take of the Pac-12?
Taggart: I think the parity in the league is very close, which makes our league really good. Each week, you can't take a week off. You've got to come ready to play every single week, and knowing that whatever team you're playing is playing good enough to beat you. You get fired up as a coach knowing that each week there is going to be a challenge like that. So I'm excited about the challenge. That's going to be tough, but that's how you want it.
How important do you think social media is when it comes to recruiting?
Taggart: I think it's huge. That's all the kids do nowadays. They're on the phone. They're on social media. Whether it's Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter or Facebook, that's just how the world has changed. And as the world changes, recruiting changes and everything has to change with it. But that's one of the key areas of communicating with the kids. It's crazy because not many people talk anymore. I mean, they message each other or text each other, and we've got to find a way to get them to talk a little more. But that's the one way you can communicate with them. But it's also another way of selling your program and selling your vision the way you want things. So it's very important in recruiting. You've got to get a little social media savvy if you want to stay up.
How do you think the guys have progressed this summer without your supervision?
Taggart: I think they've done a tremendous job. I see a big difference in each and every last one of our guys. The gains they've made in the weight room has been big. Then you see them. We took before and after pictures, and it's like night and day with those guys. That's fun to see. Just hearing our guys, Justin coming and telling me how much better seven-on-seven is when they go out. It was tough back in the wintertime trying to do it. He's telling me now how the whole entire team is out there. That's great to hear, knowing that these guys are committed to getting better in the summertime. That's what it's going to take for us to be a good football team.
Be sure to check out our projected starter series that will be running all month. You can check out Thursday’s feature on Clemson transfer Scott Pagano.