EUGENE, Oregon — The Hatfield-Dowlin Complex was the setting for Thursday’s fall camp at the University of Oregon. A day after focused special teams work, the Ducks were back to their regular grind.
After nearly a week and a half of defensive dominance, the Duck offense has slowly started to find their rhythm the last two days of practice. Head coach Willie Taggart is enjoying what he’s been seeing on the field.
Once again, Demetri Burch was a topic of conversation on Thursday. Taggart was quick to assert praise onto his multi-dimensional true freshman as more than just a QB.
“He’s a good athlete,” said Taggart. “He played quarterback in high school. He’s one of those kids you can put at any position and he’ll make plays for you. He likes playing the game of football. We’re moving him around, playing him a little at quarterback and a little at receiver for us.”
Like most Duck fans understood already, Oregon is blessed with running back depth. The biggest problem for Taggart will be finding playing time for all of his talented running backs. Royce Freeman is the lead back, but Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit, and Darrian Felix have earned snaps.
All of them I want to play. You can only give so many of them the ball. It’s great to have that many running backs. I went through a season where we used six running backs. So, you can never have enough. We’ll probably play three at times. You’ll see a little bit of everything with us.
For someone like Freeman who is entering their senior campaign, special teams responsibilities no longer exist. However, you can now find Oregon’s star RB bettering himself at every offensive line meeting.
“We think running back is an extension of the o-line,” Taggart said. “The more they understand the ways the line is taught to do things, the better they can be as a running back setting blocks. Royce is in the offensive line meetings too, so he understands the calls and what Coach Cristobal is teaching those guys.”
Charles Nelson leads a growing group of talented pass-catchers. Aside from an illness that kept him from practice for a few days, Dillon Mitchell has been performing at a high level. Not to mention, Jaylon Redd and the addition of Brenden Schooler has deepened the group. However, this bunch would benefit from more physicality.
We hit in practice. We hit on almost every play. You have to. We don’t tackle every play, but we hit. Guys feel it. I think you have to do it. We don’t tackle every day, we have practices for that.
The Ducks will do their best to replace two tight end receiving-threats between Pharaoh Brown and Johnny Mundt. As both test their abilities in the NFL, Oregon is waiting for their next big TE to step up. Thus far, three have risen to the top.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Taggart said. “(Jacob) Breeland has done a great job throughout the spring and fall. But, I’ve been really impressed with (Ryan) Bay and Cam McCormick. He’s coming along and playing physical like we want, but also catching the ball and helping us in the passing game.”
Last season, Oregon was playing freshmen all over the board on their offensive line. This season, Coach T realizes it may not be much different with a host of talent fighting for playing time just 23 days from opening day.
There’s nothing like having competition. Coach Cristobal does a great job getting his guys ready for practice.
Whether they play offense, defense or special teams, the crop of freshmen wearing green and yellow this year is next level. It’s no longer a question of if, but how many will start for the Ducks in 2017?
“They got an opportunity to take somebody's job,” Taggart said with a smile. “We’re giving them that. I think you’ll see a lot of freshmen play for us this year. You’re going to see a lot of those guys play.”
The talent is there. It’s just about understanding the system and reading the game as it comes to them under the bright lights. There is no question, this class is special.
The Oregon coaching staff is full of energy and positivity that creates a fun atmosphere for their players. It’s difficult to not want to play for this program.
We'll continue to post interviews with Taggart and his coaches/players on a daily basis.