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First Oregon Football Depth Chart of 2017

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Willie Taggart’s starting lineup is nearly complete

NCAA Football: Oregon Spring Game Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

EUGENE, Oregon — Willie Taggart has released Oregon’s first 2017 depth chart prior to the season opener vs Southern Utah on Saturday. The Ducks’ head coach is going to give a lot of players an opportunity to succeed.

Following a full spring of 15 practices plus the 2017 Spring Game, the Ducks started fall training camp a full week earlier than past seasons. After a month of that practice, the players finally have what they have been working for; game day.

Please note that a great deal of the chart is not final. Taggart complimented the competition of some positions by placing an (or) between players. Nevertheless, let’s break down what we have for Saturday’s contest.

The Offense:

QUARTERBACK

Justin Herbert

There was never much doubt about this one, but Herbert still needed to prove himself to Taggart before he was anointed the guy. After adding weight over the summer and becoming more vocal with teammates, Herbert has earned the respect of his team. He is adapting well to a leadership role. The Eugene product will be backed up by true freshman Braxton Burmeister and senior Taylor Alie.

RUNNING BACK

Royce Freeman

Taggart is ready to take the Rolls out of the garage. Freeman is back for to make a statement to the country in his senior campaign. The future NFL running back will lead one of the deepest groups in the nation. Tony Brooks-James could start for most programs but will find loads of playing time with his extreme versatility. Kani Benoit always has a game-changing run in his arsenal as an elite No. 3 back. Taj Griffin will rotate between wide receiver and running back. Meanwhile, freshman Darrian Felix is waiting patiently for his moment as the future of the running game.

NCAA Football: Oregon Spring Practice
Senior Royce Freeman should have a larger role in the passing game this season. The running back has the second-most career catches on the offense entering 2017, with only Charles Nelson responsible for more. A young receiving group will look to Freeman and Nelson for guidance.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

WIDE RECEIVER

Charles Nelson, Dillon Mitchell, and Johnny Johnson III

It didn’t take long for the cream to rise to the top. Nelson is the No. 1 of the group and will play out of the slot. He will be Herbert’s security blanket throughout the season. Darrin McNeal will backup Nelson in the slot. Mitchell has been progressing nicely since the end of last season. He will play on the outside. The lone offensive freshman starter came on strong late, as Johnson separated himself from the group. JJ3 has a chance to be really special. Sophomore Brenden Schooler will be his reserve and should provide major athleticism in the unit. Impressive freshman Daewood Davis will work on the outside alongside Schooler and Johnson. Alex Ofodile, Jaylon Redd, and Malik Lovette complete a youthful core of reserves.

“In the wide receivers room, if somebody like Charles (Nelson) or Alex (Ofodile) is out, everybody in that room raises their hand,” said co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. They’re ready to cut it loose, have fun. They’ve done a great job.”

TIGHT END

Jacob Breeland

After waiting patiently during his freshman campaign, Breeland is ready to emerge as the No. 1 tight end in Oregon’s offense. He has done a great job preparing himself and his TE teammates for the road ahead. Freshman Cam McCormick and sophomore Ryan Bay have impressed Taggart since the start of fall camp. They should provide solid depth. Matt Mariota continues with the group in a backup capacity.

“Breeland understands what we are doing offensively,” stated Taggart. “He always puts himself in place to make plays. ‘Doesn’t matter if I have a club on or not, I’m going to make plays for you.’ It’s been good to see, but it also helps when your quarterback is throwing darts.”

OFFENSIVE LINE

Tyrell Crosby, Shane Lemieux, Jake Hanson, Jake Pisarcik, and Calvin Throckmorton

The line enters the season experienced with two seniors and three sophomores. Crosby will lead the way from left tackle. JuCo transfer George Moore will be his No. 2. Meanwhile, Lemieux starts at left guard and Hanson is the main man at center. Doug Brenner will back up Hanson. The right side is highlighted by Pisarcik at guard and Throckmorton at guard. Evan Voeller and Jacob Capra are the guard reserves, while sophomore Brady Aiello will come off the bench at tackle.

“If they played to a certain standard (last year), they need to play better this year,” said o-line coach Mario Cristobal. “You’re going to need depth. You’re going to need someone, at some point or time, to step in.”

The defense is not nearly as transparent, with multiple players occupying No. 1 spots.

The Defense:

DEFENSIVE LINE

Jalen Jelks, Jordon Scott or Austin Faoliu, and Henry Mondeaux

Jelks and Mondeaux will start at defensive end, while the true freshmen duo of Scott and Faoliu will occupy most of the time as the nose in Jim Leavitt’s defense. Meanwhile, Drayton Carlberg and Elijah George will work from a reserve role on the ends. JuCo transfer Malik Young is working himself into football shape. Clemson transfer Scott Pagano is still recovering from offseason foot surgery.

“The freshmen class came in with a great mindset to come on the field and compete and try to earn a starting spot,” stated Troy Dye. “I know how it feels because I was in the same spot last year. I respect those guys. They come out every day and work hard just like everyone else on the field. The game knows no age.”

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Troy Dye and Kaulana Apelu or A.J. Hotchkins

The sophomore who needs no introduction is being asked to do a lot in 2017, but he’s taking it all in stride. Senior Jimmie Swain will backup Dye. He finished second on the team in tackles (77) last year, alongside starting just seven games. It was a battle between Apelu and Hotchkins for a majority of training camp and that starter has yet to be determined.

“He’s a really sharp guy,” Jim Leavitt said in reference to Dye. “That’s one reason we moved him in there. You have to remember, he played safety in high school. He’s been making some really good improvements. He’s got good length, very heady ballplayer. He makes a lot of plays. It’s a good position for him.”

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Justin Hollins

The junior will be responsible for a great deal of the pass rush from the outside. If he can create the havoc needed, good things will happen for this defense. A standout from fall camp, Jonah Moi will backup Hollins and is assured a hefty secondary role.

THE DUCK POSITION

Fotu T. Leiato or La’Mar Winston Jr.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s “Duck” position is up for grabs, as well. Regardless, since he installed the playbook, these two have been able to let loose with great freedom. Both have experience on special teams and Leiato is a former safety.

“I think for Coach Leavitt, he put everything in that first week,” Taggart stated. “And now that we’re not installing anything, you see guys lining up and playing football. They’re able to play fast. They don’t have to think as much now.”

SAFETY

Khalil Oliver and Mattrell McGraw

With the injury to Tyree Robinson, the secondary has been adjusted accordingly. Oliver and McGraw are working in an evolving system. On one possession, the junior duo could be playing simultaneously in a typical 3-4 defense. But on the very next, maybe only one is on the field as Leavitt brings in an extra cornerback. Regardless, when Robinson returns one or both will be heading to the bench. Juwaan Williams and Nick Pickett will back them up, while the talented freshmen duo of Billy Gibson and Brady Breeze round out arguably the deepest position on the defense.

CORNERBACK

Arrion Springs, Ugo Amadi or Thomas Graham Jr.

If you could award a standout position for camp, it would go to the cornerbacks. The group as a whole has been outstanding. It began in the spring and continued through training camp. Springs and Amadi are exhibiting veteran leadership, while freshmen Graham and Deommodore Lenoir are standing out. Senior Ty Griffin will work in a consistent rotation with this talented group.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona State
Cornerback Arrion Springs solidified a win for the Ducks in 2015 with his interception in overtime against Arizona State. The senior sealed his starting spot with an excellent spring that was followed by a better fall camp.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a quick look at the special teams unit for the 2017 campaign. Contrary to popular belief, Charles Nelson will remain the primary kick and punt returner. However, he has legitimate backups this season. The Ducks have a new punter in Blake Maimone, but almost everything else remains the same.

The Special Teams:

KICKER

Aidan Schneider

PUNTER

Blake Maimone

LONG SNAPPER

Tanner Carew

HOLDER

Taylor Alie

KICK RETURNER

Charles Nelson

Backup: Kani Benoit

PUNT RETURNER

Charles Nelson

Backup: Dillon Mitchell

Things will inevitably change throughout the week and season but this is a solid starting point. Regardless, Taggart plans on playing anyone willing to make his football team better. Just three days from kickoff, Oregon football is set to begin a new era.

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