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Quacking the Roster: 2020 Review

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With Spring camp around the corner, it’s time to dive back into the Oregon Ducks roster

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Oregon vs Iowa State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last Fall, the Quacking the Roster series covered twelve players whom we had film on from previous seasons but weren’t starters in 2019, and I previewed Oregon’s candidates to replace their entire offensive line. After a 2020 season with only seven games played in very unusual circumstances, the best thing we can take away is a lot more tape on these potential new starters. All 18 of these Ducks return in 2021 and will be working to get starting jobs as Spring ball starts up tomorrow, so let’s review how they did last year.

I’m breaking them up into three categories based on how they played in 2020: guys who in my opinion locked down a starting job at a particular position, those who have some promising film but might be in a battle for serious playing time, and the unknowns who remain mysteries this Spring.

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

New Starters

Oregon spread the ball around a lot in 2020, with eight different players getting over 100 yards (on pace for about 200 yards in a “normal” season). The leading receiver in terms of yards was #2 WR D. Williams, who had 20 targets outside of garbage time. The biggest criticism I’d heard about him was his level of effort before transferring from USC; I couldn’t find much evidence of that on his film before 2020 and during last season I thought his effort was excellent: only three negative plays as a receiver, and he threw the key block with gusto on several occasions. My favorite play of Williams’ was manually hauling #26 RB Dye across the line to gain:

The Ducks employed a six-man rotation at offensive line, swapping out every two drives, until the bowl game when #71 OL Aumavae-Laulu was injured and they played the same five straight through. It was a clear effort to cross-train linemen at different spots so that they could handle sudden unavailability, because the bench got precariously thin at the start of the season. My 2020 Oregon preview included 2019 film study on each of the linemen options except the new Juco transfer.

Based on the error rates as I charted them, I think three of those six have earned starting jobs in 2021. One of those is Aumavae-Laulu, whom the staff liked so much they played him at both tackle and guard (at a 2:1 ratio, respectively), and in his final game against USC they kept him at RT for all his snaps. I tallied his error rate at 10.91%, identical at both positions. I get the sense that playing both types of line position probably hindered his effectiveness, and assuming that available depth is better in 2021 than last year, I expect they’ll keep linemen at the same position all year and his error rate will come down. He showed me something I’d never seen before against Stanford by clobbering a defensive end so hard as he headed downfield that he caused the Pac-12 refs to throw an unusual flag: a chop block on the defense:

The lineman with the lowest error rate on my tally sheet was #74 OT Jones, at 7.49%. I think he’s still got some room for improvement, particularly his pad level, but he’s such a dominant physical size that very few defenders could take advantage. Interestingly, his spot in the regular six-man rotation didn’t start until the third drive of most games and he switched between left and right tackle, so overly literal commentators sometimes referred to him as “not a starter”, but I think he’s clearly got the job sewn up in 2021. The other curious experiment with Jones is that he played eight snaps at right guard against USC (while Aumavae-Laulu was at RT); I expect he’s a fulltime tackle this season. Here he is dominating probably the most physically talented DE among Oregon’s opponents:

The next best rated on my sheet was #56 LG Bass, at 8.89%. I think he benefited from being able to concentrate on a single position, since every snap he played was at left guard. I especially liked his mobility - he’s excellent at pulls, climbing to the second level, and downfield blocking, which is essential to the way Oregon’s rush and screen games are constructed. My favorite play of his, however, was simply mauling Cal’s nose guard into the dirt:

The first article in last Fall’s series was about #97 DT Dorlus, because after his 2019 true freshman season I knew he was going to have an excellent 2020, and he certainly did. I tallied less than 6% of all snaps he took as negative, and over 50 snaps as having a direct impact on the opposing offense failing their down. Dorlus has the length and size to play 4i in new DC DeRuyter’s system, as well as 3-tech in any even fronts he might use in this transition year. It’s hard to pick my favorite play of Dorlus’ since many of his best ones also showcase another player I want to highlight as well, for example this play has Dorlus beating a projected first-round NFL LT and pressuring the QB, forcing a bad throw that’s easy for the dime defender to break-up:

That defensive transition makes it a little tricky to project starters in 2021, especially since I think there are going to be a lot of deviations from the base structure that DeRuyter implements. The next two players I think are going to be starters for their particular position, but that position isn’t always going to be deployed. That shouldn’t be unfamiliar to #29 OLB Jackson, who in 2020 was used in the pass-rush variant of Oregon’s dime package, with a lot of fun twists and stunts. He’s lightning quick and showed no slowdown at all after missing the 2019 season, and while he wasn’t used on a majority of downs, remarkably I have zero negative plays recorded for Jackson all season. Here’s my favorite for obvious reasons:

In former DC Avalos’ system, Oregon used a nickelback on virtually every down, and so #19 DB Hill got a lot of play as the starter in 2020 after being Jevon Holland’s backup in 2019. DeRuyter has shown that he’s willing to play a nickel if the circumstances calls for it, but I think he prefers a base 3-4. Therefore my best guess at this point is that Hill and Jackson will be situational players, with Hill’s situation being extra pass coverage along with the ability to crash on surprise runs with his exceptional size as well. He had an astonishing interception that sealed Oregon’s win against USC in 2020, but in the role I expect him to play in 2021 I think this type of rep is more what Duck fans should expect to see:

#2 CB Wright is one of the best corners in America, and had a great season. I think this pass break-up is the most beautiful play I watched in the Pac-12 all year:


In The Mix

Oregon will have plenty of time for a true quarterback competition this Spring, which is something that probably wasn’t the case last season. So I think #13 QB Brown, who I was very high on after reviewing his Boston College film from 2017-2019, should get a fair shake at winning the job. Covid issues aside, I wasn’t wild about how the QB situation was managed in 2020 at Oregon, and it’s a little disturbing how much it echoed the failed QB rotation when OC Moorhead was in charge at Mississippi State in 2019. The biggest criticism I have for the staff in 2020 was that Brown’s tape shows an accomplished deep-ball pocket passer, but he was rarely used that way when he was put in, even in situations where I thought it was strategically obvious that he should have been. His limited tape in the pocket at Oregon shows he can go way beyond just short or RPO throws, and that he retains the same easy confidence at reading the field and hitting longer passes comfortably:

Some of the hesitancy to have the QB set up in the pocket and throw deep probably comes from the staff being worried about the offensive line. It’s natural for the line to take a step back with an entirely new group of starters following up one of the greatest lines in Oregon history, but with a half-length season and constant rotation, the expected gelling wasn’t given a chance to happen. There are three linemen from the rotation in 2020 who I think had a mixed performance on tape, both good and bad, and I think there’ll be a serious competition this offseason to see if they keep their jobs. At the very least, I expect the staff to get back to a steady group of five starters who play through the entire game, so somebody on that six-man rotation is going to be left out.

#78 C Forsyth snapped the ball on every down Oregon played, and I didn’t record a single truly bad delivery from him. Considering he was a new starter in a new offense, and against USC they introduced tricky timing with the back constantly in motion, that’s pretty impressive. Still, I think physically he was the weakest link on Oregon’s line, and almost every one of his 46 poor reps (11.06% error rate) are him simply getting bullied by a big DT. I’m interested to see if a more normal year of strength training lets him get over that issue, because in addition to reliable snapping he’s also got great mobility. Here’s my favorite play of his, taking on the nose then getting downfield for an extended block on the backer:

It was incredible for a former walk-on, #53 OG Walk, to earn a scholarship and a starting spot. I think his tape shows great technique and a hard worker, and he’d be a starter on most other Pac-12 squads. But along with Forsyth, the biggest problem I saw was losing physical battles against more talented defensive lines, contributing to his 12.24% error rate on my tally sheet, the highest I recorded. I think he sets a high bar for any Oregon guard, all of whom are more talented on paper, who wants to replace him:

#77 OT Moore is an improbable super senior who first played college football in 2015. I think that makes him a known quantity at this point, and his 11.90% error rate is probably pretty close to what Oregon is going to get if he’s a starter in 2021 as well. I think he has the physical dimensions and experience to be a quality tackle, but probably not an elite one. Here’s my favorite play of his in 2020 doing what he does best, which is playing all the way through the whistle - Aumavae-Laulu gets highlighted by the commentator but Moore working the end all the way around is what springs the back:

I previewed #12 CB James in the same article I went over Wright’s 2019 film, and 2020 was the second year he played as a backup corner. Oregon used him pretty sparingly outside of garbage time, and I still don’t have a clear picture of what he’s capable of when fully developed. I was encouraged by this play where he was assigned to and effectively covered USC’s 5-star receiver and likely top outside target in 2021 (also another great play by Dorlus):

The biggest mystery to me regarding Oregon’s 2020 defense was the personnel choices at safety. They introduced a dime package they hadn’t used in 2019 (or as far as I can tell, at any point in Avalos’ history at Boise St, or in fact any Boise St DC in their continuous lineage). They also had a number of opt-outs, suspected contact tracing absences, targeting ejections, and two transfers in the safety corps complicating matters. It was clear to me, however, that #15 DB B. Williams was more athletically gifted and prepared to play than at least one safety who got more reps than he did in 2020, and had some spectacular plays to complement his low error rate on my tally sheet. It’s possible that he was tabbed early on for the dime position and reserved for it, so it might not have been the slight or miscalculation that it appears, but still, I have a hard time figuring out what his role will be in 2021 as a result. With a new DC and DBs coach, as well as a few vacancies to fill, it’s entirely possible he gets re-evaluated and receives the playing time that I think his tape deserves:


Unknowns

The last category will have to be the briefest: the two tight ends I previewed, #84 TE McCormick and #81 TE Herbert, didn’t wind up playing in 2020 due to injuries. I also previewed two other safeties, #7 DB Stephens and #32 DB Happle, but I simply don’t have enough high quality tape to comment on either - the former was held out a couple of games on contact tracing and I don’t know the scholarship status of the latter.