Oregon was the 16th ranked offense in F+ advanced statistics last year, behind excellent offensive line play, the top (tied with OSU) rushing average in the conference, and 3rd down efficiency that ranked 4th nationally. The biggest Achilles heel was downfield passing efficiency, where quarterback accuracy and decision-making issues frequently wasted good 2nd- and 3rd-down situations.
The entire coaching staff has turned over for 2022, though with a few exceptions I’m expecting a relatively similar 11-personnel RPO playbook using spread concepts from new OC Dillingham. All four years he’s been a coordinator it’s been with RPO-heavy systems employing a lot of QB runs, which Oregon fans ought to find familiar from recent years.
The Ducks have a three-man competition among bluechips to replace departing starter Anthony Brown: transferring junior #10 QB Nix from Auburn, and redshirt freshmen #9 QB Butterfield and #13 QB Thompson. Even though Nix has a couple years of eligibility remaining, he’s pledged that this will be his last season in college ball. I expect him to win the job simply on experience – as a three-year starter he’s attempted 628 passes in his career while Butterfield and Thompson have combined for 18.
I’ve watched quite a bit of film on Nix over the years for various projects, including a two-part write-up of Oregon’s new OC/QB coach Dillingham who had the same job at Auburn in 2019 during Nix’s true freshman season. The former borderline 5-star strikes me as having all the physical tools and pocket presence to be a very successful quarterback, and I think he steps into a better situation at Oregon than he ever had at Auburn. I’m certain that the wide receiver and offensive line units are considerably better, since they were bizarrely under-recruited at Auburn, and I’m also certain that the Pac-12 defenses he’ll face are far worse than the ones in the SEC.
I suspect the offense that Dillingham will probably use at Oregon is a better fit for his skill set than the ones used by the revolving door of playcallers at Auburn. Former head coach Gus Malzahn took over playcalling for the second time in 2019, then gave it up for the second time in 2020 to Chad Morris who had just been fired by Arkansas. Then in 2021 both Malzahn and Morris were fired by Auburn and replaced by Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo, who would give UW’s John Donovan a run for his money as the worst OC and most antiquated offense in college football. Quarterback is the one position where I think there’s a reasonable chance for a talented player to dramatically improve his production by transferring to a staff and scheme that’s a better fit, and if I were designing a best-case hypothetical for that proposition it would look almost exactly like this one, though I’m concerned that Nix’s development has probably been hindered by so much whiplash.
The likely backups Butterfield and Thompson are almost totally unproven in live games, but they were both highly recruited - a mid 4-star in 2020 and a borderline 5-star in 2021, respectively. In the Spring game they looked liked they’d picked up the offense well and had a lot of great throws, though a few freshman mistakes as well, and the standard caveats about Spring practice regarding contact, schematic complexity, and not much rushing all clearly applied. I think if Nix is unavailable then there’ll probably be a falloff in performance but not a catastrophic one.
Oregon loses both of its mainstays at running back for the last four seasons, Travis Dye and CJ Verdell, as well as backup redshirt freshman Trey Benson. Verdell was injured midseason so the third back bumped up to the second spot, #21 RB Cardwell, whose average led all Pac-12 backs with more than 10 carries at 6.84 YPC on 61 carries (Verdell had 17 more rushes but 11 fewer total yards). Fellow 4-star #5 RB Dollars also returns after missing 2021 with an injury; he got 8.53 YPC in 2019 and 2020 combined, but on just 15 carries.
The Ducks have taken two scholarship transfers: Mar’Keise Irving from Minnesota who arrives in the Fall and #22 RB Whittington from Western Kentucky who played well in the Spring game. Irving played the most games and had the highest average in a three-back rotation with the Gophers last year after their star back Mohamed Ibrahim was injured in the opener. He got 5.31 YPC and 700 yards, which is a pretty robust performance in their jumbo power rushing scheme (the OC, Mike Sanford Jr, was fired at the end of the season and then improbably hired by Colorado, so Irving will get to play against his previous coordinator). Whittington got 6.11 YPC and 617 yards at WKU as the leader of a four-back rotation under new Oregon RB coach Locklyn; I’ve previously written up their performance with the Hilltoppers. There’s also 2022 4-star Jordan James who arrives in the Fall and I expect will redshirt, plus three walk-ons in the room who’ve looked capable enough during Spring games and previous schools, for depth.
The departures of Dye and Verdell are painful to be sure, but I don’t think they’ll affect the bottom line. I have a very difficult time handicapping this race since the Ducks are spoiled for choice but I think three of the four candidates are very experienced and have been productive in pretty different schemes, and the fourth has tons of talent and speed. I also think the real secret to Oregon’s rushing success has been in the offensive line whereas the backs have come in for some criticism from me with the previous staff in terms of their vision and ability to run through contact. Given that the o-line returns all its starters and there’s a net talent and YPC upgrade in the ballcarriers this unit should be just fine and I wouldn’t expect a step back.
A few hours after Adam and I recorded the podcast, we received word of tight end Spencer Webb’s untimely death in an accident. His loss hurts a lot, I’ve been writing about the ups and downs of his career for five years and I was looking forward to him having what I thought would be a great season.
Oregon returns its two 4-star true sophomores, #3 TE Ferguson and #8 TE Matavao. I thought they had excellent debuts last year and had effectively become the starters, given the injuries to #88 TE Herbert and #84 TE McCormick and that Webb was used more as a big split-out Y receiver rather than a blocking tight end. I expect to see some refinement to Ferguson and Matavao’s blocking technique since it was a bit raw last year, but it can’t be overstated how unusual it is for not one but two true freshmen do-it-all tight ends to take over the room. Schematically, I think the biggest change in Dillingham’s RPO playbook based on his tape from Florida St compared to Oregon’s last season is that he’s more likely to use TEs on downfield RPOs instead of lateral ones, so in terms of production these guys may be in for a big jump.
Since former two-way player #2 OLB D.J. Johnson now looks to be a fulltime defensive player and Oregon has taken no prep or portal additions to the tight end room, the only depth is the 4-star Herbert and mid 3-star McCormick. Injuries have derailed both their careers as we haven’t seen the former since his true freshman season in 2019 or the latter since his sophomore season in 2017. I think both have the potential to be excellent if they’re healthy, but since we didn’t see them in the Spring game I don’t have high hopes. It’s too early to say what the Ducks will do here – perhaps Herbert or McCormick get healthy by Fall, or Johnson yet again fills in for a depleted TE room, or they might look for a late portal addition.
The wide receivers lose five players: Johnny Johnson, Mycah Pittman, Jaylon Redd, Devon Williams, and Lance Wilhoite. The last didn’t play but the first four combined for about 1,250 receiving yards last year. Pittman and Redd were both shorter inside guys, Williams was a very tall outside guy, and Johnson played on the outside but at just 6’0” the former low 3-star would have been the odd man in Oregon’s 2022 outside receiver unit if he still had eligibility.
The Ducks return their second leading receiver behind Williams in #1 WR Hutson, who’s 5’11” and played much more effectively on the inside so it was a real puzzle why the previous staff lined him up outside so often. They also return true sophomore #7 WR McGee, an electric player with 228 all-purpose yards last year who may wind up in a variety of roles including sweeps and gadget plays, and #83 WR Delgado who was unavailable last season but had 183 yards in 2019 and 2020 as a backup and was playing extensively on the inside in the 2022 Spring game, as were Hutson and McGee.
All three of these inside guys are 4-stars (in fact the entire WR corps are 4-stars, which I believe is a first in Oregon history) and have somewhat different skills and experience, so this should be an interesting Fall camp battle. Three top-notch inside WRs in an 11-personnel offense is probably adequate depth, though they’ve also taken two additions in high 3-star true freshman #14 WR Lowe and non-scholarship Juco #85 WR Russell, who are 6’2” and 6’0” respectively and could probably play inside in a pinch.
Oregon recruited a trio of very lengthy bluechips at outside receiver in 2021: #15 WR Brevard at 6’4”, #11 WR Franklin at 6’3”, and #2 WR Thornton at 6’5”. Brevard redshirted, but Franklin and Thornton got quite a bit of experience — along with 2018 4-star #6 WR Crocker at 6’3” — towards the end of last season. Those four combined for about 500 yards in 2021.
They’re joined by a couple of transfers: #23 WR Cota at 6’4” from UCLA who played extensively in the Spring game, and Caleb Chapman at 6’5” from Texas A&M who arrives in the Fall. Cota has 883 yards in four seasons in Westwood, and is such a sure-handed receiver that I think he would have gotten a lot more if not for that team’s clear preference for throwing inside. Chapman had several heroic plays in College Station (two different Aggie fans I contacted about him recounted in great detail their memories about one particular catch) but has been limited by injuries the last two seasons. Also, 4-star recruit Kyler Kasper has reclassified to 2022 and will join the alliterative additions in the Fall.
Between the size, experience, and raw talent, I think this adds up to a net upgrade in the outside receiver unit in 2022, especially since Hutson and Johnson probably should have been inside guys all along. On length alone the change is considerable - the average height in the room will increase by 1.5 inches. With seven players (possibly eight if counting the 6’2” Lowe) there’s more than adequate depth. The Spring game was divided evenly with the yellow team primarily using Crocker and Thornton and the green team Cota and Franklin, and I’d guess those will be the top four in 2022, but Chapman and Kasper weren’t on campus yet and there’s enough talent here that I wouldn’t be surprised by some change in the Fall.
At offensive line, Oregon has been using the same six-man rotation – and truly a rotation, Alex Mirabal the former OL coach was moving guys in and out and to different positions on a drive-by-drive basis every game – for the past two seasons. Five of those six guys return for a third season: #56 LT Bass, #53 LG Walk, #78 C Forsyth, #74 RG S. Jones, and #71 RT Aumavae-Laulu. The departure is George Moore, who finally ran out of eligibility after playing college football since 2015; Bass had taken over his LT spot by the end of last season.
I expect those five returners will be the starting lineup, and there’s no indication that new OL coach Klemm will make any positional changes or continue Mirabal’s non-traditional rotations. Oregon’s offensive line has been its best asset for almost all of the last two decades and last year was no exception, so I have no reason to think that’ll change in 2022 with the same starters. I have some reservations about the inconsistency with which Klemm’s o-linemen performed at UCLA and the accusations of mistreatment made by some former players, but with how established Oregon’s starters are I don’t think those concerns apply in the short term. The rate at which Klemm has sent linemen to the NFL is astonishing – 75% of the dozen linemen I reviewed in his final two seasons with the Bruins are still playing pro ball five years later. Figuring out the highs and lows of Klemm’s career is the biggest mystery to me about Oregon’s new staff.
After the departure of several freshmen who didn’t play last year, there are five other returning scholarship linemen. The two with experience are #58 OL Powers-Johnson who got a lot of play as a true freshman last year as a center and guard due to some injuries, and #70 OL Jaramillo who’s built like a tackle but has played as a backup at all five spots along the line since 2018; both were 4-stars. The inexperienced player I’ve liked the most from watching practice tape is 2020 mid 3-star #55 OL Harper. Mid 4-star #72 OL Walden missed most practices his true freshman season last year as well as the 2022 Spring game for health reasons, but from weight room reports and social media releases this Summer he looks like he’s lifting again. Another 2020 mid 3-star, #75 OL Laloulu, was playing left tackle in the Spring game. Laloulu looks like he’s in a lot better shape than when he came in at nearly 400 lbs a couple years ago but the team hasn’t posted an updated official weight for him yet; I think he remains a project. I also saw four different walk-ons get some play in the Spring game since they split up the teams; predictably they got chewed up by the d-line.
So in terms of depth it looks like Oregon has a sixth and seventh man both of whom have experience snapping, and since Jones can play tackle (and has extensively, thanks to Mirabal) he’d probably slide over and the backup would take his RG spot instead of having to take on a higher-pressure tackle job. That’s a pretty good depth situation if they took a couple of injuries at the usual rate, and if they have to go to Harper I think they’ll still be fine. If they get really pounded by bad injury luck and have to play four backups at once then they’ll be in real trouble, but that’s true of any team in the game. Still, going forward depth will be an issue beyond 2022, so we might see some early playing time for some of the four true freshmen recruits as planning for the future, most notably 5-star Fall enrollee Josh Conerly.
Oregon’s defense ranked 57th in F+ in 2021, an underperformance that I found stemmed almost entirely from injuries to four different starting-caliber inside linebackers early in the season, resulting in the rotation of two true freshmen and two walk-ons in that spot. Given that former coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s defense funnels everything to the ILBs, this was a particularly poor scheme to face such a depletion.
New head coach Lanning and DC Lupoi have both operated the Mint front system that was developed at Alabama between Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, then brought to Georgia with Smart and run by Lanning in last year’s national championship-winning season. It’s a modification of the Tite front popularized by Dave Aranda and Todd Orlando, and I’ll have a more extensive film study article on this defense later in the offseason - the simulated pressures the Bulldogs used are fascinating and documenting them has been a treat for your faithful film reviewer, but they’re not the most salient to a roster breakdown.
For the purposes of this article, it suffices to say that the personnel requirements are a nose tackle and two big 4is to clog the A- and B-gaps and spill outside runs, with one or two OLBs to kill those runs and provide the edge rush, plus two ILBs and two or three safeties who generally play back against the pass until they’re sure it’s a run. These are somewhat different responsibilities than the systems used by the Ducks’ last three defensive coordinators over the past five seasons, but a fairly similar positional balance so the returning personnel map pretty cleanly onto the new structure.
A running theme that readers of this series will have picked up is that there are quite a lot of Pac-12 defenses that are structured to be 3-down fronts, but because of recruiting, injury, and roster management problems don’t have enough available nose tackles and so just play their 2-down package (that they’d otherwise just play on passing downs like 3rd & long) as their base backage on most snaps. Predictably, such defenses get run all over by the opponent’s rushing attack, or if they take extraordinary measures with the backers and safeties to stop the run, get picked apart across the middle with opportunistic passing.
Oregon doesn’t look like it’ll be one of those teams in 2022, as I think their nose tackle unit will run four deep. They return starting senior #50 NT Aumavae who’s been around since 2017; he had surgery immediately after the season so he missed the bowl game and was held out of the Spring game, but by reports should be good to go in the Fall. They’ve also taken two transfers at the position, the first of which is #55 NT Taimani from UW, a 330 lbs former 4-star from the 2018 class who had 41 tackles last year. I’ve been watching Taimani’s tape for years and have consistently written that he lives up to billing, and although this will be a scheme change for him he’s got the size and talent to make the switch. I suspect he’ll be the second guy in the rotation but he might give Aumavae a real fight for reps; he looked up-to-speed in the Spring game.
The second transfer is Jordon Riley, a 2018 mid 3-star who got some backup reps at Nebraska last year under Oregon’s new DL coach Tuioti. He’ll arrive in the Fall and at 295 lbs at last weigh-in, should be game for third-string nose tackle. They’ve also taken a true freshman mid 3-star, Sir Mells, who the prep services say was 310 lbs; I think he could be pressed into service in the Fall if injuries pile up, though he’ll probably redshirt. Oregon loses Jayson Jones to the transfer portal; I think he would have been a valuable nose in this defense so his loss is a painful one, but the Ducks seem to have gotten back up to adequate depth through transfers.
The defensive ends return the entire unit from last year with the exception of Kristian Williams, whose body type didn’t really fit with the new system (he’s transferred to Mizzou’s 4-2-5, a much better match). Oregon has taken two additions who’ll arrive in the Fall: Casey Rogers, another mid 3-star upperclassmen with playing experience at Nebraska, and 2022 borderline 4-star recruit Ben Roberts.
The three returners I think are most likely to start are #3 DE Dorlus, #95 DE Ware-Hudson, and #48 DE Ma’ae, with Rogers rounding out the four-man rotation. I’ve been raving about Dorlus since his 2019 true freshman season and think he’s the best 4i in the conference with real interior pass rush skills; I’m sure he’s got a starting job. Former 4-star Ware-Hudson has also been playing since his true freshman season in 2019, though he and Dorlus both had offseason surgery so like Aumavae we haven’t seen them since December. Ma’ae is interesting, he came in as an outside linebacker in 2019 but has significantly bulked up every year, and by the 2022 Spring game looked at playing weight for an end in this system, though the last official weigh-in for him was only at 250 lbs (I’m sure that’s outdated at this point but don’t know exactly what the right number is). Ma’ae got the second most tackles of the ends last season behind Dorlus but with a different assignment so we’ll have to keep an eye on how he develops. Rogers’ tape at Nebraska is very good and he’s got plenty of experience with Tuioti over the last three seasons so I expect he’s a shoo-in.
That leaves five backups at the position who should be able to ease into future playing time. I think the most likely to play are former 4-star #99 DE Ke. Williams who got some playing time as a true freshman last season (and was pressed into playing nose in the Spring game; he didn’t look terrible but that’s not his spot), and borderline 4-star #97 DE Afaese who took a redshirt with an injury and sat out the Spring game but who has great length and talent for the position. The next two are probably #94 DE Poti, a 2019 borderline 4-star but who’s been a career backup since he’s about an inch and a half shorter than ideal, and 2020 mid 3-star #90 DE Shipley who was playing out of position last year (they had him dropping into coverage at 275 lbs which was … suboptimal). I expect Roberts will redshirt when he arrives in Fall but his measurables are great so he might get some garbage time reps for experience.
This is by far the deepest and most experienced 3-down front in the Pac-12, and the only one in which the DEs are all the right body types for the job. Every one of them are 270 – 290 lbs (except Ma’ae, but even he probably is), and all are between 6’3” and 6’5”, with long arms for leverage - exactly what you want out of a 4i. Seven of the nine have live game experience. There are some question marks here given how many guys are coming off of injuries, and there’s relatively little playing time for the third- and fourth-string ends, but the unit certainly has enough depth and an experienced coach to deal with any problems.
The outside linebackers lose Kayvon Thibodeaux to the first round of the draft. They return everyone else: a couple of veterans in #18 OLB Funa and #44 OLB Swinson, the two-way player turned Spring game wrecking ball Johnson mentioned above in the tight end discussion, and four redshirt freshmen backups in #43 OLB Buckner, #17 OLB McNeill, #9 OLB Navarrette, and #12 OLB Tilmon. They took a couple of high 3-stars in the 2022 class, Spring enrollee #5 OLB A. Jones and Fall enrollee Emar’rion Winston.
Funa was a high 4-star in 2019 who had a great true freshman season as a starting STUD backer in then-DC Andy Avalos’ scheme, then he seemed to have some conditioning struggles with the covid restrictions starting in 2020, but in the 2022 Spring game he’d slimmed down considerably (I didn’t recognize him at first) and looks excellent especially in setting the edge against outside runs. Former high 3-star Swinson has also been playing since his true freshman season, starting in 2020, and is stronger as a pass rusher. I think those two will be the starting strongside and weakside OLBs, respectively, though Johnson looked so unstoppable in the Spring game he might jump in for a comparable number of reps.
I got to see four of the six young backups in the Spring game and all of those looked playable to me, and three of the four returners got some experience last year as true freshmen, so I don’t think depth is going to be an issue here. But each have some kind of question mark around them: Jones and Winston are true freshman whom the staff would probably like to redshirt. McNeill and Tilmon have the right height for the job at 6’4” but are both currently listed as underweight by 20 lbs or so, plus Tilmon sat out the Spring game, so we’ll have to wait for Fall camp to see how offseason training has gone for them. Buckner plays with great technique and ferocity (his father Brentson is a longtime DL coach in the NFL) but is a couple inches undersized. Navarrette, the only 4-star among the backups, was injured last year; he enrolled in 2020 but we haven’t seen him the last two seasons, though he played in the Spring game and looked fine. None of these are insurmountable problems but the law of averages suggests that only half will actually get playing time in 2022.
Losing Thibodeaux is significant since he was completely unblockable for a lot of opponents and was a one-man game-changer on several occasions. It’s also difficult to get a read on how the returners Funa, Swinson, and Johnson will perform since their entire time at Oregon they’ve had Thibodeaux getting all the limelight – reviewing their success rate numbers from my tally sheet they look really good and maybe I would have been raving about them in an alternate universe where Thibodeaux played elsewhere, but that’s a counterfactual and I have a hard time assessing them in a vacuum. My best guess is that Thibodeaux wasn’t quite as essential to the defense as the media has portrayed (he came on late in 2019, faced 2020 covid restrictions, and missed a lot of 2021 playing time) but on the other hand when he was on, he made the rest of the defense better. On balance, I think that while this unit will doubtlessly take a step back without Thibodeaux’s exceptional pass rush, between the considerable talent and experience among the three primary guys who have a good chance of stepping up and a deep room of backups, it shouldn’t be a major one. I think the OLBs will be somewhere between fine and pretty good.
The pain of the 2021 season on the injury-depleted inside backers is the gain for the 2022 season, with a deep and experienced unit that features a lot of talent. The two departures are Dru Mathis who like several others missed last season with an injury, and former walk-on Nate Heaukulani who was pressed into action due to all those injuries; both ran out of eligibility.
Former 5-star #1 ILB Sewell had the second most tackles in the conference last season with 114 (behind only OSU’s Avery Roberts) and leads all returners and transfers into the Pac-12 on that metric. His fellow 2020 5-star #1 ILB Ju. Flowe missed most of last season with an injury, but from his tape in the opener his talent is for real; he was held out of the Spring game but by reports he should be ready by Fall. If he’s playing, Flowe and Sewell together are the most talented pair of inside backers in the conference by a wide margin.
Borderline 4-star #42 ILB LaDuke, the third of the 2020 recruits, also missed most of 2021 with an injury, but returned late in the season and his tape was excellent. Two 4-star true freshmen were forced into action early by all the injuries: #33 ILB Bassa, a converted safety, and #21 ILB K. Brown, who missed some time with a nagging injury himself. I think the three of those will comprise the second-string; I’d give the edge to LaDuke because he’s a year older and his tape looked the most complete when I got to see it, but Bassa now has a lot of experience under his belt and the new system prioritizes speed at inside backer so being a converted safety isn’t such a liability (and might even be an asset). Brown has the highest talent profile of the three and a more traditional linebacker’s build, but he’s younger than LaDuke and has less playing time than Bassa so relatively speaking he’s the baby here. It should be an interesting Fall camp to see where Flowe is at and how the rest of the rotation shakes out, but those five should make for an excellent core.
The four depth players are #29 ILB A. Jackson who’s a 2018 4-star and veteran 3rd down pass rush OLB now moving inside I think to be part of some blitz packages and simulated pressures, unrated Juco #35 ILB Roth who’s on his sixth year of college ball and got some playing time last year due to all the injuries, and two 4-star true freshman I saw in the Spring game (and didn’t look bad) #34 ILB Taggart and #26 ILB D. Jackson. Given all the talent and experience ahead of them I doubt these guys are used much outside of situational packages and garbage time but they certainly provide plenty of depth in the unit. All eight scholarship backers are bluechips and every returner got meaningful playing time. This unit looks like a complete turnaround from 2021 when they were the biggest liability to arguably the best unit on the team.
Oregon loses both of its starting cornerbacks from 2021, DJ James and Mykael Wright, as well as 2021 recruit Jaylin Davies. That’s created the thinnest position group on the team and the biggest area of concern for the Ducks.
Last year, #11 DB Bridges was pressed into action as a cornerback and I thought his tape showed some issues in coverage. From the Spring game and practice reports, it looks like he’ll be moving back to safety for 2022, but with some flexibility to return to corner if necessary. There are three other returning scholarship corners: 2020 5-star #8 CB Manning, 2021 mid 4-star #28 CB Dickerson, and 2021 mid 3-star #22 CB Barkins. Manning has the most experience of them (he was a starter alongside Bridges in the bowl game and I thought he played pretty well), and between that and his talent rating I suspect he’ll get one of the starting spots. We didn’t see much of Dickerson or Barkins in their true freshman seasons, but both played in the Spring game and looked fine.
The additions to the room are #0 CB Gonzalez, a 2020 low 4-star who’s started at Colorado the last two seasons and transferred to reunite with new Oregon CB coach Martin, plus mid 4-star 2020 recruits #6 CB Florence, a Spring enrollee, and his high school teammate Jalil Tucker who arrives in the Fall. I wrote up Martin and Gonzalez back in March, and from film study and the Spring game I think Gonzalez has the other starting job. Florence played well enough in the Spring game that I think he’ll be in competition with Dickerson and Barkins for second-string in 2022, and we’ll have to see how Tucker does in Fall camp.
This is a very talented unit with an average 24/7 composite rating of .93, but it’s small and pretty young. Gonzalez is a known quantity but the rest of the room requires making guesses based on talent and Martin’s track record at development. Those suggest that they should be fine, maybe even pretty good, if they stay healthy. But all young corners get beat at first, and they probably can’t afford more than one injury here, so it could be pretty rocky too.
The safeties lose longtime starter Verone McKinley and Boise St transfer Jordan Happle, who were the top two tacklers among the safeties last year. Despite that, this room looks quite a bit stronger to me due to the return of key players, getting healthier, and the development of some young talent.
In addition to getting Bridges back from the corners to probably start at boundary safety, the three other returners with significant experience are #19 DB Hill, #7 DB Stephens, and #15 DB B. Williams … they’ll be on their fourth, fifth, and sixth years of college ball, respectively. I wrote up all three a couple years ago and the last two years of tape hasn’t changed my mind much: Hill is a big, hard-hitting nickel who I think will be ideal for box play and mid-field coverage, though he could improve his deep coverage, and from the Spring game I think he’ll continue as the STAR in the new defense. Stephens was a mid 4-star and has never really put it together, I think he’ll be second-string at boundary or field. I think Williams was severely under-utilized by the previous staff and got hurt last year, but is probably Oregon’s best safety considering both talent and experience; I think he’ll start at the fieldside spot but can also play STAR.
Mid 4-star #13 DB Addison enrolled in 2018 as a wide receiver but has been switched to DB, and was playing the high safety in Oregon’s dime packages last year – he doesn’t have much in the way of stats for that reason but I can say from reviewing tape he was actually on the field quite a bit. I think he’ll continue in that role and could play backup field safety in non-dime packages as well.
There are three other returners here, though they could also be considered additions as well since they didn’t really play last year and each took a winding journey to be in this room. 2021 4-star #4 DB David got a few reps as a true freshman, then left the team after the coaching change, but recently decided to return. 2020 high 3-star #24 DB Greenfield didn’t play last year and also reportedly left the team at some point in 2021, but returned for Spring practices and even got an interception in the Spring game. 2021 4-star #25 DB Jo. Flowe (younger brother of the ILB) came in as a backer but has been switched to safety, though he was held out of the Spring game. All three look like they should be able to ease into playing time as redshirt freshman in 2022. The Ducks also added two 4-star Fall enrollees at safety, Khamari Terrell and Trejon Williams.
In last year’s preview, I thought that Moorhead’s playbook would expand considerably in the second season and out of covid restrictions, and we certainly saw that. I made heavy reference to my 2020 film study of Anthony Brown’s Boston College tape, which covered his over-the-middle accuracy issues and three-quarters release those were on full display in 2021, but which also anticipated extensive deep downfield passing and that was not. How it is that he went from constantly delivering on-target play-action bombs at BC to being almost totally incapable of hitting a sideline go route at Oregon is the biggest mystery I’ve ever encountered as a film reviewer. I don’t know what to take away from this situation either – I’ve gone back and watched the BC film again and I didn’t miss anything then, his throwing motion (including how he plants on his repaired ACL) is the same, I just don’t get what changed. It’s a different playcaller of course but play design doesn’t cause a QB to wildly overthrow or put the ball in the stands on a basic staple of any offense. With the exception of the injuries, every skill position prediction at RB, TE, and WR were completely accurate, though this wasn’t much of a challenge other than projecting that Williams would be more effective at Oregon than USC. I got the Ducks’ offensive line rotation correct, including the prediction that the drive-by-drive substitutions wouldn’t just be limited to just the 2020 season as a covid precaution, though I whiffed on who the backup center would be as I didn’t predict true freshman Powers-Johnson would play.
On defense, I got the shape of the defensive line situation correct — that they’d go to even fronts if they couldn’t get the right personnel healthy – but I predicted that they wouldn’t need to do so because of improving availability that didn’t really materialize with Smith not playing, Jones only getting limited time then transferring out, and Aumavae eventually needing surgery. I got the DE and OLB rotations exactly correct. I didn’t foresee all the ILB injuries of course, but I did get mostly correct how the backup situation would go all the way down to Heaukulani, though I had McNeil in the ILB instead of OLB room and didn’t predict Bassa coming down to backer. I got the secondary all correct, including the looming depth problem at cornerback and the need for the safeties to get a talent upgrade.