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Duck Dive: Oregon Football 2023 Preview

Going deep with the Ducks’ scheme, returning personnel, and unknowns

Oregon Spring Football Game Photo by Ali Gradischer/Getty Images

Special thanks to Adam Chimeo of the Quack 12 Podcast for helping orchestrate and edit our annual Pac-12 Roster Reviews. You can find this week’s episode covering the Oregon Football roster to LISTEN HERE


Oregon was the 6th ranked offense in F+ advanced statistics in 2022. While the Ducks return the starting quarterback and most of the skill talent who produced that offense, they’ll have a new playcaller in OC Stein and some changes on the offensive line in terms of personnel and new OL coach Terry.

Most of what I saw both in the playbook itself and the flexibility to adapt to changing personnel from 2022’s playcaller Kenny Dillingham (now head coach at Arizona State) were also reflected in new OC Stein’s approach at UTSA last year, who had the 26th ranked offense in F+. As such I expect a fairly smooth transition, with only one notable schematic difference – Stein exclusively used 11-personnel whereas Dillingham used two or more tight ends about a third of the time (including two dozen I-formation plays I hadn’t seen at Oregon in decades).

The Ducks had the most efficient offense in the Pac-12 by a wide margin, and a very close second in explosiveness behind USC. While it was a balanced offense with an almost perfect 50/50 run-pass ratio on 1st downs, much of the plus value was in lethal 2nd & short deep passing (as well as 3rd & short passing, as head coach Lanning was one of the most aggressive on 4th down in FBS). In their 12 games against FBS opponents, excluding garbage time, Oregon had a 60.2% success rate on designed passing plays (206 successes vs 136 failures, given the down & distance), with 9.2 adjusted YPA and 22% gaining 15+ yards. Each of those numbers, in my experience from over a decade of charting teams, are over the threshold of championship caliber, though only just over the line and there’s still some room for improvement.

Returning starter #10 QB Nix set a career high NCAA passer rating of 165.7, the 7th highest nationally and 2nd in the conference (Heisman-winner Caleb Williams at USC was 5th at 168.5). That he’d take a big leap with better receiving targets and protection at Oregon compared to his previous three seasons at Auburn was a predictable outcome, though it was still a bit of a surprise how much better he did compared to his average up until that point which was a substandard 126.2.

A lower leg injury late in week 11 contributed to a loss in that game and a diminished rushing output for the rest of the season, which in turn restricted Oregon’s entire rushing attack, but the staff chose to play a banged-up Nix rather than the primary backup, high 4-star #13 QB Thompson from the 2021 cycle. The limited action that Thompson has seen has ranged from some spectacular throws to some baffling disasters, but ultimately he’s never been put in charge of an offense for any meaningful stretch of time over three seasons. There’s only one other scholarship QB on the roster, early enrollee true freshman mid 4-star #16 QB Novosad, as Jay Butterfield has transferred out. I suspect that Thompson is still the primary backup for short-term absences, but unless he’s made a breakthrough or his limited game film to date has been powerfully unfair to him (which is plausible), if Nix is unavailable for an extended period of time the staff may wish to get Novosad started early.

Oregon’s rushing efficiency was elite in 2022 at 71.6% (244 successes vs 97 failures), with 5.7 adjusted YPC and 18% of designed runs gaining 10+ yards. The Ducks had a strong but not overwhelming rushing preference in short-yardage situations but extremely high success rates when they did run – about 60/40 run-pass splits on 2nd & short and 3rd & short with over 86% success rates in those situations.

BYU v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

The Ducks return the top three backs in the rotation: thousand-yard rusher #0 RB Irving had 156 carries and #22 RB Whittington got 779 yards on 139 carries as 1A and 1B, then true freshman 4-star #20 RB James got 46 carries as a short-yardage back. Irving and Whittington were also targeted extensively in the screen and wheel game, with 31 and 22 receptions respectively, while Jordan only had one catch. They also return non-scholarship #29 RB Haasenritter, who got a few carries in garbage time.

The fourth and fifth backs transferred out, Sean Dollars and Byron Cardwell. Both dealt with injuries in their careers and had a tough time getting back into the rotation when Irving and Whittington transferred in from Minnesota and Western Kentucky last year; Cardwell’s skillset was pretty well replicated by the other backs but Dollars had a change-of-pace quality that the Ducks might miss.

There are two early enrolling freshmen, mid 4-star #24 RB Dowdell and low 4-star #27 RB Limar. Both looked ready to play right away in the Spring game if need be; Limar as a replacement for the primary rotational guys, while Dowdell as a big back at 6’2” and 210 lbs — four inches taller than the rest of the room – may have some interesting other uses in the offense.

The tight ends return starter #3 TE Ferguson, a low 4-star from the 2021 cycle, who had 32 catches last year and graded out well as a blocker on my tally sheet as an in-line tight end. They also return the second of two backups at his position, #88 TE Herbert, a low 4-star from the 2019 cycle (and younger brother of former starting QB Justin) who’d missed some developmental time with injury and whose blocking grades are lower, but has a higher yards-per-catch number on his six targets last year.

Oregon loses their starting H-back and the best of the blockers, Moliki Matavao, and the other backup, Cam McCormick (whose journey to playing time has been amazing), both of whom transferred out. I think those were smart moves for them given that there’ll probably be much less available playing time for this unit in Stein’s offense and Ferguson is the best fit for what he was doing in San Antonio, though Ferguson missed much of Spring practices with an an injury and the Ducks scrambled a bit for depth.

There are two scholarship additions, though there are three other depth options worth mentioning. Mid 4-star true freshman #18 TE Sadiq enrolled early and looked playable as a receiver in the Spring game, though ideally he’d bulk up some more as his most recent listed weight was 220 lbs. Just before the Spring game (but not in time to actually play in it), the Ducks got the transfer of low 3-star Casey Kelly from Ole Miss, originally from the 2019 cycle. Kelly converted from a QB in high school (his brother Chad started at Ole Miss) and after redshirting has been a solid blocker and outlet receiver with 28 career catches for 282 yards over the last three seasons; I’ll write up that tape later this month. I expect they brought in Kelly to give Sadiq some breathing room to redshirt.

Oregon has been quiet about Ferguson’s status and with both Matavao and McCormick leaving, a big and talented room has suddenly gotten uncomfortably thin. Herbert has shown some flash at times but has been over shadowed by both younger guys at the same talent level and a much older guy. If Ferguson isn’t ready for the Fall I think Herbert would go in first for his spot with Sadiq behind him as a true freshman regardless of his weight (perhaps as a detached TE if need be), with Kelly used situationally. In the Spring game we also saw two true freshmen, the walk-on #85 TE Brashear and a high 4-star two-way d-lineman, and afterwards they got a non-scholarship transfer from Colorado, Kaden Ludwick, who was a mid 3-star in the 2022 cycle.

Washington v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Oregon returns their two top targeted wideouts, 2021 high 4-star #11 WR Franklin who had 61 catches and plays on the outside at 6’3”, and 2020 low 4-star #1 WR Hutson who had 44 and has played inside and outside (he’s 5’11” and I think he’s best out of the slot, but Hutson was at X in the Spring game). The Ducks also return 2019 low 4-star slot receiver #83 WR Delgado, though he’s missed a lot of playing and practice time with injury. Mid 4-star #17 WR Kasper and borderline 4-star #14 WR Lowe both redshirted last year; they’re tall outside receivers at 6’6” and 6’1”, respectively.

The third, fourth, and fifth targeted receivers have left – Y-receiver Chase Cota signed a UDFA contract with the Lions, while Z-receiver Dont’e Thornton and scatback Seven McGee transferred out. Those three combined for 64 catches, about 37% of the unit’s receptions last year (across all units, departures accounted for 28% of Oregon’s 2022 receptions). Isaiah Brevard, Caleb Chapman, and Isaah Crocker transferred without really seeing the field.

There are five additions to the room. The three transfers are all originally from the 2020 cycle; low 3-star #15 WR Te. Johnson from Troy and low 4-star #5 WR Holden from Alabama transferred in prior to the Spring game, while high 4-star Gary Bryant from USC transferred in afterwards. The two prep recruits are low 4-star #80 WR Cozart who enrolled early and 5-star Jurrion Dickey who arrives in the Fall.

I reviewed Johnson and Holden’s film previously, the former is a slightly built (though looked a little bulkier in the Spring game) slot man with incredible acceleration and was rated by PFF as the 2nd most valuable receiver in the country behind Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison, while the latter is a 6’3” Y-receiver with great hands and toughness whom I think the Tide underutilized. Bryant showed some excellent tape in 2021 with 44 receptions (albeit on a lousy team with a fired coach, so few noticed) as a 5’11” inside receiver that I’ll publish a review of shortly. Cozart and Dickey are both listed at 6’3” and I saw Cozart playing Z in the Spring game.

On the outside, Franklin of course has his spot locked down, and I think Dickey’s talent is too overwhelming to keep off the field even as a late-arriving true freshman. It’s a young group, but with Cozart, Kasper, and Lowe’s talent and having seen all of them play in Spring, the outside receivers should be deep enough that Hutson could be moved back inside where I think he’s better suited … or Hutson could be kept outside for the benefit of his experience. Holden’s also big enough to play outside and Alabama used him at both X and Z at times last year.

Slot should be a pretty brutal Fall camp battle between Bryant and Johnson as top-end burners, plus Hutson as Oregon’s veteran. Holden has a different skillset as an inside receiver, more of a possession guy, and I think will trade off with tight ends in 10-personnel or used situationally. Delgado is the odd man out, I’ve actually been surprised he hasn’t transferred as literally every other player on the team in his production profile surrounded by talented depth did, so perhaps there’s something else going on here.

I think Hutson’s versatility resolves the only real question about this unit’s production, which is replacing Thornton opposite Franklin on the outside. Either at least one of the four bluechip freshmen steps up – high odds, with that many talented candidates — or Hutson can take the job without harm to the Ducks’ inside receiving production given all the proven depth there.

The offensive line loses both starting tackles, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu who was drafted in the 6th round by the Ravens and TJ Bass who signed a UDFA with the Cowboys, as well as the starting center Alex Forsyth who was drafted in the 7th by the Broncos. The Ducks used a planned drive-by-drive rotation among four players at the two guard spots; Ryan Walk rotated at both positions (and also backed up Forsyth at the end of the year when he was out with an injury) so he got about two-thirds of meaningful reps, and he’s graduated. Backup left tackle Dawson Jaramillo transferred out, as has Bram Walden after missing both seasons since enrolling in 2021 with a knee injury.

The line returns the three other players in that guard rotation: 2020 mid 3-star #55 LG Harper, 2018 low 4-star #74 RG S. Jones, and 2021 mid 4-star #58 OG Powers-Johnson. They also return 2022 5-star #76 LT Conerly, who was used as a backup, an extra lineman on jumbo sets, and even to catch a touchdown. The four other scholarship returners who got garbage time reps were 2020 mid 3-star #75 OT F. Laloulu, and the trio of 2022 recruits mid 4-star #52 OG Iuli, mid 3-star #73 OG K. Rogers, and mid 3-star #77 OG Wooten.

There are eight additions to the room, four of whom are prep recruits I expect to redshirt. Those are low 4-stars #72 OG I. Laloulu (younger brother of #75) and #78 OT Wilson who enrolled early, and mid 3-stars Bryce Boulton and Lipe Moala who arrive in the Fall. The other four are transfers and I expect to be in the mix for starting jobs in Fall camp: #54 OG Angilau from Texas, #65 OT Cornelius from Rhode Island, #71 OT Silva from the Juco ranks, and Nishad Strother from East Carolina.

In the Spring game there wasn’t a strict division of first and second teams, but I thought it was telling that the Green offense with Nix and Franklin had an o-line consisting of Conerly, Iuli, Powers-Johnson, Jones, and Silva from left to right, while the Yellow team had the Laloulu brothers, walk-on #70 C Pickard, Rogers, and Cornelius. The complication is that Harper and Angilau have both been injured throughout Spring practices (Angilau missed all of 2022 with an injury as well, I reviewed his 2021 tape). I suspect Strother, a multiple-year starter at ECU I’ll be reviewing later in July, was brought in due to this injury situation at guard.

Conerly is an incredible talent at tackle and even based on limited film I have no doubt he has the left tackle job. Powers-Johnson had the best grades of any of the three main returners on my tally sheet; he was a backup center in 2021 and played that position in high school as well, so I think he’ll keep that spot in 2023. There should be an interesting Fall camp battle for right tackle between Cornelius and Silva, who were both considered bluechip values and are highly experienced, with the older Laloulu (who’s slimmed down by about 70 lbs since enrolling, to a mean 330) as backup.

If everyone is healthy, I suspect Harper and Angilau will get the starting left and right guard spots. Angilau’s film at Texas was excellent, and he graded out much better than Jones has (I’ve always felt Jones was better suited to play tackle, and if Oregon has adequate depth at guard he could also be used to back up the outside spots as well). I think Strother, Jones, and then Iuli will be the backup options, with Strother probably starting if someone isn’t ready to go – I haven’t reviewed his film yet but I would be surprised if he doesn’t wind up grading out ahead of Jones.

New OL coach Terry has his work cut out for him given all that the Ducks are replacing on their line, the superiority of which in a conference that typically neglects it being the key to their success for more than two decades. I was impressed with Terry’s short career at Hawai’i, coaching perhaps the only functional unit on an otherwise deeply dysfunctional team, and his history as an Oregon GA (including working with some of these linemen before he went to the Islands) seems helpful as well.

If the line is as I expect it to be – Conerly / Harper / Powers-Johnson / Angilau / Cornelius, with Jones, Silva, and Strother as alternates – then that’s seven linemen with starting experience plus a 5-star as the pool of eight. I have some reservations regarding half of that group being new to Eugene, but three of those four arrived early and I think they’ll be starting at most two of them, which somewhat mitigates my longstanding concern about transfer-based o-lines, and they’ve got returners Laloulu and Iuli for backups as well. Given the quality of last year’s group and the number of departures there should be something of a step back here, but the talent and experience of the roster look adequate to make it a manageable one without any depth issues.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Washington at Oregon Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Oregon finished ranked 51st in defensive F+ in 2022. Unlike the offense, which remained in the top 10 all season despite the early blowout loss to Georgia and late dip in output from Nix’s injury, the week-to-week defensive ranking was something of a rollercoaster. It fell into the 70s to start the year, climbed into the low 40s by midseason after containing top-25 offenses BYU, Arizona, and UCLA, but then fell back into the 50s when they couldn’t prevent comebacks in losses to UW and OSU.

The structure of Lanning’s Mint defense will remain in place for 2023, with the same staff excepting co-DC and safeties coach Hampton from Tulane replacing Matt Powledge at that job. (Powledge returned to Baylor to succeed his mentor, Ron Roberts, as DC, while Roberts is now Auburn’s new DC.) The defensive personnel, however, are undergoing a major overhaul, with every position seeing departing starters and most getting multiple additions through the portal who are likely to start.

The Ducks had two nose tackles in the primary rotation in 2022, Jordon Riley who was drafted in the 7th round by the Giants, and 2018 low 4-star #55 DT Taimani who returns. They also get back from injury 2017 high 3-star #50 DT Aumavae, who had great 2019 and 2021 campaigns but a pretty quiet covid season and then missed last year; he was playing in the first line in the Spring game and looked at 100% to me. The Ducks also return 2022 low 4-star #52 DT Roberts who got in some backup time last year but I believe maintained his redshirt. Roberts was playing nose with the second line in the Spring game, as was early enrollee 2023 high 3-star #59 DT Pome’e. All four are north of 310 lbs; the rotation and playable depth at nose look pretty clear.

The other tackle in this structure is a big B-gap plugging 4i. Both primary rotational players return here, 2019 low 4-star #95 DT Ware-Hudson and 2018 mid 3-star #98 DT C. Rogers (he and Riley transferred in last year with DL coach Tuioti from Nebraska). Although it’s unusual for true freshmen to play right away on the line, I expect that to happen with borderline 4-star #93 DT Gardner who enrolled early and was playing here with the twos in Spring, and low 4-star A’mauri Washington when he arrives in the Fall. The third prep recruit is low 4-star Terrance Green who has an ideal frame for a 4i in this defense, but the most recent weight listing I can find for Green indicates he hasn’t filled out as much as Washington has so he may need to redshirt before playing; we’ll have to see during Fall camp.

Beyond Riley, the departures from the tackles are backup Keanu Williams who transferred to UCLA and will probably start there, backup edge Treven Ma’ae who’d bulked up every year and probably would have moved inside this year had he not transferred out, and Sir Mells and Sua’ava Poti who didn’t see the field last year.

Oregon has the talent and experience for high quality interior line play in 2023, with questions about Aumavae’s return and whether the freshmen are ready to live up to their projections, but otherwise the least amount of uncertainty on the defense.

Stanford v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

This structure has three edge positions – a 5-tech who lines up over the offensive tackle instead of inside him as a 4i does, a “Jack” weakside OLB who’s off of the 4i on most plays, and a strongside OLB who comes in opposite when they go heavy. Somewhat confusingly last year, the staff sometimes had the same player shift positions, and the roster seemed to capriciously list some guys as “DL” and others “OLB” regardless of where they actually played.

Oregon returns two starters, 2019 mid 3-star #3 DE Dorlus for the 5-tech spot (though he’s a versatile player and often starts stand-up outside the tackle or shaded inside, something that gets him consistent day-2 draft grades) and 2019 high 4-star #18 OLB Funa at strongside. They also return backup mid 3-star #90 DE Shipley, though he was hurt for the Spring game and I’m not sure where he fits into this defense, as well as 2022 borderline 4-star #32 OLB Winston who redshirted last year and was playing on the weakside in Spring.

The Ducks’ pass rush was largely ineffective in 2022, and almost the entire unit responsible for it has moved on or been processed out. DJ Johnson was drafted in the 3rd round by the Dolphins and Maceal Afaese medically retired. Backup edge rushers and Jack OLB candidates Brandon Buckner, Anthony Jones, Jabril McNeill, Jaden Navarrette, and Bradyn Swinson have all transferred out, most without breaking onto the field last year in the new scheme.

There are seven additions to the edges, six of them prep recruits. The transfer is 2020 5-star #1 DE Burch from South Carolina – he was an end in the Gamecocks’ 4-down scheme and I think that’s why he’s kept that label, but from watching his film and where he lined up in the Spring game, I think Burch fits as the starting weakside OLB as a Duck.

Four of the preps enrolled early: mid 4-star #91 DE Bowens, high 3-star #56 OLB Moore, borderline 4-star #44 OLB Tuioti (son of the coach), and high 4-star #10 DE Uiagalelei (brother of the OSU QB). In the Spring game, Bowens and Uiagalelei were playing 5-tech with the second line (the latter also played some tight end, as mentioned earlier), while Tuioti was at strongside OLB. Moore was held out with a minor injury but I think he’d play weakside based on his frame and length. Low 4-stars Ashton Porter and Blake Purchase arrive in the Fall; I think the former projects as a 5-tech while the latter looks like a weakside OLB, but I suspect they’ll redshirt with the guys ahead of them.

I think that the most likely primary backups are Winston behind Burch on the weakside, Uiagalelei behind Dorlus on the end, and Tuioti behind Funa on the strongside. A couple of true freshmen that high in the lineup is a bit eyebrow-raising – this group needed to be turned over though the confidence the staff showed in prep guys instead of more proven portal or Juco additions is a remarkable gamble – but Uiagalelei’s talent looks like the real deal and the technical development from the coach’s kid appears ahead of schedule.

There are 11 scholarships here for three positions (or two and a half, maybe, the strongside OLB isn’t used much against this 10- and 11-pers dominated conference so many of those guys can double up as depth at other spots) which is certainly an adequate number of bodies, and with a .9140 average rating there’s plenty of talent too, but the split in experience is stark – three senior veterans vs a lightly used backup and seven freshmen who’ve never seen the field.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 UCLA at Oregon Photo by Steve Conner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The inside linebackers return one starter, #2 ILB Bassa (a jersey number change this year), who was a low 4-star safety in the 2021 cycle pressed into service his true freshman year due to a rash of injuries, and eventually displaced one of the 5-star backers from the previous cycle. They also return 2022 mid 4-star #26 ILB D. Jackson who redshirted last year but got in some garbage-time reps.

Otherwise this room has emptied out – the other starter Noah Sewell was taken in the 5th by the Bears, while backups Keith Brown, Justin Flowe, and Jackson LaDuke transferred, as did the other redshirt freshman Harrison Taggart.

There are four additions to the unit, after a fashion. One is a prep recruit, high 3-star #54 ILB Mixon who enrolled early and was with the twos in the Spring game. The other three come from the 2019 cycle - high 3-star #9 ILB Hill has been a starting nickelback for Oregon for three different DCs with 110 tackles over the last three seasons, but has been converted to a backer this year, while low 4-star #4 ILB Jacobs and mid 3-star #42 ILB Soelle transferred from Iowa and Arizona State. I watched both of Jacobs and Soelle’s film as backers in 4-down defenses, Jacobs as a SAM and Soelle as a WILL, though in their respective systems they both typically lined up outside the box and were concerned with intermediate coverage of tight ends, running backs, and slot receivers.

What’s clear from the personnel shift in this unit is that the body types have changed from predominantly traditional backers who are built like thick, squat run-stoppers, to longer and leaner frames built for pass coverage. Two of them are converted DBs, the two transfers’ previous jobs were closer to being nickelbacks than middle linebackers, and the two freshmen recruited by this staff are completely different body types at 6’2” and 215 lbs than those recruited by the previous staff. That appears to be in keeping with the Mint defensive philosophy of spilling instead of stuffing the run and maximizing defensive resources on stopping the pass first.

I think that Bassa will keep his starting job and Jacobs will get the start next to him, with Hill and Soelle as the primary backups. Six scholarships with four being veterans and two developmental guys is appropriate depth for the unit, though I maybe would have taken one more for breathing room.

Hill’s switch into the ILB unit means Oregon no longer has either of its nickels for the past three seasons, as Bennett Williams signed a UDFA with the Dolphins (he finished his college career with eight interceptions at an average of 18.8 yards per return, five more and 4.5 yards better than his old man who played DB for Cal back in the 80s). The defensive back room also loses redshirt freshmen Jonathan Flowe and Trejon Williams, who both transferred out without playing.

The backfield returns last year’s starters at field and boundary safety, the pair of 2018 mid 4-stars #13 DB Addison and #7 DB Stephens. They also return three backups who played in every game: 2021 low 4-star #12 DB David, 2020 mid 3-star #24 Greenfield, and 2022 low 4-star #14 DB Terrell.

There are five additions to the room whom I saw playing nickel or safety in the Spring game. The two transfers are 2021 low 4-star #0 DB Ty. Johnson from Ole Miss and #33 DB Ev. Williams who didn’t have a 24/7 composite score out of high school in 2019 but is considered a .91 transfer value after starting at Fresno State for the past four seasons (he’s already outpaced his father with four picks and 16.0 yards per return, but hasn’t yet caught his older brother Bennett). The three early enrolling prep recruits are all low 4-stars: #31 DB DeCambra, #25 DB Martin (son of the CB coach), and #19 DB Turner.

It was widely speculated that Johnson was brought in to play nickel at Oregon, since his position in Ole Miss’ every-down dime defense was roughly analogous to it. But after studying his and Williams’ film, I wasn’t surprised at all to see them playing field and boundary safety, respectively, with the first line in the Spring game. Both are coming from different systems than this one, but I think Johnson’s primary assets are speed and ranginess rather than tackling, while Williams is excellent at running the alley and I think is a natural at boundary in the structure of this defense. Addison and Stephens were the first line counterparts on the other teams, so this is looking like a Fall camp battle, though from watching the film of all four players extensively I think the transfers have the edge for winning starting jobs.

Greenfield, Martin, and Terrell were playing nickel in the Spring game. It’s usually a mistake to crown a breakout star from these things, but Martin’s play with the ones was eye-opening – he looked far more refined and technically sound in his angles and tackling than expected from a true freshman. The fact that he’s a coach’s kid made all of this click into place – I suspect Johnson to field and Martin to nickel was planned all along, and I’ll predict Martin wins the starting job in Fall … and possibly already has.

David was held out of the Spring game with an injury but I think he’s the third man in at field safety, or possibly the primary backup with Addison switching back to the dime defender in those packages which he played in 2021 pretty well. DeCambra and Turner were at boundary in the Spring game and will probably get a little backup time behind Williams and Stephens.

The moves here have the appearance of moving on from the returners without actually processing them – the returning nickel to a different unit and the returning safeties directly challenged with experienced transfer replacement candidates. That keeps a lot of experienced depth in the unit – seven of the ten are non-freshmen and they combined for 252 tackles last year – plus the backers get Hill who’s better suited to the staff’s philosophy there. The problem for the Ducks has been that the returning DBs simply haven’t graded out all that well in recent years, with slow-footed coverage issues for Hill and instincts issues for Addison and Stephens. We’ll have to wait and see whether the new players actually constitute an upgrade but this looks to me like an across-the-board attempt at one.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Oregon at Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The cornerbacks lose one of their starters, Christian Gonzalez who was taken in the 1st round by the Patriots. Three others transferred out after basically not playing last year: Darren Barkins, Avante Dickerson, and Jalil Tucker. They return the other starter, 2019 borderline 4-star #11 CB Bridges, the primary backup 2020 5-star #8 CB Manning, and the next backup in, 2022 mid 4-star #6 CB Florence.

There are six additions to the room, four prep recruits and two transfers, though only two of those six were available for the Spring game so we saw some walk-ons rounding out the unit and it’s a little tricky to nail down the pecking order going into Fall camp. The portal additions are both from the 2021 cycle, low 4-star #15 CB K. Jackson from Alabama (a backup in Tuscaloosa I wasn’t able to get enough film on to review prior to his play in the Spring game) and low 3-star Nikko Reed from Colorado (he committed after Spring; I’ve been watching his film for a while and will write it up later this month). The true freshmen are mid 4-star Daylen Austin, high 3-star #30 CB S. Davis, mid 3-star Collin Gill, and high 4-star Rodrick Pleasant, of whom only Davis enrolled early.

I think it’s about time for Manning to step up into a starting spot, he’s on the experience trajectory for it and he finished the last two seasons strongly. Bridges is a very reliable tackler who doesn’t give up extra yards (a more valuable trait than fans credit) though not perfectly built for corner coverage and he could use a challenge in Fall camp. There are certainly plenty of options with Florence, Jackson, and Reed, the first two of whom are more talented on-paper as corners, and the last was trained by CB coach Martin before he left Colorado. The freshmen Austin and Pleasant also have very eye-catching Hudl tape and while I almost always think corners should redshirt and get some experience, this staff loves to say “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

Accountability Corner

In last year’s preview, I predicted a substantial jump in performance for Oregon’s offense with Dillingham and Nix after reviewing their film at Auburn and comparing the surrounding receiver and offensive line talent, and that’s just what happened. The playbook was mostly as described, especially concerning RPOs and tight end usage, however the amount of multiple-TE sets that Dillingham employed was a surprise (though I did make a note that Herbert and McCormick were still very good if they got healthy) and some of it like the I-formation stuff really came out of left field. I wrote that the loss of Dye and Verdell from the running back room wouldn’t hurt the bottom line, that all five backs would be used because the film of the two transfers was at least as good as the returners, and that RB coach Locklyn was inclined to use a true freshman back, all of which was accurate … though I didn’t go all the way out on the limb and say that the transfers would eclipse and eventually push the returners out of the room as they did. I thought the wide receiver room was a net upgrade compared to the 2021 unit despite some loss in production and that was certainly true, especially the advantage of finally playing some real size on the outside. The options I ran through for starters including Franklin, Thornton, Hutson, and Cota wound up being accurate, though I thought Crocker would be used more. My predictions about the offensive line personnel were 100% correct, including that Harper, Powers-Johnson, and Conerly would play. I thought that Klemm would completely stop the planned full-line rotations that Mirabal started as a covid-era precaution two years prior, which was half-right – the tackles and center didn’t rotate, but the guards did.

Defensively, I think the description of the new structure was accurate and that the personnel from the previous 3-down front mapped onto this one cleanly was true, though I think I was overall too sanguine about the ability of the defensive line to stop (or spill) the run on their own without immediate linebacker support as the Mint front demands. The previous system under Tim DeRuyter definitely uses the backers as tackling machines in the middle and I should have noted that the linemen would have to make that transition. I noted that both Aumavae and Afaese were injured in the Spring but expected to be back for the Fall, that didn’t happen for either, though I did note that depth on the line was a question mark given how many guys were hurt. I predicted a step back for the OLBs and that nobody was particularly proven outside of Funa, and that he played on the strongside which isn’t where the pass rush comes from in this structure, and that indeed turned out to be a disappointing unit. I thought the ILBs would be better than in 2021 simply because they were deeper and healthier, which was true as far as that goes. I thought Flowe and LaDuke would both be higher in the rotation than Bassa because they’re more natural linebackers, which I regret as a misunderstanding of what the staff is looking for in the position. I think simply being happy for the unit’s health blinded me to the larger schematic and body-type concerns here. I missed on Bridges in the secondary, I thought he’d be going back to the safety unit instead of staying at starting corner, but otherwise all starting and backup rotational predictions were correct in the backfield.

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