Oregon’s offense was flying.
They were undefeated after nonconference play in 2017, in which the Ducks outscored opponents 168-69, leaving a positive feeling around the team going into conference play. But a loss to Arizona State gave Oregon its first stutter of the season. However, it got much worse one game later when quarterback Justin Herbert broke his collarbone in Oregon’s 45-24 win over Cal and was unable to return to the game.
Oregon lost four of the next five games until Herbert’s return.
Now a junior and a speculated Heisman Trophy contender, the starting quarterback is excited to be back on the field.
“You find out how much football means to you, watching on the sideline,” Herbert said at Pac-12 media day. “It wasn’t easy. I took a lot of the blame and I felt pretty bad for a long time.”
When Herbert returns to the field this year, the offensive scheme won’t be too much different with a familiar coaching staff on the sidelines.
“It’s really important to have those guys come back because instead of starting fresh you get to build on what we did last year,” Herbert said. “I thought we had a good year last year and made some big steps, but didn’t roll the way we wanted to, so we’re looking forward to making a big jump this year.”
Without star running back Royce Freeman in the backfield, Tony Brooks-James will become the main running back in Oregon’s offense. But Brooks-James isn’t alone with CJ Verdell expected to get a significant amount of carries as well.
“Those guys are guys that had great offseasons with the strength staff,” Herbert said. “They both put on 10 to15 pounds. They know what they’re doing, experienced running backs, really excited to see what they do this year.”
Head coach Mario Cristobal was full of praise for Verdell at Oregon media day, saying that he has vastly improved since his arrival in Eugene last year.
“When he got here as a freshman, you could kind of trip tackle him or kind of knock him over. And now you better put your hat on him,” said Cristobal. “You better wrap your head up pretty good and rally to the football because he’s going to be a tough guy to bring down.”
Oregon also has a returning receiver core of juniors Dillon Mitchell and Brenden Schooler and sophomore Johnny Johnson III, who will probably be Herbert’s primary targets.
“They haven’t missed one workout,” Herbert said. “They’ve been out there every day. It’s always great to work with them.”
Those three receivers are not alone. Redshirt freshman Daewood Davis and sophomore Jaylon Redd adding to the position depth.
The Ducks also got a boost when Bryan Addison switched his commitment from UCLA to Oregon earlier this summer. Addison, who can play on both sides of the ball, could be an important fixture in the Ducks’ passing game.
“The wide receiver position being thin like we are, you would think naturally, you’d have a chance to play,” Cristobal said.
With experience at the offensive line, faith in a top-rated quarterback and the emergence of a young receiver core, the Ducks’ offense could be lethal in the 2018 season.
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow