Senior linebacker Kaulana Apelu is entering his fourth and final season as a Duck. Yet this season is the only one where Apelu is playing for the same defensive coordinator as the prior season. So back in the winter, when rumors swirled that Jim Leavitt would leave Oregon, Apelu was just happy that he never got a call from him with bad news.
“Having him on our team is probably one of the biggest wins we have of this 2018 season, so I’m excited,” Apelu said.
Apelu’s appreciation is just one example of a theme discussed throughout 2018 Oregon football media day: staff continuity.
The Ducks are ushering in their third head coach in as many years, and with that usually comes turnover at the assistant coach positions. But head coach Mario Cristobal was promoted from within, and because of that, he was able to retain many assistant coaches. Some left, yes, but the Ducks held on to crucial pieces.
That new-found continuity and familiarity, combined with a team featuring veterans at key positions, gives the Ducks the other theme of media day: hope.
“I’m definitely more optimistic this year because we have the same defense going into year two, and this is a first time for me being with the same defense two years in a row,” junior linebacker Troy Dye said. “Being able to have the defense, same terminology, same guys around you that know what they’re doing and you can focus on the little things of the defense instead of the grand scheme of things, is going to be great for us to have.”
Oregon’s offensive staff has also seen changes throughout the years, but Cristobal retained Marcus Arroyo, last year’s co-offensive coordinator with Cristobal, to coach standout quarterback Justin Herbert.
“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.”
As Herbert referenced, Oregon improved a season ago but not enough for the, ‘Are the Ducks back?’ takes to surface. If Herbert can stay healthy, then an optimist says this team can win 10 games. Winning 10 games means a possible birth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Herbert’s “big jump” could mean leading this team to Mariota-like offensive production and the Heisman attention that comes with it. The offense has talented offensive lineman, enough to where Cristobal said he could see 8-10 guys rotating throughout the year.
Leavitt, a defensive wizard, has some history of working magic in year two. He turned an abysmal Colorado defense into a powerhouse filled with NFL talent, reaching the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon’s defense was awful the year before he came. Last season it was average. So what does that say about what’s in the cards for the Ducks this year?
“I think we’re on the right path,” Dye said. “We still have a little gap that we have to fill that coach Cristobal tells us all the time. … But we’re working towards it, and we’re slowly working that gap a little bit to work towards that Pac-12 Championship and be able to play on that Friday night.”
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917