Going into the 2017 season, Darren Carrington was supposed to be the Ducks’ star receiver. The athletic wideout led the Ducks in 2016 with 606 yards and built a reputation for incredible catches.
Unfortunately, he also had become known for his frequent run-ins with law enforcement, which culminated in his dismissal from the Ducks following a DUI.
Now, Oregon’s remaining crop of young receivers are preparing to take the reigns for themselves.
The Ducks’ wideouts enter 2017 led by senior Charles Nelson. Nelson was the team’s second leading receiver in 2016, racking up 554 yards and five touchdowns. While Carrington’s departure makes him the top receiver on the team, Nelson seems unfazed by the role.
“It hasn’t changed my approach at all,” Nelson said. “It’s business; it’s the game. I was excited for the season no matter what. I was excited last year, and the year before that. It’s nothing new.”
Beyond Nelson, however, the Ducks are largely untested.
Sophomore Dillon Mitchell pencils in as the likely number two option, and that’s with only two receptions to his name. However, Mitchell performed well in his two spring games, recording 75 and 104 yards.
Looking forward, Mitchell believes the key to his success lies in his head.
“I took a lot of time to think, and I rushed myself a lot last year,” Mitchell said. “It started to really frustrate me, and I had to get my mind right.”
His solution? Adopt a new persona.
“I took on a Conor McGregor personality,” Mitchell said. “I’m willing to go to combat for any of my teammates, and I know that this year is gonna be a special year for me.”
Behind Mitchell, nothing is certain.
Freshmen Johnny Johnson III, Daewood Davis and Jaylon Redd will all have chances to become impact players. In particular, Johnson is making a splash in practice. Sophomore Brenden Schooler has also converted from safety to receiver, and hopes to be a fixture in his new role.
“We’ve got a good group of young wide receivers,” wide receivers coach Michael Johnson said. “We got veterans like Charles Nelson. We got Dillon Mitchell. … Johnny Johnson’s done a great job in the first couple of days.”
The common characteristic all of the above players share, at least according to Johnson, is their work ethic.
“We’ve got a good group of guys that are working hard and trying to get better each and every day,” Johnson said.
The respect Johnson has for his young players is mutual. Mitchell said that he made a point to understand what they had learned prior to this year, but also established a new status quo. He’s tough, but also encouraging.
“He lets us know that we’re gonna do everything correctly, and we’re gonna clean up all the stuff that we don’t do correctly,” Mitchell said. “Even if we don’t have guys like [Carrington], he just put in our minds that we can do it if we believe in ourselves.”
Follow Aaron Alter on Twitter @aaronalter95