As soon as quarterback Justin Herbert announced he would be returning for his senior season, the expectations for Oregon’s offense in 2019 skyrocketed.
With a preseason Heisman candidate back running the show and 10 returning starters surrounding him, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo has all the tools to succeed in his second year in charge. Last year, the Ducks averaged 34.8 points per game, the program’s lowest total since 2006. However, with a full season under the belts of both the players and coaches in Arroyo’s offense, Oregon appears poised to improve upon that number this season.
“We’ve come a healthy way in regards to guys understanding what we’re trying to get done, and giving them some freedom,” Arroyo said of the experienced offense.
The offensive line, one of the top groups in the country, projects to start four seniors in Calvin Throckmorton, Dallas Warmack, Jake Hanson and Shane Lemieux. The lone underclassman, sophomore Penei Sewell, will start at left tackle after making USA Today’s Freshman All-America team in 2018. Experienced senior Brady Aiello figures to see extended snaps as well, and could push Warmack for the starting job at right guard.
“Both those guys would start at any Pac-12 school,” offensive line coach Alex Mirabal said on Warmack and Aiello. “They’re rotating on a daily basis.”
In the backfield, CJ Verdell and Travis Dye are both back after enjoying successful freshman seasons in 2018. Last year, Verdell scored 12 touchdowns and became the only Power-5 player in the nation to amass 1,000 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving, while Dye added over 700 yards on the ground and five scores of his own. Beyond the returning duo, sophomore Cyrus Habibi-Likio and freshman Sean Dollars could see carries in a supporting role as well. Habibi-Likio scored seven touchdowns on only 18 carries in 2018, and hopes to expand upon his goal-line role in 2019.
“It’s definitely a competitive group,” Verdell said of the running backs. “We’ve got a lot of talent in the room. Coach [Jim] Mastro does a very good job.”
At tight end, junior Cam McCormick makes his return from a broken leg suffered in the 2018 season opener, and senior Jacob Breeland will look to build on a 377-yard, 2-touchdown junior campaign. The run-blocking boost from McCormick will surely add a much-needed element to Arroyo’s power run game. Freshmen Spencer Webb and Patrick Herbert have both played well in camp, and could get some playing time if the opportunity presents itself.
“I just want to work as hard as I can and hopefully end up in a starting spot,” McCormick said. “It’s a big competition in the tight-end room. It’s great. It’s a healthy competition and it’s what all of us need in order to push each other to get better.”
The wide receiver position is where most, if not all, the offensive question marks reside.
Dillon Mitchell is the lone offensive starter that won’t return in 2019, but he rewrote much of the Oregon receiving record book in 2018 and was Herbert’s favorite target by a significant margin. Senior Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson has an opportunity to step into that role this year, but he’ll have to take advantage of his 6’4” frame in the red zone more frequently to do so. He had just two career touchdowns in 37 career games at Penn State.
Junior Johnny Johnson III started most of 2018, but struggled with drops and saw his targets gradually decrease as the season progressed. Johnson’s development will be key at a position group without much experience.
Junior Jaylon Redd is the team’s leading returning receiver, and projects to start in the slot after catching 38 passes for 433 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Senior Brenden Schooler will most likely miss the first few games of 2019 with a foot injury, but when healthy, should also be in the mix for a good amount of targets. True freshman Mycah Pittman was also injured in fall camp, but had impressed and has a chance to push for playing time upon his return. In their absence, look for freshmen Bryan Addison and Josh Delgado to see increased reps.
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