On Saturday, Duck fans got their first glimpse of the 2019 Oregon Ducks football team with their annual spring game. The game was competitive as the first and second teams gave fans, recruits and a plethora of former players a show.
Here are three takeaways from Oregon football’s 2019 spring game:
New faces at receiver
With Dillon Mitchell’s departure to the NFL, the Ducks will need new contributors to support a position group which had struggles for most of 2018. Luckily for Oregon, they have plenty of bodies at the position battling for reps this spring.
While the receivers have made strides as a group, freshman Mycah Pittman and Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson were the clear standouts from Saturday’s spring game.
“You felt their impact, you saw them,” coach Cristobal said. “They are all guys that provided immediate value and competition.”
Johnson’s presence stood out amongst Oregon’s other receivers. Standing close to 6’5, with a strong frame, Johnson possesses a combination of height and speed with is rare amongst the group.
On Saturday, he introduced himself to Duck fans, nabbing three balls for 32 yards. First he showcased his height, catching an end zone fade from Justin Herbert which resulted in the games’ first touchdown. Later he showed the speed, grabbing a ball near the sideline for a gain of 20 yards.
“Ultimately it’s just grinding,” Johnson said. “That’s all I really know. … I need to do some fine tuning and get more accustomed to the playbook.”
Mycah Pittman led both teams’ receivers in both yards and catches, finishing with seven receptions for 48 yards. He worked inside with a variety of crossing routes along with several towards the sidelines as he showcased great chemistry with second string quarterback Tyler Shough.
While the depth chart will continue to be in flux until next fall, the spring game performances bode well for the future depth of the position.
Security behind Justin Herbert
In what was ultimately a fairly competitive afternoon by spring game standards, the first and second teams played the majority of the game. At the quarterback position, Justin Herbert and redshirt freshman Tyler Shough were the only ones to receive reps.
Shough, who has been talked up as the clear backup to Herbert, quickly became one of the afternoon’s biggest stories as he proved to be more than competent, leading his offense down the field on several impressive drives.
The second year quarterback finished the day 18-for-31 for 178 yards. Many of his completions came in a impressive 14-for-18 first half.
“A year in, you get to know the guys on offense even more,” Shough said. “[I] just feel really comfortable out there. I just try to have fun. At this point it’s just executing the game plan and the plays. I know I got great guys around me so I just want to get them the ball.”
Shough did much of his work in the short to intermediate range as he connected with a variety of targets. He wasn’t afraid to test the secondary either though, finding Kyle Bucker deep for a gain of 34 yards and freshman Josh Delgado for a gain of 26. He also showcased his mobility, frequently avoiding the oncoming rushers of defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ new scheme.
“He did some really nice things,” Cristobal said. “Made some nice throws, had some opportunities to make some big plays, some we connected on and some we didn’t, but he certainly has grown and improved a good amount throughout the end of last season and the spring.
Instant impact defenders
Of the 10 early enrollees of the 2019 recruiting class, four of them are defensive players. Kayvon Thibodeaux has been bandied about consistently and for good reason. The freshman’s speed was apparent, frequently forcing quarterback Tyler Shough out of the pocket and even sacking him on a fourth down play.
Perhaps the most impressive newcomer however was cornerback Mykael Wright. He accounted for five total tackles, three pass break-ups — two of which prevented touchdowns — and a game-sealing interception in the end zone.
“We felt he was the best at his position in the country,” Cristobal said. “Another guy that just got dropped off three weeks ago, ‘Here’s your playbook, go cover some guys and make some plays.’ Well I guess he took those words to heart.”
At linebacker, Dru Mathis and Ge’Mon Eaford received reps and proved to be productive, accounting for five and three tackles, respectively.
“Linebacker position comes with a lot of stuff, they have to make a lot of calls, they have to fix the front, have to make adjustments,” Cristobal said. “Those two guys were excellent. They are going to be great players for us.”
In the case of many of these players, they will face uphill battles if they hope to secure starting jobs. With that being said however, it is likely that some of, if not many of these newcomers could have important roles in the new defense come fall.