With three practices under their belts… and after their first in shells the Oregon Ducks faced the local press in their annual preseason media day on Sunday afternoon at Autzen Stadium..
Optimism reigns supreme in every fall camp and the Ducks under first year head coach Mario Cristobal are no exception.
Given the disappointment and frustration that accompanied Willie Taggart’s exit to Florida State a at the end of last season and something of a face plant against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, that optimism might be seen by some as misplaced or careless bravado.
The players aren’t having any of that. Defensive tackle Jordon Scott was blunt – “It was the worst time” he said of the buzz kill after a resounding Civil War victory.
Corner back Thomas Graham echoed Scott’s assessment then said “the whole team took it upon us to bond as brothers no matter who they brought in (as Taggart’s replacement.)
That turned out to be Cristobal and the new head coach got quick buy-in from the full roster once it was announced he would assume the title.
Keeping defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was as equally a popular move with both Graham and Scott.
“It helps a lot having that continuity,” said Graham. “He’s got all the tools in his toolbox this year.”
Linebacker Troy Dye pointed out in Leavitt’s second season at Colorado his defense led the Buffaloes from the doormat of the southern division to an appearance in the Pac-12 conference championship game. Dye’s looking for similar results this year for Oregon
“Colorado was able to make that big turnaround in year two … We’ve just got to keep working and … continue to get better every day … I think we are on the right path.”
Washington and Stanford are again seen as the most likely contenders for the Northern Division crown and the Ducks’ schedule has both coming to Autzen.
“The Pac-12 is a tough conference,” said quarterback Justin Herbert. “But we know what we can do.”
Taken together, the sincerity and the conviction behind the obvious enthusiasm from both the coach and his players lent weight to the notion that while Taggart’s departure was potentially a serious blow to the program, the administration, Cristobal and his staff and the kids themselves found a way to put the foundation in place what will hopefully become the new era of Oregon football.
The Rich Brooks/Mike Bellotti rebuild of the program and the lightning-caught-in-the-bottle by the Chip Kelly.Mark Helfrich regime are now all consigned to the history books. The makeover of the program that started last season survived Taggart’s departure and appears alive and well in 2018.
~ Rick Morgan