Signing Day is like the day pitchers and catchers report for spring training. It's a day for optimism and best-case scenarios. For asking how the team could be if everything breaks just right and a couple of young phenoms come through and an aging veteran has a surprise great year.
The optimism is warranted, because we are talking about the lives of young men. If you can't be optimistic about their ability and potential, maybe you ought to check yourself and ask why you invest time and effort into college football. If you constantly see life as a glass-half-full proposition, maybe it's time you ordered another round, reconsidered your beverage of choice, or learned to sip slower and enjoy the vintage.
Always be closing: the Ducks drew criticism for the way they closed in recruiting, but in the last ten days, they added Charles Nelson, Austin Maloata, Mattrell McGraw and Kahlil Oliver.
It isn't that we're Pollyannas or incapable of being starkly realistic. It's simply that this is February. The winter gloom is nearly over. 21 promising young men chose the University of Oregon. 17 were team captains. It's time for the grown adults to snap out of it, congratulate them, and celebrate all the ways this will continue to be a good football team with players worth rooting for and caring about. These are 21 outstanding additions to a football team that's been ranked in the top 11 for six straight years. The misery, pessimism and gloom I've read today would choke the life out of a tulip and freeze the blossoms off a cherry tree.
The Oregon coaches landed 21 players from 10 states. They visited a thousand high schools in 31. According to Rob Moseley at goducks.com, the class is rated class No. 21 nationally by 247sports.com, No. 22 by Scout.com and No. 26 by Rivals.com. That's in line with recent classes, but the lowest since 2009. Of course, the '09 class went to four BCS bowls. Of course, the '09 class had Chip Kelly to coach them.
History proves out the good and bad of leaders, ideas and athletes. Oregon's '08 class had Blount, James, Barner, Jordan, Alonso, but ranked #5 in the Pac-10, 32nd in the nation. In 2010 Oregon's top two recruits, Lache Seastrunk and Curtis White never played a down. Marcus Mariota was the 123rd best quarterback in the country according to one scouting service. In the words of the immortal Joaquin Andujar, "all of baseball can be summed up in just one little word: youneverknow." Football recruiting, even more so.
A few specific observations:
1. "The Ducks didn't recruit any defensive tackles."
Well, yeah, they did. Centennial High commit Austin Maloata measured 6-2, 291 during his visit, and the Ducks scooped him up in the last week before Signing Day. A former USC commit, the 3-star has a good upside and motor, the quickness and strength to play early. They may also add Ratu Mafileo, the 315-lb. nose tackle from Hawaii. Junior college transfer Tua Talia should be here for spring ball and could play immediately, probably at around 280.
It looks like Pellum might return to the quick, agile front that the Ducks employed when they had Brandon Bair and Zac Clark manning the middle. With improved play by the linebackers, Oregon's front seven could improve greatly in 2014, surprising the critics.
2. One important thing to keep in mind is, the Ducks return 10 of 11 starters on offense, and the country's best quarterback.
Oregon football isn't dead because of an average year in recruiting. The results are pretty much in line with what they always been. By adding Royce Freeman, Haniteli Lousi and Jalen Brown to an already loaded offense, the Ducks are going to continue to outscore some people in 2014. They may outscore everybody.
3. "The Ducks 'whiffed' on Trey Lealaimatafao and Juju Smith."
This is the single biggest reason many observers are down on the class, the lack of a splash Signing Day surprise. Oregon came close on two elite recruits who ultimately elected to stay close to home. They didn't really lose on either one of them, only gained some momentum very late before losing out to other considerations.
The two were great athletes and would have been tremendous additions. But the angst over not getting them is a little misplaced, overshadowing the fact that the Ducks kept every one of their committed players, and added Mattrell McGraw, Charles Nelson, Austin Matoala and Kahlil Oliver in the closing days. That's a strong close. To swing and miss on two top prospects is no embarrassment, and it doesn't diminish the quality and potential of the players Oregon committed: Jimmie Swain. Royce Freeman. Tony James. Justin Hollins, Henry Mondeaux. Lousi, Talia and Dominque Harrison. Tyrell Crosby, who can dunk a basketball at 6-5, 295. Morgan Mahalak, who is a great kid, a mature leader and the sweetest pocket passer the Ducks have seen in a long while, with good mobility.
Mahalak also has a sense of humor. At his school he did the traditional hat ceremony, but all four hats were Oregon hats. He chose the one with profile of The Duck.
4. The Ducks met major needs at receiver, offensive line and the secondary, and added speed and character.
John Neal continues to be one of the best player evaluators and recruiters in the business. He sent two players to the Pro Bowl this year, retained Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and added Harrison, the Bay Valley Conference Defensive Player of the year, Arrion Springs, a dynamite cover corner and athlete, McGraw, who had offers from Notre Dame, Alabama, Texas A&M and half the SEC, Glen Ihenacho, who has two brothers who've played in the NFL, and Kahlil Oliver, a dynamic, under-the-radar athlete who is smart enough to study medicine.
That's a great nucleus in a secondary that's been outstanding for ten years, in a conference that likes to put the ball in the air. They led the nation in interceptions in 2012. This group will return there in the future.
People wanted more beef on the offensive line, and Steve Greatwood went out and added 305-lb. Braden Eggert, Crosby and Lousi. In addition, he redshirted Evan Voeller, Doug Brenner, Elijah George and Jake Pisachik this year. While it would have been nice to add another o-linemen (the Ducks offered several, in the final five for Chris Brown, Nick Gates and Quinn Bailey, among others) prospects had to be a little intimidated by the fact that Oregon returns 105 starts on the line this year, including Hroniss Grasu, Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher. Grasu is a 3-year starter; Johnstone and Fisher, two-year starters. It's a veteran unit, one of the strengths of the team, likely to be better with the addition of Lousi and another year of development for Cameron Hunt, who started the last seven games as a true freshman.
At receiver, Jalen Brown is going to be a special player, and 3-star Charles Nelson has rare, game-breaking speed. Tony James will contribute in the future also in the dual role of slot receiver/running back. The Ducks redshirted three outstanding prospects in Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington and Devon Allen. Stanford's 6-5, and Allen is blazing fast. Carrington is one of the best athletes on the team, a guy who shined on the scout team.
Given the way Bralon Addison and Josh Huff blossomed under Matt Lubick last year, the passing game remains in very good hands, especially with Mariota delivering the football.
Regarding the defensive line, Helfrich is saying good things about the development of T.J. Daniel, who moved over from the offense and redshirted. Listed at 6-6, 256, he's filling out and could develop into a player. The Ducks have always excelled at developing guys. Brandon Bair and Spencer Paysinger are two notable examples. Recruiting is only the beginning of the process.
The average star rating this year is 3.26, just a fraction off what it's been for the last six years. The big difference is that the Ducks signed a small class, partly because the departing senior class was small. The quality and character remain exceptional.
Royce Freeman is as powerful, strong and exciting a high school running back as you can find. Ed Orgeron rated him second in the country, a fabulous addition to the Oregon offense. James and Nelson are faster than Adoree Jackson and Juju Smith. Nelson receives the ball beautifully, a player the Ducks got at a discount coming off an ACL tear. He ran a 10.58 100 as a sophomore, and he's rehabbed diligently.
Wait till you see Morgan Mahalak throw the football, or Haniteli Lousi lead a stretch play.
At linebacker the Ducks added versatile athletes in Jimmie Swain and Johnnie Ragin, after a season in which they only lost one, Boseko Lokombo. Danny Mattingly, Tyree Robinson and Torrodney Prevot add a lot of ability to the linebacker group for 2014, and new position coach Erik Chinander provides a NFL perspective and new energy.
Instead of suffering over this class or doubting its potential, take a lesson from Pete Carroll. It's Signing Day. Get fired up about the possibilities.
Nice reminder of seeing things in the positive. Although every realist knows that our D line has gotten pushed around by big, physical lines and that needs to stop for the Ducks to be in the hunt for a national championship.
The main goal is to get guys that will help Oregon beat Stanford. Plain and simple. Reading that Royce was recruited by Stanford and he chose the Ducks, was down right scary. Last thing the Ducks need is a Gaffney with speed running at them. Sometimes it's just as much about the other team not getting a player as much as you getting them.
On the topic of this years recruits, how can anyone not get excited. Some will be a bust, that just happens. This just may be the highest scoring offence Oregon has put together IMO. Hate to say but DAT was just a blimp on the radar last year. Someone will take his place this year and everything will be Rose'y again.
Realistically, the glass is ALWAYS full, 1/2 liquid, 1/2 air, is still full. Based on those 8 undisclosed criteria, this is an excellent class and is exactly what the coaches wanted.
Just saw something in a current Oregon commit who had slipped my attention completely. People need to go check out Dominique Harrison highlights. He is a JC commit that Ed Ogeron in the past few days said was one of three kids in the current class that are woefully underrated (a second Oregon commit, Nelson, was also one of the three). I don't believe I've seen someone as close to Red Grange in video as I've just watched reviewing the highlights of Harrison. Time after time he disappears into a pile of people and comes out the other side. The first highlight on youtude I still can't believe! You have to see it to appreciate it. Just maybe a new Galloping Ghost?
Hey Dale, if you're accepting ideas on article topics, I would like to hear your thoughts, as well as others, on what a long-term recruiting pitch at Oregon could be.
We used to do the JUCO thing like Oregon State but now nearly all colleges are open to JUCOs. Then we sold "Nike" which got us some guys but new uniforms aren't as new as they used to be. Then we pitched the spread offense and speed, which has since been replicated by bigger and more local schools to recruiting hotbeds (IMO, we wouldn't get DeAnthony today like we did 3 years ago for this reason). So what could Oregon do to have a sustainable recruiting strategy? And what's the pitch? I have some ideas but I'd like to hear others' thoughts.
Just simply the most outstanding write-up I've seen. You seem to always put everything into perspective Dale. You are 100% correct in your analysis and it was indeed a pleasure reading while nodding my head "yes" at every paragraph. James and Nelson ARE faster than Jackson and Smith. I'm going to stop now just to read your assessment again. Well done, your the best. Go Ducks WTD
NO I wouldn't be dissapointed about this class, and the Coaching staff blew it on D Lineman because they didn't offer any and they screwed the POOCH again, but it's a wait and see because I will never predict this Team to WIN the NATTY like I and many others did the last few years, but this Team is Loaded but it will come down mainly to this O Line and how much bigger they all play at this year and as far as I'M concerned if Tyler Johnston can't keep his weight up above 270 lbs then he shouldn't be starting at LT no matter how good he is, and the Line could not run up the middle and until they can continually do this they won't get to that 4 Team Playoff let alone win the PAC 12 this year. It all starts up front and this Team needs Grinders with a MEAN streak, and hopefully that's what we get this year that was missing last year an ATTITUDE that were going to BEAT you no matter what like when Chip was here he instilled that confidence. Also Marcus needs to be the Leader of this Offense and what I mean by that He needs to be the Captain of this O and lead this Team, because there's NO Team in the PAC that's as Talented as our O.
Although it would have been nice to add another lineman, O or D, I'm fine with topping out around 21 scholarships this class. Remember, the 2015 class is LOADED with Duck-type athletes. Our staff has made great strides already outlining what might be a masterpiece. The Ducks have youthful logjams at many positions currently and just added players that will challenge for time from day one. 21, I'm ok with that!
Yesterday just straight up got out of control in the social media world over this. You've stated it well. With what we have returning on the offensive side. The guys who redshirted last year. The group of Db's who committed. What's not to like?only time will tell. I'm more concerned about how last years players will respond to the troubles they had and how they'll instill the WTD philosophy again and to the new recruits. We seem good.
My hope is that the current coaching staff can continue the Oregon tradition of developing new talent better than anyone else, like CK did.
Thanks for this write up Dale, you always put it in perspective. I think we had a fine recruiting class. How long do we have to wait for spring football?
All that is true Dale...but it misses the point about recruiting for many fans. For most fans who follow recruiting closely it's about "winning" recruiting rankings, and especially the attention it brings. Most fans like reading the national articles about the Ducks taking the nation by storm, or at least the west, that doesn't happen with a recruiting class ranked in the twenties. Personally I don't care who "wins" recruiting, only the games. But losing Chip Kelly has diminished the attention Oregon gets because Helfrich isn't as dynamic a personality. This is all about attention, and Oregon isn't getting as much. Until the Ducks make a big splash in the media again there will continue to be angst IMHO.
It's not just those who signed on this year but also those who are coming off their redshirt year. Although some of those who signed on this year will be redshirting and not playing next year, when you look at those who have already redshirted and add those of this recruiting class who'll be playing next year, it's very promising. Take another look at the list of those who redshirted last year and that alone is enough to get me excited. Not to mention the development of those true freshmen who played last year. The only gray area is still the D-line (including the LBs), but after the collapse of the run defense last year I'll bet Pellum puts a little more emphasis on it this off-season and we see results.
I believe we'll have an even better offense (if you can believe that) AND defense next year with a more manageable schedule. We have plenty of reasons to be excited for next year. The only bummer is the extremely long wait.
@Xileinportland Thanks X. Really looking forward to the spring game and a first look at this team. Jalen Brown is going to be fun to watch.
@goducks58 GD, I think they can solve that problem with better linebacker play and improved technique and strength on the d-line. Balducci, Buckner, Armstead, Washington and the rest are all going to be better players next year, and the linebacker group will be exponentially better. I like the way Rodney Hardrick, Derrick Malone and Joe Walker were coming on at the end of the year and Prevot, Mattingly and Tyrell Robinson are going to be studs. I believe Jimmie Swain will play as a freshman, particularly on special teams. He's a great talent and plays smart.
@Ducfn Dfn, I think there will be fewer than average busts in this group. They are very solid young men. Regarding beating Stanford, I think the Ducks need to do what they do better, execute and get in the end zone. Stanford's a great team, but Marcus Mariota can beat them, especially with the weapons he'll have around him in 2014.
@DrakeMallard 8 undisclosed criteria??? I missed this reference. And kudos for finding a loophole in the conundrum of the glass.
@atvinton That's a terrific topic that will require some serious reflection. Always appreciate topic ideas. Off the cuff, Oregon can't sell the offense as much because it's so widely copied now. I think with the sustained success they've had, I think their main selling points are great coaching with more and more Ducks making it to the league. The Super Bowl champions have a Duck at center. Two Ducks made the Pro Bowl in the secondary. Haloti Ngata may be a future Hall of Famer. Gary Campbell's sent his last dozen running backs to the NFL.
If Mariota becomes a top five draft pick and has the career I think he'll have, that takes it a much higher level. They need a couple of receivers to break through in a big way also.
Too bad the Michael Gray years had so many whiffs on the defensive line with players failing to qualify. The Ducks could have built some NFL DT U momentum if they'd followed Ngata and Olshansky with some success stories.
@hoboduck Hobe, I'm glad that you liked it. I was afraid I overdid the first person, but it's generated some good comments.
@DougMai Doug, I dunno, I think the coaches diligently pursued a great number of D-line prospects, but there was a shortage on the West Coast, and many of the best ones committed very early to other schools. Distance is the hardest thing to overcome.
Ducks made a lot of offers late and that looked like panic, but those were all kids whose recruiting opened back up after coaching changes. Scott Reed and Tony Difrancisco, two respected analysts from Rivals, have suggested there seems to be a shift in philosophy from Aliotti to Pellum, in that in the Aliotti's years the Ducks seemed to favor converted power forwards for the defensive line, long, lean guys, and Pellum's staff extended offers to some 6-1/6-2 300-315-lb. types.
The Ducks are already extending offers to some 2015 d-linemen, and they'll be looking to strike early and strong in that area this cycle.
@RHess agree, RH, 2015 looks like a very good market for the Ducks. And say they have the kind of season they're capable of, making that first playoff and sending Super Mario off with a Heisman, who knows what a triumph next year's class might be.
@Hoosierduck That's a key point, Hooz. The leadership on this team has to take the lessons of last year completely to heart and lay down their lives for each other. Has to be a strong, rock-solid resolve to play every opponent like it is indeed the Super Bowl, the way the Seahawks did Sunday. One of the most intense, sustained efforts I've seen by a football team in a long while, and I am far from a Seattle or Pete Carroll fan.
@duckified That has been the strength of the Oregon program, getting more out of their players and molding them into a focused, cohesive team. Have to have better execution in 2014.
@SonomaDuck Saturday, May 3rd is only 85 days, 19 hours and 50 minutes away.
@bobmidd Very compelling observation. Fans who follow recruiting want the big win there as well. Ducks can make that big splash by having a tremendous spring and fall camp and then beating Michigan State on September 6th. They will also get great opportunities to gain the national spotlight when they face UCLA, Stanford, and the new Washington team with Chris Petersen at head coach. If they survive those tests, and the weekly pop quizzes in a very dangerous and balanced conference, they might get a showdown with the highly-touted Men of Troy in the PAC-12 Championship Game. The opportunity to win back that national recognition and relevance is right in front of them.
@GaryMcAuley Appreciate, Gary. Recruiting columns got a great response today. Taking a couple of hours just to get through viewer mail :).
@RodWirtz Great observations. Very high on the redshirt class and their potential to contribute next year. Think about Allen, Carrington, Stanford, Seisay, Robinson (1 and 2). Chance Allen is going to be a player, I believe, and I've liked Reggie Daniels since I saw his high school video. Really looking forward to seeing some of these young players this spring and following their progress through summer and then two-a-days.
The offense just has the potential to be AWESOME. They've never had this much depth and talent, and they've been scoring 40-48 points a game since 2007. It's a whole another level of excellence. Marcus Mariota as a 3rd-year starter. Thomas Tyner. Byron Marshall. Royce Freeman. Bralon Addison. 3 solid, experienced tight ends. 105 starts on the offensive line, anchored by three NFL draft picks. A bumper crop of talented receivers, tall ones, fast ones, shifty explosive ones.
I think after two years to grow as a leader, Mariota is going to take this unit over this season, and you and I will see an explosion of offense that will be utterly amazing. They simply will have too many ways to beat you, too much leadership, and a tremendous sense of mission. They will score on everybody, almost at will. It could just be the next evolution of the Oregon offense, 2007 Version 3.0.
Wow! This is the first time in months that Livefyre has allowed me to comment. I used to get some rinky-dink error message.
@JonSousa Glad we could contribute, Jon. Lots to be excited about in this class, and they may yet address the concern at defensive tackle with some further moves.
@DSH_Newton that's the WR that is fast, good hands right!? faster than the SC commits you mentioned.
@RodWirtz Glad it's working better, Rod,and welcome back. Took a long series of emails to tech support to get it ironed out.
@Xileinportland ..1200 yds receiving both last 2 seasons on an undefeated state champion team, the 2012 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year.
@Xileinportland Nelson is the speed guy, a 4.39 40 at a camp at the University of Florida. Brown is a leaper, body control guy...
@Xileinportland @DSH_NewtonNelson is the speed guy, a 4.39 40 at a camp at the University of Florida. Brown is a leaper, body control guy, over 1200 yards receiving the last two seasons on an undefeated state champion team, the Arizona Gatorade Player of the year in 2012.