With fall camp still over three months away, Oregon just wrapped its annual Spring game in which Mighty Oregon (first-team offense/second-team defense) took down the Fighting Ducks (second-team offense/first-team defense) 20-13 on Saturday.
With the offenses running a vanilla scheme and the defense still adjusting to new coordinator Andy Avalos’ scheme, the game was more of a showcase for future Oregon players as some of the typical starters saw little action — three-year starting ILB Troy Dye played the first play of the game and then came off the field to take off his pads and enjoy the show.
Regardless, there were quite a few highlights and definitely some players who added to the buzz with great plays. Here are my five breakout players of the Spring game and who to watch come Fall camp.
Senior WR Juwan Johnson: It was hard to miss Johnson when he was on the field. Checking in at 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, Johnson proved why he was one of the most coveted prospects in the transfer portal.
What struck me right away was how fluid of a runner he was despite his size. It’s expected he’ll go up and outmuscle defensive backs and win 50-50 balls (which he did), but his ability to get in and out of breaks makes me think he has a chance to be special this upcoming season.
Even though he arrived in Eugene less than a month ago, Johnson’s early rapport with quarterback Justin Herbert was a sight to behold, they connected for the game’s first touchdown — especially considering the Ducks lost Dillon Mitchell to the NFL draft.
Johnson has the physical attributes to be successful for Oregon, and considering he’s picking up the offense and clicking with Herbert, it’s a safe bet to expect him in the lineup against Auburn on August 31.
Freshman DB Mykael Wright: Wright was another latecomer to the spring practices, missing the first six practices before joining Oregon for the start of spring term. But it didn’t take long for his name to become talked about as there were significant whispers about the talented 5-foot-11 defensive back out of Southern California.
He was given the chance to display his full range of abilities on Saturday and he didn’t disappoint — finishing with five tackles, three pass break-ups and a one-handed, game-sealing interception.
“He didn’t disappoint," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of Wright. "We felt he was the best at his position in the country when we recruited him. Another guy that just got dropped off three weeks ago, ‘Here’s the playbook, go cover some guys and make some plays.’ I guess he took those orders to heart. He was excellent, he really was.”
Wright showed a physicality that was sometimes lacking last year for Oregon, coming up three different times and limiting the pass-catchers in yards-after-catch. He showed quick ability to get out of his break and make plays on balls in the air, getting his hand in multiple times.
With Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham Jr. entrenched as starters, Wright can easily break the season in the two-deep and should challenge for immediate playing time.
Freshman WR Mycah Pittman: While Johnson has brought the size, Pittman has been equally as impressive athletically. Another one of Cristobal’s late arrivals, Pittman has made the most of his time by diving head first into the playbook, showing incredible knowledge thus far.
He finished with a game-high seven catches and 48 yards, showing the ability to find holes in the defense while being strong enough across the middle. He’s also developing himself as a reliable candidate, an area of the game the Ducks struggled outside of Mitchell last season.
The question for Pittman remains where he would most likely fit on the offense? Is he a slot receiver or an undersized guy on the outside at 5-foot-11? Still, his talent jumps off the field and given his ability to gain more traction over the summer and into fall camp, I believe Pittman will be starting alongside Johnson to begin the year.
Freshman DL Kayvon Thibodeaux: The highest-rated recruit in Oregon history lived up to the billing when he was able to get on the field at Autzen stadium for the first time.
Although he was credited with just one sack on the day, Thibodeaux practically lived in the backfield and made life very difficult for backup quarterback Tyler Shough. Even with the solid showing, Thibodeaux was very critical of himself and knows there is still a long way to go.
“I didn’t do that well in my eyes," he said. "It’s hard to process the calls, process the plays and do everything that defense has to do before we get set to look at the offense — I couldn’t think about my bag of tricks today, because there was a lot going on and the tempo was faster than I was used to."
It’s scary to think what Thibodeaux will be like once he gets more accustomed to Oregon’s scheme — and speed —but it’s safe to say that he’ll enter the season in the two-deep and make the most impact as a third-down pass-rushing specialist this year.
Redshirt Freshman QB Tyler Shough: Oregon fans know better than most of how important it is to have a capable backup quarterback — having seen a few seasons recently go awry when the starter went down.
While it would be nearly impossible to replace the talent of Herbert, Shough had a very strong showing on Saturday, giving fans and coaches a lot of faith in the freshman. He finished 18-of-31 for 178 yards but showed good command of the offense and a strong arm.
“I just feel really comfortable out there, just trying to have fun,” Shough said. “At this point it’s just executing the game plan, executing the plays and just having fun out there.”
Herbert is the starter, among many other things, but his health is a cause for concern. With Shough’s development, it’s safe to say that the offense will still be able to execute should he be thrown into the fire.