Oregon football is facing an especially important fall camp with a pivotal and polarizing week one showdown against Auburn. To kick it off, the Ducks will be available for media interviews on Friday.
There are bound to be some great quotes and opinions on hot topics surrounding the 2019 season. Here is what I am watching and listening for:
Typically, fall camp is an opportunity for coaches to evaluate the growth of players over the summer, while addressing the depth chart and implementing schemes. Usually, fall camp is not a time to focus on one specific team. With the lofty implications of Oregon's week one marquee SEC matchup, will that philosophy shift?
The Ducks grasp the chance to upset Auburn in prime time and become the Pac-12's best chance for a spot in the playoff. A win sends the underdog Ducks and the Pac-12 Conference into national relevancy, and a loss initiates an uphill fight; no team has ever rebounded from a week one loss to make the final field of four.
It's a similar situation that Washington was in last season. The Huskies lost to Auburn in a similar kind of neutral site, early-season matchup and every game afterwards became a "must win."
Will Oregon coach Mario Cristobal begin Auburn game plan implementation earlier than normal? Or will he stick to the "focus on us first" mentality?
Ahead of last season, Herbert picked then-redshirt freshman running back CJ Verdell as a player he expected to surprise fans. Herbert was very, very, very correct; Verdell had 1,018 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and 315 receiving yards and two scores last season.
Which young Ducks are impressing veterans this season?
The highest-ever rated recruiting class in program history is officially in Eugene with several players capable of making an instant impact. Defense end Kayvon Thibodeaux, cornerback Mykael Wright, linebacker Mase Funa, wide receiver Josh Delgado and wide receiver Mycah Pittman have already earned the praise of Cristobal and teammates.
Don't forget about running back Sean Dollars, running back Jayvaun Wilson, tight end Patrick Herbert, linebacker Ge'Mon Eaford and kicker Camden Lewis. Each have the potential for production this season.
Likely, there will be a few freshmen that emerge, while the others take a little more time to adjust to the college pace. Position openings at defensive end, linebacker and wide receiver bode well for starting role battles for Thibodeaux, Funa, Delgado and Pittman.
Will Thibodeaux live up to his No. 1 recruit in the nation hype? Will he beat out senior Gus Cumberlander, who has showed vast pass-rush improvement, and start at defensive end? Will Funa challenge veterans in both the STUD position and at inside linebacker and find himself into a starting role? Pittman and Delgago excelled in the spring, will they get on the field sooner rather than later?
Dropped passes are hot lava
Ring the alarm bells, warm up the searchlight, the hunt is on for Oregon's next leading receiver. Single-season receiving yardage leader Dillon Mitchell is with the Minnesota Vikings, which opens a big void for a reliable receiver.
Letting catchable balls hit the turf was one of the main problems for Oregon's offense. According to Oregon, the coaching staff's analysis registered 52 dropped passes last season. Ouch.
How can Oregon best take advantage of quarterback Justin Herbert's final season? Cristobal called it "no secret" that drops must improve. New wide receivers coach Jevon Bouknight stepped in and made a strong instant impression on his position group. His focus was on correcting their mental approach and technique. Will there be a notable difference in confidence of veterans like senior Brenden Schooler, who had his fair share of drops last season?
What about a special teams plan?
Leading punt returner Ugochukwu Amadi is gone to the Seattle Seahawks. There is a vacancy for kickoff returner with Tony Brooks-James' departure. Who on the roster is best fitted for return duties?
Cristobal has praised Dollars for his special teams abilities, so watch for the freshman to get a shot. Jevon Holland, Jaylon Redd and Travis Dye are other options.