Oregon Ducks open football camp with big expectations and many questions

Eugene Register-Guard
Fall camp begins Wednesday for the Oregon football team, which means the first game of the season — Sept. 2 against Portland State — is fast approaching.
Picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, the Ducks get to work with higher expectations of what this season has in store in year two of the Dan Lanning era.
Oregon went 10-3 last season with a thrilling win in the Holiday Bowl against North Carolina and it returns this season with quarterback Bo Nix, leading rusher Bucky Irving, leading receiver Troy Franklin and plenty of potential for break-out stars on defense.
Here's a look at some questions facing several position groups before the Ducks return to the practice field.
Who backs up Bo Nix?
There isn’t a player more secure at his starting position going into camp than Nix. There also doesn’t seem to be much question about who his backup will be. Redshirt sophomore Ty Thompson came out of the spring as the No. 2 quarterback, a role he has held the past two seasons, though four-star freshman Austin Novosad will get a chance to show what he can do.
Who emerges at wide receiver?
Returning starter Troy Franklin was a breakout star last season with 61 catches for 891 yards and nine touchdowns. Kris Hutson had 44 catches for 472 yards and started 10 games. But the Ducks will need several other players to emerge this fall from a group that includes talented newcomers as transfers Tez Johnson, a slot receiver with speed; 6-3, 213-pound Traeshon Holden from Alabama; and Gary Bryant Jr., from USC, bring proven ability to the receiving room. Expectations are also high for five-star freshman Jurrion Dickey (6-3, 210).
What to make of the tight ends?
Terrance Ferguson is a legit red-zone threat, as he proved last season with 32 catches for 391 yards and five TDs. But the position is a big question mark after that. Veteran Patrick Herbert has shown the ability to be productive when healthy, which he was last season when he had six catches for 95 yards and a score despite being deep down the depth chart. Ole Miss transfer Casey Kelly has 28 catches for 282 yards and three TDs in 35 career games. Freshman Kenyon Sadiq has the skill set to be a contributor.
Can the new offensive line mesh before Sept. 2?
The Ducks lost four starters from 2022 and yet still return plenty of veteran experience. Guard Marcus Harper II started 10 games last season and worked at center during the spring. Tackle Josh Conerly Jr. appears ready for a breakout season. Guard Steven Jones was injured for much of 2022 but has played nearly 1,500 career snaps. Jackson Powers-Johnson has been a versatile reserve along the offensive line, and tackle Ajani Cornelius, a transfer from Rhode Island, is expected to earn a starting spot.
How will the depth in the secondary develop?
Gone are cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who was the No. 17 overall pick by the New England Patriots in April’s NFL draft, as well as 2022 leading tackler safety Bennett Williams. But the Ducks are returning experienced veteran cornerbacks Trikweze Bridges, Dontae Manning and Jahlil Florence, and safeties Bryan Addison and Steve Stephens IV, and have added transfer cornerbacks Khyree Jackson (Alabama) and Nikko Reed (Colorado) and safeties Tysheem Johnson (Ole Miss) and Evan Williams (Fresno State). The Ducks appear to have depth in the secondary, with a month for this group to figure out how the playing time will get divided up.
Can Oregon get an improved pass rush?
The Ducks had the fourth fewest number of sacks in the Pac-12 last season with 18, and leading sack master DJ Johnson, who had six in 2022, is now an NFL rookie with the Carolina Panthers. Veteran defensive end Brandon Dorlus is the returning sacks leader after recording 2.5 last season. South Carolina defensive end transfer Jordan Burch should give the Ducks a boost of production up front, as could highly touted freshman defensive end Matayo Uiagalelei.
How will the rebuilt inside linebacker unit perform?
The Ducks have two converted safeties in veterans Jeffrey Bassa and Jamal Hill, two transfers in Jestin Jacobs (Iowa) and Connor Soelle (Arizona State), a former four-star recruit in redshirt freshman Devon Jackson, and a couple of more players vying to solidify the middle of the defense for the Ducks, who lost Noah Sewell, Justin Flowe and Keith Brown from the 2022 roster.
Can Ducks get more from kick returners?
Hutson was the Ducks’ primary return man in 2022 and the receiver proved to be a reliable but not spectacular option. He averaged 19.83 yards on 12 kickoff returns and 4.2 yards on 10 punt returns. Transfer receiver Bryant Jr. was a dynamic return man for USC, averaging 26 yards on 24 kickoff returns. Running back Irving also averaged 24.6 yards on five kickoff returns last season.
Will the punting unit be improved?
Punters Luke Dunne and Ross James will compete for the starting job as Oregon attempts to improve a unit that was among the worst in the Pac-12 last season. The Ducks were ranked 11th in net yards per punt at 35.69 and last in average return yards at 13.60. Dunne is a freshman from Australia and James played in three games last season — his first as a Duck — and punted eight times with an average of 42.9 yards. In the spring game, James punted four times with an average of 41.8 yards, and Dunne punted six times with an average of 42.8 yards.

Latest Player Notes

How a Wisconsin legend got his German protégé into Badgers pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Marlon Werthmann put his life on hold for the opportunity in front of him Friday at the McClain Center.Werthmann ...

Why former Wisconsin football running back Braelon Allen didn't run the 40 at pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Braelon Allen’s sweat covered his shirt and dripped off his beard as he approached a group of reporters Friday.The ...

How can UW recruit its best class ever? It starts with these five prospects

By Andy Yamashita Seattle Times staff reporter Jedd Fisch has lofty recruiting goals at Washington. He didn’t waste any ...

Texas football kicks off spring practice Tuesday. We answer 24 questions for the 2024 team

Things certainly look fresh for the 2024 college football season, especially on the Texas campus.There’s a new conference ...

College Football Playoff: Conferences solve their differences (for now) and agree on general framework for 2026 and beyond

The FBS conferences and Notre Dame agreed on Friday to continue the College Football Playoff beyond the 2025 season, signing ...

Ball security, leadership key as Aztecs look to identify starting quarterback

San Diego State seemingly auditions a new starting quarterback on an annual basis.In the past 12 years, the Aztecs have opened ...

Results and more: A look at what happened at Penn State football’s Pro Day inside Holuba Hall

Most of those at Penn State’s Pro Day Friday were relatively quiet throughout the afternoon’s workouts, but there was one ...

Defense dominates first two weeks of Oregon State spring practice as Beavers ready for 2-week breather

CORVALLIS – Oregon State hit the break of spring practices Saturday, not exactly the midpoint but a good place to assess ...

Dillon Gabriel to have similar input, autonomy as Bo Nix had in Oregon’s offense

Published Mar. 16, 2024, 6:26 p.m.By James CrepeaEUGENE — Dillon Gabriel will have much of the same autonomy as Bo Nix did ...

Two transfers, one underclassman who impressed in Missouri football's spring game

With that, spring camp’s a wrap.Missouri football held its Black & Gold spring game Saturday in front of a healthy crowd ...
See More Player Notes