Despite the unexpected departure of Willie Taggart after just one season as head coach, Oregon Ducks football has reason for excitement in 2018.
New head coach Mario Cristobal — a former Nick Saban assistant with an impressive head-coaching run at FIU — inherits a roster loaded with talent. The Ducks' positive trajectory in 2017, rebounding from the disappointment of a 4-8 finish in ‘16, should translate to further improvement in ‘18.
Oregon begins that process with spring practices.
Brady Aiello, OT
Replacing Tyrell Crosby at left tackle takes priority for Oregon's offense in the spring. One of the contenders for that important role is Aiello, a veteran who played at the right tackle spot in 2017.
The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Aiello has NFL size and the potential to develop into the Ducks' next great offensive lineman. He will vie for the left tackle job against George Moore, a 2017 junior college transfer.
Ugochukwu Amadi, S
Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt rolled with a young secondary in 2017, with players like Amadi (above, right), Thomas Graham Jr., and Deommodore Lenoir factoring in prominently. Graham emerged as a bonafide star, but Amadi's production was nothing to scoff at. His eight pass breakups ranked second among all Ducks, behind only departing veteran Arrion Springs. Amadi also was responsible for three fumbles.
Amadi will be an anchor for the back line in 2018, and could develop into an All-Pac-12 caliber performer.
Tony Brooks-James, RB
Royce Freeman leaves Oregon with a variety of program records in tow. Also gone is Kani Benoit, a veteran reserve who got his moment in the spotlight in 2017. Both are likely to be drafted into the NFL, leaving the starting running back spot open heading into spring practices.
Brooks-James is the top returning ball carrier, shining as a change-of-pace in each of the past two seasons. Now, he has the opportunity to show off his ability as an every-down back.
Taj Griffin, WR
The former U.S. Army All-American running back prospect never broke out from a crowded pack at his old position, so a move to wide receiver could result in more opportunities for Griffin – and an explosive weapon in the Ducks’ offense.
Griffin caught 11 passes with a touchdown in 2017, but with a full-time move to the slot in 2018, should factor in to the game plan more prominently. His touches in spring practice will set the tone.
Jordon Scott, NG
Prior to the 2017 season, 2016 Freshman All-America linebacker Troy Dye said at Pac-12 Media Days that Scott was poised for big things in his debut campaign. That prediction proved prescient, as he earned his own Freshman All-America distinction at the nose guard position.
Scott's presence immediately bolstered the Ducks’ rush defense. With another offseason of practices, Scott has potential to develop into a monster presence up front reminiscent of former Oregon great Haloti Ngata.