Courtney: Does a leader emerge at tight end for Oregon?

The fourth in a series of the prevailing storylines at each position group for the Ducks

Posted on April 9, 2021

Chris Courtney
  By Chris Courtney of WFOD for SportsPac12

With spring practices now officially underway at Oregon, WFOD is taking the time to examine the prevailing storylines at each position group, while exploring how these questions could impact the Ducks entering the fall.

Today, our Spring Storylines series continues with a look at tight end.

Oregon tight end DJ Johnson | Oregon Football/Twitter

Sometimes a year can make all the difference. Other times, a year can feel like not enough time to uncover the answer to a long-standing question. It was roughly a year ago that we wondered who among the tight ends on the Ducks’ roster last spring would be the one to step forward to carry the torch and continue the proud legacy of quality tight end play at Oregon.

Then COVID hit, a season was shortened, and a smattering of injuries befell the Ducks’ tight end room, leaving the unit perilously thin for the vast majority of the 2020 season. Thus, the search for the one who would fill the shoes of the graduated Jacob Breeland at the end of the 2019 season has carried over to the spring of 2021.

Johnson

Last season, Hunter Kampmoyer and DJ Johnson combined to provide admirable production given the uneven nature of the build up to the 2020 season, not to mention the absence of reliable depth and lackluster quarterback play for much of the year.

Together, Kampmoyer and Johnson combined for 24 catches for 274 yards and six touchdowns in the 12 appearances between them last season, which came close to replicating what Breeland provided for the Ducks through the air in 2019, when he finished with 26 receptions for 405 yards and six touchdowns through six games before a season-ending injury effectively ended his career at Oregon.

With Kampmoyer now graduated, Johnson returns as the Ducks’ leading receiver from the tight end position a year ago. Formerly an edge rusher who transferred to Oregon from Miami (Fla.) as a four-star recruit from the Sacramento area, Johnson flashed eyebrow-raising potential in the opportunities he received both as a pass catcher and in-line blocker in 2020.

However, he’s a player who could very well see his involvement in the passing game take a hit due to the return of some healthy veterans and the addition of some talented freshmen.

Oregon tight end Spencer Webb | Oregon Athletics

Chief among those veterans returning to full health alongside Johnson is fellow Sacramento native Spencer Webb. The redshirt sophomore missed virtually all of last season due to injury, but was considered to be a potential breakout candidate at tight end entering the 2020 season after reeling in 18 catches for 209 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.

At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Webb has the size and athleticism to re-emerge as a potential breakout star in 2021, though he must continue to stay healthy while also improving his skills as a blocker; an area of his game that has limited his on-field impact since arriving as part of Oregon’s 2018 recruiting class.

McCormick

Webb is joined by fellow veterans Patrick Herbert and Cam McCormick, two in-state products who have enormous potential of their own, but have similarly dealt with injury issues. In fact, no player on the Oregon roster, and perhaps the sport of college football, is as familiar with the havoc the injury bug can wreak as McCormick.

Originally a member of the Ducks’ 2016 recruiting class, McCormick has battled devastating injuries ever since stepping foot on campus in Eugene. A knee injury suffered prior to his arrival at Oregon forced him to redshirt the 2016 season.

Though McCormick appeared in all 13 games in 2017, his year got off to an inauspicious start after he was one of a handful of players who suffered from rhabdomyolysis during the winter conditioning phase of Willie Taggart’s first and only year as Ducks’ head coach.

McCormick entered the 2018 season as the Ducks’ starting tight end having beat out Breeland for the job during fall camp, but suffered a broken leg in the season opener vs. Bowling Green, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. Since then, McCormick has battled a series of undisclosed injuries that have prevented him from returning to the field, as he’s missed the entirety of both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Regarded as one of the top blocking tight ends on the Oregon roster, McCormick hopes to be healthy enough to return to action this fall, despite being withheld from action at the start of spring practice this year.

Oregon tight end Patrick Herbert | Oregon Athletics

Herbert’s history at Oregon is far less sordid, though no less enigmatic in some respects. The younger brother of Oregon legend Justin Herbert, Patrick Herbert came to the Ducks as a four-star recruit and one of the top high school tight ends in the country, but has yet to make an impact on the field.

After appearing in just one game in 2019, Herbert was expected to have a much larger role on offense in 2020, but an undisclosed injury/ailment kept him sidelined for all of last year. Of all the players currently competing for reps at tight end, Herbert’s development this spring may be the most intriguing individual storyline to monitor.

Ferguson

Of course, as if there weren’t enough intrigue at the position as is, the addition of Terrance Ferguson and Moliki Matavao from the 2021 recruiting class should only make the battle at tight end that much more captivating.

Each listed between 6-5 and 6-6, and between 230 and 240 pounds, Ferguson and Matavao cut a similar athletic profile as their veteran counterparts, but may possess as much, if not more, potential than any two tight ends Oregon has rostered at any point in recent memory.

Regarded as two of the top tight end prospects on the West Coast during the 2021 recruiting cycle, the door is open for Ferguson and Matavao to carve out roles for themselves should any of the veterans ahead of them falter.

This story also appears at wholeflockofducks.com and is syndicated with permission. Follow WFOD on Twitter @_WFOD and Chris Courtney @csquared02.




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