EUGENE — Darren Carrington has been a productive player at Oregon dating back to Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy season.
As a freshman in 2014, Carrington caught 14 of Mariota’s passes in the Pac-12 championship game and Rose Bowl for a combined 291 yards and three touchdowns.
After being suspended for the national championship and the first six games of the 2015 season for a failed NCAA drug test, Carrington emerged as Vernon Adams Jr.’s favorite target, averaging 19.0 yards per reception with six touchdowns in seven games.
Carrington led the Ducks with 606 yards receiving and six touchdowns last season playing with graduate transfer Dakota Prukop and true freshman Justin Herbert.
But before a spring practice last month, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound wide receiver said he hasn’t accomplished much of anything with the Ducks.
Carrington has apparently bought in to first-year coach Willie Taggart’s “Do something” mantra.
“I hope everybody keeps that mindset that we’ve got to come back and do something,” said Carrington, who decided to return for his senior season to take care of unfinished business instead of testing the NFL draft waters. “Because nobody’s done anything really yet.”
During spring practice, Carrington did make it clear that he is Herbert’s No. 1 receiver. The two connected four times for 116 yards and three touchdowns to lead Team Free to a 34-11 romp over Team Brave in the spring game.
Taggart took away all of the coveted single-digit jersey numbers after arriving from South Florida. The competition to earn them back will carry over into fall camp.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Carrington, who wore No. 22 during the spring, will get his old No. 7 back if he wants it.
“Darren has been great for us making plays and doing the things he needed to do,” Taggart said. “It’s kind of what we all expected. We got here and everyone talked about how he has so much talent. I think we all know that. He’s a gamer. He’s one of those guys that loves to play the game of football. He loves to compete.
“And if we can have a team full of Darren Carringtons, when it comes to competing and playing the game, we’ll have one hell of a football team.”
With the new coaching staff only inheriting five scholarship receivers, the competition in the spring wasn’t as fierce as Taggart would like it to be in the future.
Dwayne Stanford graduated, Devon Allen decided to focus on professional track, Jalen Brown transferred to Northwestern and Tristen Wallace was kicked out of UO after being accused of sexual assault.
Walk-ons Casey Eugenio, Chayce Maday and Connor Berggren benefited from a lot of extra repetitions during the spring. Senior quarterback Taylor Alie also helped out at receiver.
“I was surprised by the lack of depth at the skill positions,” Taggart said. “I felt like there should have been a lot more here. Part of our job is recruiting, getting those guys in here and developing them.”
Senior Charles Nelson and sophomore Dillon Mitchell joined Carrington with the first-string offense throughout the 15 practice sessions.
Nelson, who played safety in 2015 and has been electrifying on special teams throughout his career, had a team-high 52 receptions last season for 554 yards and five touchdowns.
“Charles’ versatility is huge,” co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “It’s huge in tempo too because you don’t have to sub. I’m really excited about Charles’ ability to do different things.”
Mitchell was hampered by a knee injury as a true freshman. The 2016 spring game star had three receptions for 75 yards in the 2017 spring game.
“He listens to some of the things I say, which is cool,” Carrington said of mentoring Mitchell, who did not grant any interview requests this spring. “He’s like my little brother. It’s fun playing with your little siblings; that’s how I treat it.
“I try to teach him everything so he can take over when I’m gone,” he said.
Darrian McNeal, a true freshman who enrolled early, and Malik Lovette, who was moved over from defensive back, played well in spurts behind the starters during the spring.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of work to do, but we’re on the upside right now,” Carrington said after co-starring with Herbert in the spring game. “There’s no backsteps; we’re only going up from here. (This) was just a little show of what we’ve been doing all spring, and it’s just going to get better and better.”
Sophomore Jacob Breeland made the most of his opportunity at the tight end position, where the Ducks graduated three players — Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis — who all recently signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.
The bulked-up Breeland (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) gives Herbert another potential pass-catching threat.
“I try to be a leader because I want to be the starter,” Breeland said. “So I try to put myself out there, and just play as hard as I can and lead the tight ends the best I can.”
Matt Mariota switched from linebacker to tight end during the offseason and did some training with his famous older brother, who is now the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.
“I had just lost the passion for defense,” Mariota said. “Watching my brother and stuff, it’s been fun learning offense.”