fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Building into a leader

Yes, they’ve watched it.

Justin Herbert and the Ducks — with some prodding from the new coaching staff — reviewed the unflattering film from Oregon’s 70-21 loss to rival Washington last season at Autzen Stadium.

It was the low point in a rock-bottom season for Mark Helfrich and his staff.

But a star was born during the drubbing.

Herbert, after having his first pass intercepted, finished the game against the Pac-12’s stingiest defense with two touchdowns. The former Sheldon High standout passed for 1,936 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions as a true freshman.

“It’s unfortunate that he was thrown into the fire in that way because I don’t know of a bigger fire you can be thrown into,” senior quarterback Taylor Alie said. “But I think it’s going to be really beneficial for his career to take those punches early on and have it kind of humble you.

“And also let it feed your desire to be better and not want that to happen again.”

The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Herbert has accepted first-year coach Willie Taggart’s challenge to become a vocal leader.

The Ducks are ready to follow their quarterback into a brighter future.

“Even last year when I was playing during fall camp, I could see Justin was something special,” said left tackle Tyrell Crosby, who is back from last year’s foot injury to protect Herbert’s blind side. “What he brought to the table was a lot of talent. I got to play with him a little bit. Blocking for him now and being able to protect him is a lot of fun, because he’s a great kid.”

Herbert took last year’s 4-8 finish personally, particularly the 52-49 double-overtime loss at California that ended on an interception and the season-ending 34-24 loss at Oregon State that ended the Helfrich era.

By the time spring practice rolled around, Herbert was completely on board the Taggart train.

“They did a great job of right away approaching all of us and making us aware that they were goal-oriented and had a plan,” Herbert said of the new staff. “They were very personable and very relatable, so they did a great job of coming to us and making us feel comfortable with them.”

Taggart’s “Gulf Coast” offense isn’t much of a departure from the spread Herbert ran last season. Oregon will continue to lean on a dominant running game while breaking in some young receivers and tight ends.

“Anytime you have a solidified guy who has had experience, you get a chance to kind of step back and watch your offense go around him,” co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said of inheriting Herbert. “I also think there’s a lot to be said about competition at that position. One thing we’ve done is we’ve been very progressive with him and asked a lot of him. We’re trying to continue to push him and not letting him get comfortable.

“I think being his sophomore year and with a new staff has added to that pressure of growing, which is good. He’s done a nice job.”

Travis Jonsen and Terry Wilson both transferred after the spring, leaving Alie and true freshman Braxton Burmeister to compete for the backup job. Walk-on Mike Irwin and true freshman “athlete” Demetri Burch also took reps at quarterback during camp.

Taggart will continue to push Herbert because he sees something special in his young signal-caller, even when watching the Washington game film.

“He was nervous. You could see that,” Taggart said. “But he got those nerves in check pretty quickly. You watch last year and you see a young guy like Justin take care of the football the way he did, that was really impressive.”