Signing Day is like the day pitchers and catchers report for spring training. It's a day for optimism and best-case scenarios. For asking how the team could be if everything breaks just right and a couple of young phenoms come through and an aging veteran has a surprise great year.
The optimism is warranted, because we are talking about the lives of young men. If you can't be optimistic about their ability and potential, maybe you ought to check yourself and ask why you invest time and effort into college football. If you constantly see life as a glass-half-full proposition, maybe it's time you ordered another round, reconsidered your beverage of choice, or learned to sip slower and enjoy the vintage.
Always be closing: the Ducks drew criticism for the way they closed in recruiting, but in the last ten days, they added Charles Nelson, Austin Maloata, Mattrell McGraw and Kahlil Oliver.
It isn't that we're Pollyannas or incapable of being starkly realistic. It's simply that this is February. The winter gloom is nearly over. 21 promising young men chose the University of Oregon. 17 were team captains. It's time for the grown adults to snap out of it, congratulate them, and celebrate all the ways this will continue to be a good football team with players worth rooting for and caring about. These are 21 outstanding additions to a football team that's been ranked in the top 11 for six straight years. The misery, pessimism and gloom I've read today would choke the life out of a tulip and freeze the blossoms off a cherry tree.
The Oregon coaches landed 21 players from 10 states. They visited a thousand high schools in 31. According to Rob Moseley at goducks.com, the class is rated class No. 21 nationally by 247sports.com, No. 22 by Scout.com and No. 26 by Rivals.com. That's in line with recent classes, but the lowest since 2009. Of course, the '09 class went to four BCS bowls. Of course, the '09 class had Chip Kelly to coach them.
History proves out the good and bad of leaders, ideas and athletes. Oregon's '08 class had Blount, James, Barner, Jordan, Alonso, but ranked #5 in the Pac-10, 32nd in the nation. In 2010 Oregon's top two recruits, Lache Seastrunk and Curtis White never played a down. Marcus Mariota was the 123rd best quarterback in the country according to one scouting service. In the words of the immortal Joaquin Andujar, "all of baseball can be summed up in just one little word: youneverknow." Football recruiting, even more so.
A few specific observations:
1. "The Ducks didn't recruit any defensive tackles."
Well, yeah, they did. Centennial High commit Austin Matoala measured 6-2, 291 during his visit, and the Ducks scooped him up in the last week before Signing Day. A former USC commit, the 3-star has a good upside and motor, the quickness and strength to play early. They may also add Ratu Mafileo, the 315-lb. nose tackle from Hawaii. Junior college transfer Tua Talia should be here for spring ball and could play immediately, probably at around 280.
It looks like Pellum might return to the quick, agile front that the Ducks employed when they had Brandon Bair and Zac Clark manning the middle. With improved play by the linebackers, Oregon's front seven could improve greatly in 2014, surprising the critics.
2. One important thing to keep in mind is, the Ducks return 10 of 11 starters on offense, and the country's best quarterback.
Oregon football isn't dead because of an average year in recruiting. The results are pretty much in line with what they always been. By adding Royce Freeman, Haniteli Lousi and Jalen Brown to an already loaded offense, the Ducks are going to continue to outscore some people in 2014. They may outscore everybody.
3. "The Ducks 'whiffed' on Trey Lealaimatafao and Juju Smith."
This is the single biggest reason many observers are down on the class, the lack of a splash Signing Day surprise. Oregon came close on two elite recruits who ultimately elected to stay close to home. They didn't really lose on either one of them, only gained some momentum very late before losing out to other considerations.
The two were great athletes and would have been tremendous additions. But the angst over not getting them is a little misplaced, overshadowing the fact that the Ducks kept every one of their committed players, and added Mattrell McGraw, Charles Nelson, Austin Matoala and Kahlil Oliver in the closing days. That's a strong close. To swing and miss on two top prospects is no embarrassment, and it doesn't diminish the quality and potential of the players Oregon committed: Jimmie Swain. Royce Freeman. Tony James. Justin Hollins, Henry Mondeaux. Lousi, Talia and Dominque Harrison. Tyrell Crosby, who can dunk a basketball at 6-5, 295. Morgan Mahalak, who is a great kid, a mature leader and the sweetest pocket passer the Ducks have seen in a long while, with good mobility.
Mahalak also has a sense of humor. At his school he did the traditional hat ceremony, but all four hats were Oregon hats. He chose the one with profile of The Duck.
4. The Ducks met major needs at receiver, offensive line and the secondary, and added speed and character.
John Neal continues to be one of the best player evaluators and recruiters in the business. He sent two players to the Pro Bowl this year, retained Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and added Harrison, the Bay Valley Conference Defensive Player of the year, Arrion Springs, a dynamite cover corner and athlete, McGraw, who had offers from Notre Dame, Alabama, Texas A&M and half the SEC, Glen Ihenacho, who has two brothers who've played in the NFL, and Kahlil Oliver, a dynamic, under-the-radar athlete who is smart enough to study medicine.
That's a great nucleus in a secondary that's been outstanding for ten years, in a conference that likes to put the ball in the air. They led the nation in interceptions in 2012. This group will return there in the future.
People wanted more beef on the offensive line, and Steve Greatwood went out and added 305-lb. Braden Eggert, Crosby and Lousi. In addition, he redshirted Evan Voeller, Doug Brenner, Elijah George and Jake Pisachik this year. While it would have been nice to add another o-linemen (the Ducks offered several, in the final five for Chris Brown, Nick Gates and Quinn Bailey, among others) prospects had to be a little intimidated by the fact that Oregon returns 105 starts on the line this year, including Hroniss Grasu, Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher. Grasu is a 3-year starter; Johnstone and Fisher, two-year starters. It's a veteran unit, one of the strengths of the team, likely to be better with the addition of Lousi and another year of development for Cameron Hunt, who started the last seven games as a true freshman.
At receiver, Jalen Brown is going to be a special player, and 3-star Charles Nelson has rare, game-breaking speed. Tony James will contribute in the future also in the dual role of slot receiver/running back. The Ducks redshirted three outstanding prospects in Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington and Devon Allen. Stanford's 6-5, and Allen is blazing fast. Carrington is one of the best athletes on the team, a guy who shined on the scout team.
Given the way Bralon Addison and Josh Huff blossomed under Matt Lubick last year, the passing game remains in very good hands, especially with Mariota delivering the football.
Regarding the defensive line, Helfrich is saying good things about the development of T.J. Daniel, who moved over from the offense and redshirted. Listed at 6-6, 256, he's filling out and could develop into a player. The Ducks have always excelled at developing guys. Brandon Bair and Spencer Paysinger are two notable examples. Recruiting is only the beginning of the process.
The average star rating this year is 3.26, just a fraction off what it's been for the last six years. The big difference is that the Ducks signed a small class, partly because the departing senior class was small. The quality and character remain exceptional.
Royce Freeman is as powerful, strong and exciting a high school running back as you can find. Ed Orgeron rated him second in the country, a fabulous addition to the Oregon offense. James and Nelson are faster than Adoree Jackson and Juju Smith. Nelson receives the ball beautifully, a player the Ducks got at a discount coming off an ACL tear. He ran a 10.58 100 as a sophomore, and he's rehabbed diligently.
Wait till you see Morgan Mahalak throw the football, or Haniteli Lousi lead a stretch play.
At linebacker the Ducks added versatile athletes in Jimmie Swain and Johnnie Ragin, after a season in which they only lost one, Boseko Lokombo. Danny Mattingly, Tyree Robinson and Torrodney Prevot add a lot of ability to the linebacker group for 2014, and new position coach Erik Chinander provides a NFL perspective and new energy.
Instead of suffering over this class or doubting its potential, take a lesson from Pete Carroll. It's Signing Day. Get fired up about the possibilities.