First up

Southern Utah at Oregon

When: 5:15 p.m. Sept. 2 TV: Pac-12

EUGENE — Aside from Charles Nelson, Oregon’s returning wide receivers for 2017 had just three receptions last season.

Luckily for the Ducks, the versatile, electric Nelson is back for his senior year — at wide receiver, he insists — and he brings some veteran experience to a position that is otherwise sorely lacking it.

The dismissal of Darren Carrington last month after a DUII arrest has left Oregon thin at wide receiver. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Nelson led Oregon with 52 receptions as a junior. He had 554 receiving yards, second only behind Carrington. Nelson has 92 catches for 1,151 yards and 13 touchdown receptions in his career.

Nelson was recruited to Oregon from Daytona Beach, Florida, as a wide receiver and helped the Ducks reach the College Football Playoff championship game as a freshman during the 2014 season. He moved to safety the following spring and split his time between offense and defense as a sophomore before returning to receiver in 2016.

After the loss of Carrington (43 catches, 606 yards), who transferred to Utah after being kicked off the Oregon squad, as well as Jalen Brown (19 catches, 318 yards), who transferred to Northwestern, Nelson seems likely to remain at wide receiver under new head coach Willie Taggart.

“So far it’s just offense and that’s what coach Taggart has told me, so that’s what we’re going with,” Nelson said at the start of the Ducks’ preseason camp in Eugene last week. “I’m excited I get to focus on one thing and make it happen.”

The Ducks lost their top seven receiving targets from 2016, so they must rely on Nelson and a young corps that includes sophomore Dillon Mitchell, who had two receptions last season, and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile, who had one catch last year.

Two former defensive backs have also reportedly been moved to receiver: redshirt sophomore Malik Lovette, who played cornerback last season, and sophomore Brenden Schooler, who started 10 games at safety in 2016.

Darrian McNeal, of Seffner, Florida, leads a host of freshman receivers who will look to contribute.

“I feel like we’re very talented in this receiving group,” Nelson said. “We’re young and supposed to be inexperienced, but I feel like it’s a great thing. They underestimate us. Every guy is different in their own way. Every guy has their own special capabilities. I’ve seen it in summer workouts and I’m very excited to see what’s about to happen.”

Nelson will likely be the main target for sophomore starting quarterback Justin Herbert, and the new coaching staff has asked both Nelson and Herbert to become more vocal leaders. Nelson said that was a challenge for him at first, but he has grown more comfortable with being an outspoken leader among the wide receivers.

“That’s something that’s kind of hard, because I don’t like to talk as much, I don’t like to voice my opinion,” Nelson said. “I just kind of keep to myself and go with the flow … but just being that person that they want me to be, I feel like I’ve grown into that, because they’re pushing for it so hard and it’s making me do it. It’s been great so far.”

Nelson said he also plans to return kicks this season after averaging nearly 26 yards per kickoff return, including one touchdown, in 2016.

Mitchell, from Memphis, Tennessee, could be another frequent target for Herbert in the Oregon offense. Mitchell reportedly turned down some SEC schools to sign with Oregon, but a knee injury kept him sidelined until late in his freshman season.

Mitchell said the energized attitude and approach from Taggart and his staff will help the young wide receivers blossom this season.

“I believe we’ll have a lot more fun on the field this year, and Taggart, he wants us to celebrate,” said Mitchell, who had three catches for 75 yards in the spring game in April. “He wants us to have fun being out there and not be so uptight.”

Nelson was recruited by Taggart when he was still coaching at South Florida. Nelson said Taggart’s style of trying to make leaders out of nearly every player will help the Ducks bounce back from a disappointing 4-8 season last year.

“They tell us, this is what you have to do so that this team can be great,” Nelson said of the coaching staff. “It’s something they express every single day. They’re telling you they need leaders on this team. He’s getting everybody commissioned to be a leader, so I think that just opens it up for everybody and makes us a better team.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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