Herbert, offense produce plays, but defense gets into the act, too

TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Tony Brooks-James takes off for yardage during Saturday's Oregon Ducks spring game at Autzen Stadium.EUGENE — Young quarterback Justin Herbert threw three touchdown passes to veteran receiver Darren Carrington as Oregon played its spring football game Saturday before 36,821 fans at Autzen Stadium.

Herbert's "Free" team beat the "Brave," 34-11, in the military-themed event, which marked the 15th and final practice of Willie Taggart's first spring session as coach.

Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit (95 yards) and Tony Brooks-James had rushing touchdowns.

The defense, one of the country's worst units in 2016, appears to have made some strides. Billy Gibson and Arrion Springs had interceptions.

Has Herbert solidified his position as the No. 1 quarterback? Taggart wouldn't commit to Herbert as the starter, yet, saying he and assistants want to evaluate everything about the quarterbacks, including how they lead off the field.

But Herbert, the sophomore from Eugene's Sheldon High, went 16 of 26 for 327 yards and three scores, with no interceptions, and generally looked in command.

"Overall, it was pretty good," Herbert said. "I missed a couple throws. I missed Ryan Bay running down the middle of the field; felt bad about that."

Carrington said it's Herbert job to lose. And, Herbert will have a pretty good go-to receiver in the senior from San Diego, who had TD receptions of 13, 30 and 25 yards.

"I wanted to go out there and have fun," Carrington said. "We got a new coaching staff and offense. We wanted to give Oregon some excitement, have fun out there, and show the energy that the new coaches bring to guys on the field."

Carrington and Freeman bypassed the opportunity to leave early for the NFL draft, which, coincidentally, took place this weekend. They are going to be two pillars on the Ducks, as far as leaders.

Carrington has made many big plays in his previous three seasons, so a three-TD spring game doesn't surprise anyone, including Taggart.

"It's kind of what we expect from him," the coach said. "He's a gamer. He loves to compete."

Playing for the "Brave" team, backup quarterbacks Travis Jonsen (5 of 15, 86 yards, interception) and Braxton Burmeister (3 of 7, 63 yards, interception) weren't particularly impressive. Jonsen had a 44-yard completion to Dillon Mitchell in the first half. The "Brave" team didn't score a touchdown until 4:04 left in the game.

Coming off a 4-8 campaign, the Ducks fired Mark Helfrich, hired Taggart and brought in basically an entirely new regime.

Players say they like the new coaches and feel it's a new beginnning. The team has Pac-12 talent, including many returnees on offense.

But Taggart warns against making hopes too high on the eve of the offseason and before August training camp and the season-opening game Sept. 2 at home against Southern Utah.

"Oh, no, we're still building," Taggart said. "We're nowhere near where we need to be. We have good players. We don't have a lot of depth."

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