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The Ducks are coming off an underachieving 2017 season and soaring into 2018 with high expectations behind first-year head coach Mario Cristobal and his worst kept secret, quarterback Justin Herbert.

The junior quarterback hopes to bounce back after suffering a broken collarbone that forced him to miss five games last season. Herbert’s absence crippled the Ducks offensive mojo. He proved to be the only player capable of putting points on the board, completing 67.5 percentage with 15 touchdown passes to only five interceptions. Compare that to his counterparts who combined for three touchdowns and seven interceptions in his five-game absence.

This promising, maybe even Heisman hopeful, QB had two aspects he focused on improving this offseason. The first was bulking up. He stood at 6’6″, 200 lbs last year. Not horrible, but not durable either. His skinny frame not only took zip and distance off his passes, it made him susceptible to injury on any hit he absorbed. Case and point, his broken collarbone.

If he has any aspiration of playing in the NFL, he must be able to sustain massive hits delivered by players at the next level. Last week at the PAC-12 media day, Herbert revealed the team’s strength and conditioning coaches paired him with defensive lineman Jalen Jelks.

“They probably shouldn’t put quarterbacks with a defensive lineman as workout partners.” Herbert said at media day, “but it works. It’s been tough for me because he lifts a lot of weight. But he’s made me better.”

Coach Cristabol can’t hide his excitement of his new and improved NFL lookin’, laser arm throwing signal caller. However, it’s not the muscle Cristabol is most excited to witness, it’s the challenge he presented to Herbert in the summer, to become a more vocal leader on the field.

No team in college, or the pros for that matter, can win a championship without exceptional play from their quarterback. It’s the most important position in football, and Herbert believes that he has succeeded his coaches challenge.

As for his coach, well, he believes his guy will be the best QB in the PAC-12. Think about it. USC lost Sam Darnold, UCLA lost Josh Rosen, and Washington State lost Luke Falk, Herbert’s only threats in the conference are either Washington’s Jake Browning or Arizona’s Khalil Tate.

Those three QB’s are the consensus pre-season top choices to be the best in the West. Yet with all the hype around Mario Cristabol and his recruiting classes flying into the University of “Nike”, the talk around the conference is, in time, that Oregon will once again rain the North Division.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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