EUGENE — Taj Griffin expects to be on the field when Oregon opens the season against Southern Utah on Sept. 2.
“I’m pretty sure I will be ready,” the Oregon junior running back/receiver said. “We will play it by how I am feeling, but as of now I feel pretty good where I am at. I am definitely trying to make it back for the first game.”
Griffin, who missed the final three games last year following knee surgery, has been back on the field in a limited role during the first week of fall camp.
“I’m full go right now,” Griffin said. “Not to contact, they still want to be cautious with that. I have been out running around, doing seven-on-seven and one-on-ones and everything else really.”
Griffin also had surgery on his knee early in his senior season at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Ga., and returned to play the following season as a true freshman with the Ducks.
“It happened before so I knew the expectations of what it takes to get back to 100 percent,” Griffin said. “It’s easier the second time. It’s not easy, but it is easier because I knew what it took. It is easier mentally.”
Griffin, who ran 114 times for 753 yards and six touchdowns in his first two seasons, remains listed as a running back on Oregon’s roster, but he has spent most of his practice time at slot receiver as the Ducks seek options at a position in which they have few experienced players.
Griffin caught 10 passes for 162 yards and a touchdowns as a freshman and had seven catches for 89 yards and a score last season.
Putting on the pads
Oregon put on shoulder pads for the first time during fall camp on Thursday.
“We are going to thud it up a little bit,” UO coach Willie Taggart said prior to practice. “Not take anybody to the ground, but get the pads clacking nice and loud. See who can move people up front and execute.”
Taggart joked that he wouldn’t “see as many All-Americans” during Oregon’s first contact practice after the Ducks were in helmets during the first three days. The coach wasn’t surprised that some players and reporters at practice said the defense looked better than the offense early in the week.
“That is typical when it is just helmets on,” Taggart said. “If the defense isn’t winning those practices, then we got issues with this football team. With pads on, it is a little different.”
Quarterback Justin Herbert said the vibe at practice changes when the pads are on.
“There is more hitting, and overall it is much more physical,” he said.
Oregon held separate practices for newcomers and veterans on the first two days of practice before having its first full-squad workout on Wednesday.
Taggart planned to get the freshmen more involved during their second full practice.
“I think we have to get those guys more reps,” he said. “We have some young guys that can play, and I am real excited about them.
“I think they are getting our entire football team excited about them, and it is still early. It doesn’t take too much on helmet days; they can all play with helmets. Now we will see how the young guys react once they have shoulder pads, so that will be interesting.”
Ducks don’t crack Top 25
The Ducks will begin the Taggart era as a “receiving votes” program.
Oregon is not ranked in the preseason coaches poll, which includes four Pac-12 teams and Taggart’s former team, South Florida.
Preseason Pac-12 favorite USC is No. 4 behind Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State. Reigning conference champion Washington is No. 7 behind defending national champion Clemson and Penn State at Nos. 5 and 6. Oklahoma, Michigan and Wisconsin round out the top 10.
The other ranked Pac-12 teams are No. 14 Stanford and No. 25 Utah. Washington State (99 votes, 26th), Colorado (72 votes, 27th) and Oregon (37 votes, 34th) are not far behind.
The Ducks were No. 22 in last year’s preseason coaches poll before finishing 4-8 and hiring Taggart away from South Florida, which is No. 21 in this year’s initial ranking.