Oregon Football: 5 Goals the Ducks Must Accomplish During Spring Practice
There are a number of goals likely sitting somewhere on head coach Mark Helfrich's desk pertaining to the 2013 season.
Protect home field. Be road warriors. Win the conference. Maybe even win a national championship.
But in order for his team to accomplish those goals they must first reach the ones put in place specifically for spring practice. As the saying goes, you can't win a title in the spring but you sure can lose one.
The next month will consist largely of conditioning drills as well as making sure everyone remembers proper fundamentals. Of course, everybody wants to continue to get better as well.
But let's take a look at five specific goals the Ducks must accomplish over the course of the next month if they want their bigger dreams to come true in the fall.
I'm not aware of any Bleacher Report photo jinx, so I feel safe putting up a picture of De'Anthony Thomas. I think it's also safe to say that he is one of the many players that must avoid injury this spring if the Ducks hope to head into summer in good shape.
Oregon is extremely thin at a number of positions, most notably offensive line and running back, but they are very inexperienced at several others, such as linebacker.
While the team has better depth than at any point in program history, they are still a few key injuries away from entering the 2013 season with more questions than answers.
Staying healthy is a goal for everybody at this point, and accomplishing it requires a certain amount of luck.
But if the Ducks can exit spring with only a few bumps and bruises, they'll have to feel good about where things stand.
Get on Same Page with New Coordinators
I don't expect the transition from offensive coordinator to head coach will be too difficult for Mark Helfrich. He's been in the system for several years, knows the players and most importantly, knows what it takes to win games at Oregon.
The same cannot be said for incoming coaches Ron Aiken and Matt Lubick, who will head up the defensive line and wide receivers, respectively.
Both guys have a wealth of knowledge and experience related to football, but some of that goes out the window in a new system with players they haven't been around very much. Lubick talks about some of the challenges here (courtesy of Rob Moseley and the Register Guard), which include learning the new verbiage.
If you trust Helfrich, you trust that he made excellent hires with both of these coaches. But it will still take time for them to become familiar with the way things work at Oregon.
If the Ducks are able to integrate both guys smoothly and have them completely up to speed by the time the spring game rolls around, they'll have accomplished this particular goal.
Be Hungry Every Day—Find Leadership
It would be easy for a team coming off four straight BCS appearances to slouch a little bit. They've dominated the majority of the competition and have become one of the premier programs in the country.
Several key leaders, like Kenjon Barner and Michael Clay, are no longer around.
But I don't think motivation will be an issue considering just how close this team has come to winning it all.
The real question is, which guys will step up and become leaders?
Marcus Mariota is certainly in a position to do so, as is Josh Huff, the team's most experienced wide receiver. You'd like to think Boseko Lokombo will step up on defense and that savvy veterans like Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will join in.
But we won't know for sure until the cleats are laced up and the team hits the practice field.
So what kind of leadership will this team have? It's a question that coach Mark Helfrich would like to have an answer to when spring practice concludes.
Find out About Joe Walker
Joe Walker, a junior college transfer linebacker, will be the only recruit from the 2013 class on hand for spring practice.
With the Ducks losing both Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay from the position, Walker could become a key cog in Nick Aliotti's defense next season.
Oregon has a lot of young guys with talent. Rahim Cassell, Rodney Hardrick, Tyson Coleman, Derrick Malone and Brett Bafaro, just to name a few, will all be vying for playing time at linebacker.
But with a year of junior college football under his belt, Walker may be the most prepared to step in and make a major impact immediately.
You typically see several recruits enroll early, and it's nice for coaches to get an idea of what they'll be able to do in year one.
But this year it's just Walker, and you can bet the coaches will keep a close eye on him throughout spring as they look to solidify the linebacking corps.
WR Depth—Who Steps Up?
The battle at wide receiver will be the most interesting of any position on the team.
For one, Oregon is expected to pass more next season with Mariota's experience and WR coach Matt Lubick's success at Duke last year.
But perhaps more importantly, the team has so much talent, yet very few players have reached their potential. The one known commodity is Josh Huff, who despite several injuries during his sophomore and junior years, has NFL talent and can go toe-to-toe with anybody in the secondary.
After Huff, both Keanon Lowe and Daryle Hawkins have plenty of experience. But despite being excellent blockers, neither jumped off the screen with their play, and you wonder what kind of steps forward they may take in 2013.
After that starting trio, Bralon Addison, Dwayne Stanford and B.J. Kelley have all shown flashes of brilliance. Who might emerge from that group as a big-time playmaker?
Several true freshman will arrive on campus over the summer, but it's important for the Ducks to find out exactly what they have at receiver, and for that talent to continue to grow throughout the spring.