The Oregon Ducks continue to be one of college football’s most exciting teams in the country, but if there was ever a time for spring practice, it would be this season. With a new head coach in place, issues on the defensive side of the ball and a few concerns offensively, there are clearly wrinkles that need to be ironed out before a title run can begin.
Oregon does return 15 starters, which should help matters, but there are plenty of position battles to discuss that will make this spring very interesting. Head coach Mark Helfrich taking over the team will take some getting used to in itself.
The Ducks kick off spring practice on April 2 and the spring game will be played on April 27 at 11:00 a.m. PT.
With not much time to waste, let's breakdown the Oregon Ducks' 2013 spring practice.
Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more. Also, there is no slide for early enrollees, due to the Ducks not having any 2013 recruits on campus in the spring.
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Update: April 23
With the spring game right around the corner, head coach Mark Helfrich still has no idea what format he will use. According to Chris Courtney of 247Sports, Helfrich has three different plans on the table, and it all depends on injuries and depth on which one he will use.
"We're going to decide that in the next probably day and a half," said Helfrich of the still to be determined spring game format. "We'll get together with the medical staff after today and see where we are.
"We have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C for kind of how we're going to go about this and it's just going to depend on our overall health."
Update: April 16
With Oregon about halfway through spring ball, head coach Mark Helfrich is starting to name a few of the guys who have been big time contributors early on and guys who may see increased playing time. According to Chris Courtney of 247Sports, those players happen to be tight end Pharaoh Brown and linebacker Joe Walker.
"Pharaoh Brown has been tremendous," said Helfrich. "Again, he's a guy that's just needed to grow up. He's a young, huge, fast, smart, tough guy and he just needs to keep playing.
"Joe Walker has stood out at times [too]," Helfrich continued. "He's a guy that's going 100 mph and he's just trying to figure out which direction and which map, and that's great. He's a guy who I had a talk with the other day; he's a guy who is really close to breaking through and getting it and he just needs to believe it...Just that kind of flip of a switch confidence wise."
Update: April 11
Oregon held a recent scrimmage and according to Chris Courtney of 247Sports, the defense got the better of it early on.
"The defense got the better of the offense for a little bit," said Helfrich Tuesday. "Offense had a few big plays and offense probably finished a little bit stronger at the end, but we got a lot of great tape. We got a lot of young guys that made mistakes – not getting out of bounds in a two-minute drill, maybe not in the right place in a prevent defense type situation – but just a lot of great stuff to talk about."
As for the continued development of running back Byron Marshall, Helfrich liked what he saw, as the backup runner is fighting this spring for increased playing time.
"[Byron] got better as the day went on," said Helfrich. "He started a little slowly, but Byron is just a guy that just is still finding himself as a runner and just needs to put the toughness and the sprinter together all the time. He's a smart guy, a tough guy, a total back type guy, and now he just needs to do that all the time."
Update: April 8
Head coach Mark Helfrich recently provided a little bit of useful information after the Ducks practice over the weekend. According to Chris Courtney of 247Sports, he was asked if defensive back Avery Patterson will be ready by the time the season begins.
"I would have no evidence to the contrary."
As for guys who could step up and become leaders on this team with so many either graduating or leaving for the next level, Helfrich threw a few names out there, according to the report.
A bunch of guys have stepped up in that regard. Tony Washington's a guy who has been a lot more vocal than he has in the past, Ifo (Ekpre-Olomu) has been a tremendous leader, Avery Patterson and Erick Dargan are both guys that popped in to my mind immediately...Those guys are doing a good job of pushing the tempo and coaching up everybody else and doing the things that just need to be reinforced.
Update: April 3
The Ducks may have changed head coaches, but much of the course remains the same under Mark Helfrich. With the new guy in charge just getting his feet wet, he took things a little slow on the first practice of the spring, according to Chris Courtney of 247Sports.
I was just trying to make sure everybody was in the right place, me first. Said Helfrich. There's a lot of new faces out there – like our equipment staff who does an outstanding job. It was a lot of, 'Hey, you!', so I've got to know names better, but it went well.
If you are wondering how the team will look as a whole, you should be able to recognize them once the season kicks off. According to the report, Oregon is doing basically the same stuff it did under Chip Kelly; with really no drastic changes whatsoever.
There's some things we've changed a little bit as far as how we do some drills, but that happens every year at every school in America. Said Helfrich. It's just some different things that our players don't even really notice as far as maybe they're doing a different route there when they've done something else before, but nothing drastic at all.
According to Rob Moseley of the Register-Guard, running backs coach Gary Campbell sees De'Anthony Thomas as the No. 1 running back heading into this year. It looks like an increased workload is on tap for the speedy back.
Talked with Gary Campbell today. He sees De'Anthony Thomas as his No. 1 running back, and Byron Marshall as the backup for the moment.— Rob Moseley (@DuckFootball) April 3, 2013
Update: March 29
New head coach Mark Helfrich is excited for spring ball and said this is his favorite time of the year, according to Jason Vondersmith of the Portland Tribune.
“I love spring football,” said Helfrich. “It’s the best time of year. You can compare and see guys grow up. There is no win or loss, a game day at the end of the week. It’s a great time for everybody to get better.”
While Chip Kelly may no longer be roaming the sidelines this season, Helfrich has decided to keep some of the rules the same. Injuries will not be discussed, practices may be closed off to the public and limitations in practice will also not be mentioned, according to the report.
Key Offensive Battles to Watch
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It's safe to assume that the starting quarterback for the Ducks will continue to be Marcus Mariota. However, with the play-calling and the amount of hits he takes, the backup position is extremely important.
Who is going to step up?
With Bryan Bennett no longer on the roster, the position battle will come down to two redshirt freshmen in Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie.
Rodrigues has terrific size at 6'3" and is a lot like Mariota in the sense he can absolutely kill you with his legs. Lockie is a bit on the smaller side, as far as his frame is concerned. He isn't as athletic as Rodrigues, but he does a decent job of moving around in the pocket and gets the ball out quickly.
Predicted Starter: Jake Rodrigues
Actual Winners: TBD
Oregon has three great pieces along the offensive line in Hroniss Grasu, Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone. The problem is that none of those guys play the guard positions, which have both been opened up with Ryan Clanton and Kyle Long leaving the program.
Hamani Stevens is going to be considered the favorite to start at left guard, since he was the backup behind Long. Everett Benyard is one of only two other players to have starting experience, besides the original starters, up front. While he would be the favorite to play on the right side, redshirt freshman Matt McFadden is a sleeper, as is sophomore Andre Yruretagoyena.
Obviously with the offense the Ducks run, guard play is extremely important, and watching this unit develop in the spring will be key to their overall success.
Predicted Starter: Hamani Stevens and Everett Benyard
Actual Winners: TBD
Key Defensive Battles to Watch
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Much like the offensive line, the middle linebacker position took a big hit in the offseason. With both Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay gone, it not only puts a dent in the production, but it also removes two of the leaders from this defense.
While leadership is likely going to lack early on, the lost production must be made up for immediately.
Two guys that would have seriously been considered for the positions were Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick. However, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti told Rivals that both are going to be extremely limited during spring ball.
That leaves redshirt freshman Brett Bafaro and Carlyle Garrick to take the majority of the reps early on. Other guys to pay attention to include Joe Walker, Rahim Cassell and Isaac Ava.
Predicted Starter: Brett Bafaro and Carlyle Garrick
Actual Winners: TBD
With guys such as Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi returning for their senior seasons, the defensive line isn't in serious trouble. However, there were some serious issues in the past with injuries, and that did effect how things played out last year.
Even this spring, there may not be a ton of able bodies available due to several offseason surgeries players ended up going through with.
With the injury questions raising a concern, some of the younger players must step up and provide some much needed depth. That means players like Arik Armstead, Alex Balducci and DeForest Buckner all need to wear big-boy pants and prove they can enter the rotation with little issues.
The starting defensive front should include very little surprises; it is the backups we should be concerned about.
Predicted Starter: Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi
Actual Winners: TBD
Sleepers to Watch
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Offensive Sleeper: Bralon Addison, WR
Addison was a nice contributor as a true freshman last season, hauling in 22 receptions for 243 yards and three scores, but he isn't going to be considered a starter right now with the depth at the position.
With that being said, this kid not only has the speed to help stretch the field, he is also tough to wrap up in the open field.
Playmakers deserve playing time in this offense and it doesn't get much better than Addison.
Defensive Sleeper: Arik Armstead, DL
Armstead was able to get his feet wet last season, but he is somebody who can provide a much greater impact on the defensive side of the ball going forward.
Strong at the point of attack, he is physical and has a high motor. Armstead has the potential to take his game to another level this season. He doesn't appear to be much of a factor in rushing the passer, but he can soon develop into a terrific run defender and become the anchor of this defensive line.