Oregon is ready for its first spring game of the Mark Helfrich era. The former offensive coordinator takes over for Chip Kelly, who's currently conducting his first draft with the Philadelphia Eagles. The coaching change is the main storyline for the Ducks.
The modifications, whether they be major or minor, Helfrich decides to make from his successful predecessor will ultimately shape how Oregon moves forward. The Ducks probably won't shift too far away from their high-flying, fast-paced style.
Fans will get a closer look at how the team is shaping up for the fall. While no final judgments should be made completely based off play in the spring exhibition, it's definitely a key stop on the road to the 2013 regular season.
Let's take a look at all the important information for the Oregon spring game, followed by some things to watch during the annual showcase.
Where: Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
When: Saturday, April 27 at 2 p.m. ET
Watch: Pac-12 Networks
Position Battle to Watch: Tony Washington vs. Christian French at DE
The Miami Dolphins selected Dion Jordan with the third overall pick in the NFL draft. The battle between Washington and French will likely decide who gets to replace the talented end at Oregon. Washington enters with the edge.
Both players have illustrated the potential to fill the role, but Washington is the more polished player right now. Since Oregon is expected to emerge as one of the nation's top teams once again, that added experience will help bolster the drop end spot.
The one area where French could see more playing time is on passing downs. He's got more pass-rushing upside than Washington, which means he should eventually carve out a niche for himself. A strong spring game could narrow the gap for the starting job.
Area in Need of Improvement: Front Seven
The Ducks have a tremendous offense that's going to score a boatload of points. Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas ensure that. But Oregon has lost far too many battles at the point of attack on defense in recent years, especially in big games.
Aside from Jordan, the front seven also lost linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay. Those two combined for over 180 total tackles last season as the two leading tacklers. They will be tough to replace, and certainly raises concerns about how effective the defense will be.
Since Oregon should possess one of the country's top offenses, it doesn't need an elite defense. The unit must win more individual battles and generate more pressure if its going to help the team toward the top of the conference and potentially a marquee bowl game, though.
What to Expect in 2013
Spring games are always intriguing because it's the first real chance to see how a team is beginning to shape up for next season. For a team like Oregon that will enter the 2013 campaign with high expectations, it's a key building block.
If everything works out as Helfrich envisions, this is a roster with enough talent to be a constant presence in the top five. The biggest concerns are obviously on defense, but smaller issues like figuring out a running back rotation are also a work in progress.
Even though the potential is obvious, there's still plenty of work to do for the Ducks to get in the title hunt. It starts with the spring game and will continue right up until kickoff of the opener. Cautious optimism is probably the best approach for now.
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