Does Tyson Coleman (#33) have the inside track on a starting LB spot?
A week from today the entirety of the Oregon Ducks' roster will be back in Eugene and a day later, practice will finally be underway.
Without the benefit of getting insight from reporters attending practice, most fans will take on a "no news is good news" approach. After all, most major developments that come out of fall camp are injury-related.
But the team still has a lot to accomplish, and that includes deciding on who will start at several key positions.
For now, it appears that both the secondary and defensive line are set. The wide receiver spots look to be fairly secure, as do the tight end, quarterback, tackle and center positions.
Even running back fails to make this list because while De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall appear to be the one-two punch, many are expecting a by-committee approach and thus, the "starter" designation isn't critical.
As the season progresses, other competitions may develop. Will Bralon Addison be able to break into the starting rotation of wideouts? Has Arik Armstead shown enough improvement to roll with the ones?
This is a projection from February of what the two-deep may look like in 2013, courtesy of Rob Moseley, the then-beat writer for the Register Guard. Note that a couple positions look a little different from where we sit nearly six months later, most notably the running back spot where coach Mark Helfrich called Thomas the starter.
Using that as sort of a general outline, while also factoring in developments that have taken place since it was written, let's take a look at the five biggest position battles as the Ducks head into fall practice.
Can Jake Rodrigues win the Backup spot at QB?
I realize that the backup quarterback battle isn't very high on the interest scale for most Duck fans. After all, the goal is that neither Jake Rodrigues nor Jeff Lockie will have to take any meaningful snaps this season.
But this contest is important for a couple major reasons.
The first is the potential for Marcus Mariota to miss some time due to injury. That may sound like a jinx, but consider that 2012 was the first season a starting Oregon quarterback has stayed healthy throughout the entire season (other than a few anxious moments during the Cal game).
History isn't exactly on Mariota's side, and while it seems odd to picture this team without him at the helm, odds tell us that has a decent chance of happening, even if it's just for a series or two.
The second reason this position battle is important is because the winner could be the starting quarterback in 2014. I'm not going to hypothesize about Mariota's future and nobody has a clue at this point whether he's even considering the 2014 NFL draft as an option. But given his incredible freshman season and the solid odds that he'll put up great numbers once again this year, it's hard to believe the NFL draft won't, at the very least, creep into Mariota's mind following the bowl game.
The battle between Rodrigues and Lockie may not be settled in camp, and if the Ducks build up a big enough lead in their first couple games, we could see the backups come out in a different order each week. But it benefits everybody to have a specific pecking order, because the second-string guy will be the first one into the game if the Ducks are way ahead and the first man called on should Mariota get dinged up.
While the backup quarterback battle is one that could ultimately have very little effect on the season, it is nonetheless an important one, and it'll be interesting to see if somebody wins it or if Helfrich lets it linger into the season.
Tony Washington celebrates following Oregon's Fiesta Bowl victory
The drop-end spot (officially the outside linebacker position, but more on the linebackers later) looks to have already been won by Tony Washington.
The junior has the size and experience to capably fill the shoes vacated by Dion Jordan. Washington started the Fiesta Bowl as well, so why would this position be on the list of battles? Because of the guys champing at the bit just beneath him on the depth chart.
First there's Christian French, perhaps the breakout player of spring on the defensive side of the ball. French was a highly touted recruit who began his career on the offensive side of the ball. The 6'5" 240-pound sophomore has too much athleticism to stay on the sideline, so it will be interesting to see if he plays his way into starting contention.
The wild card in this battle is true freshman Torrodney Prevot, a lighter but speedy player who could be an instant-impact guy this season. It would be surprising to see him work his way into a starting spot, but Prevot may be too good to keep off the field as well.
Keep in mind that Washington isn't exactly a weak link on the starting defense. But his challengers are extremely talented and it wouldn't be shocking to see both French and Prevot challenge for the spot. In any case, all three could be a part of the rotation, and that makes the drop-end position one of the most intriguing battles to watch as we enter fall practice.
Mana Greig (#63) and Hamani Stevens (#54) could be the starting guards this season
Three-fifths of the offensive line is set in stone as Hroniss Grasu, Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher are all coming off fantastic 2012 campaigns. But with the departures of Nick Cody, Kyle Long and Ryan Clanton, the remaining two spots at guard are up for grabs.
Among those with previous experience are Hamani Stevens, Mana Greig, Jamal Prater and Andre Yruretagoyena. Stevens and Greig may have the inside track at the moment, but expect this competition to be a fierce one. Out of the group, only Greig is a senior, and the entire line is littered with talented youth.
This includes freshmen Evan Voeller and Cameron Hunt, two highly touted young guns who could also play their way into the fray.
The competition is critical because with the coaching staff feeling confident about the middle and ends of the line, being able to solidify the guard spots would make the offensive line as complete as it has ever been. And with the line being a place where injuries seem to occur frequently, a tight competition will have more guys prepared to play later in the season should such a situation arise.
The competition at guard isn't exactly riveting, but it's very important to the success of the offense in 2013.
Boseko Lokombo has a starting spot. Will Derrick Malone (#22) be joining him.
Boseko Lokombo is the only guy with a secure starting spot, so I'm lumping together the entire linebacker competition (though the drop-end spot is technically part of this is well).
Among the candidates vying for a starting gig are Tyson Coleman, Rodney Hardrick, Rahim Cassell, Derrick Malone, Brett Bafaro and junior college transfer Joe Walker.
The first thing that jumps out about this group is the talent level. Experience may not be a current strong suit, but this group of players has all the potential in the world to continue strong in the footsteps of Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.
If we're going off experience alone, Coleman and Malone may have the upper hand, but Walker arrived early and participated in spring. Both Cassell and Hardrick have had impressive moments as well.
This is a position that fans will be watching very closely once the season begins because it is one of the few question marks entering the season. The battle will be a fierce one, and no matter who comes out on top, you can expect all of these guys to be a part of the rotation.
Kicker may not be the most important position on the team given that it only impacts a small percentage of the game, but that percentage has played a major role in the past two seasons and this could be the tightest battle of them all.
I know many fans will write Matt Wogan in as the starter, and that seems to be the general expectation outside the team. But you can count on the coaching staff to give both he and Alejandro Maldonado an equal shot at winning the job.
Wogan arrives with a ton of hype, but you have to wonder if some of the hype has been overblown simply because the kicking woes have been so brutal the past couple seasons. That isn't to say Wogan can't be a great kicker immediately, but his hype means nothing when you take into account that Maldonado was a highly rated kicker at one point too. And that he hasn't, you know, actually kicked in a college game before.
We may not know the outcome of this battle until the official depth chart is released. Fans can only hope that the winner is the guy who jumps ahead in the competition and makes himself a clear-cut choice to start. That may favor Wogan, but both guys will have a chance.
Let's just hope that the winner realizes how important his first real kick will be; after all the problems in the past, a good first impression may be a necessity.