Bowl Practice Key for Helfrich and the Young Ducks Heading into the Offseason

Brandon Oliver@@BOatBRContributor IApril 12, 2017

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 19: Defensive back Terrance Mitchell #27 of the Oregon Ducks runs back an interception for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the game against the Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game 62-38. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

With their last-minute win over Oregon State in the "Civil War," Oregon secured another season with at least 10 wins.

If head coach Mark Helfrich wants to run Oregon's streak of seasons with double-digit wins to seven, the next few weeks of practice for his team's game against Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl should give him a valuable head start.

With the announcement that quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu plan to return to school in 2014, the offense should be as good as ever. But the Oregon defense is another story, as the Ducks lose five starters to graduation and could lose both starting cornerbacks to the NFL draft. 

Safety Erick Dargan will be one of the defensive leaders on a young Oregon defense in 2014.
Safety Erick Dargan will be one of the defensive leaders on a young Oregon defense in 2014.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Even if cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell don't declare for the NFL draft, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will need his talented young players to rise to the occasion in 2014.

Making a bowl game is important for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important is the extra practice time that bowl teams are allowed.

DL DeForest Buckner could emerge as a dominant force in 2014.
DL DeForest Buckner could emerge as a dominant force in 2014.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Preparing for the matchup with Texas is the first priority, but Helfrich and the rest of the staff will also be working to push their young talent to reach the next level as they enter the offseason.

Recent recruiting success has given the staff a roster loaded with elite athletes who are ready to fill in at a moment's notice. Given the excessive workload created by Oregon's hurry-up offense, the Ducks' defense relies heavily on a regular rotation of nearly 25 players.

Aside from keeping fresh bodies on the field, the rotation allows the backups to gain valuable experience in a variety of game situations. Many teams wait until the game is out of reach to insert their young backups on defense—but not the Ducks.

Oregon has a long list of underclassmen who have gained valuable game experience and a number of redshirts awaiting their opportunity. 

Oregon's underclassmen, like defensive lineman Arik Armstead can use bowl practice to set the tone for 2014.
Oregon's underclassmen, like defensive lineman Arik Armstead can use bowl practice to set the tone for 2014.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The young defensive line group has an outstanding mix of size, power, athleticism and experience, which could make it the strength of the defense in 2014. In order for that to be true, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci all need to take the next step this offseason.

Primary defensive linemen returning in 2014
Player (Position)YearGames PlayedHeightWeight
Tony Washington (DE)Junior356'3"245
Arik Armstead (DL)Soph216'8"285
DeForest Buckner (DL)Soph256'7"286
Alec Balducci (DT)Soph166'4"297
Stetzon Bair (DT)RS-Soph16'9"276
Sam Kamp (DE)RS-Soph146'4"258
Chistian French (DE)RS-Soph196'5"244
T.J. Daniel (DE)Soph96'6"253

In terms of experience, the linebackers are in the best shape for the 2014 season, with two returning starters and game-tested backups set to return. The position has a lot of room for improvement and a host of young players who will make a push for playing time.

Primary linebackers returning in 2014
Player (Position)YearGames PlayedHeightWeight
Derrick MaloneJr386'2"212
Rodney Hardrick (MLB)RS-Soph256'1"243
Tyson ColemanRS-Soph256'1"223
Joe WalkerSoph106'2"220
Rahim CassellRS-Soph256'0"218
Torrodney PrevotFrosh96'3"214
Isaac AvaJunior205'10"260
Oshay DunmoreRS-Frosh106'2"207
Tyrell RobinsonFrosh56'4"202

With the potential of losing all four starters, the secondary is likely to suffer the biggest loss after the season. Luckily for the Ducks, they have experienced returnees and a talented group of athletes to help solidify the back end of the defense.

Primary defensive backs returning in 2014
Player (Position)YearGames PlayedHeight
Erick Dargan (Safety)Junior315'11"212
Troy Hill (CB)Junior355'11170
Dior Mathis (CB)Junior225'9"175
Reggie Daniels (Safety)RS-Frosh96'1"208
Issac Dixon (Safety)RS-Frosh145'11"193
Stephen Amoako (DB)RS-Frosh15'11"197
Eric Amoako (DB)RS-Frosh15'11"193
Tyree Robinson (DB)FroshN/A6'4"200
Juwaan Williams (DB)FroshN/A6'0"185
Chris SeisayFrishN/A6'1"177

There are plenty of talented players not listed above who signed with the Ducks, but have yet to see the field as redshirts. Bowl practices allow those players to work with the coaches in the developmental practice sessions that focus primarily on the younger athletes.

Most of the freshman spend their first college season playing the role of the upcoming opponent and haven't had the benefit of individual coaching to help them learn their team's own schemes.

At these pre-bowl practices, the coaches get a closer look at the underclassmen who haven't seen the field, which gives the staff an opportunity to decide which players are primed for an expanded role next season.

With signing day fast approaching, bowl practices also help the staff with its recruiting efforts. The Oregon class currently sits at 14 players, with a wide range of positions being accounted for among the commits.

Bowl practice gives the coaches an early look at where they might need to focus their effort down the recruiting homestretch. If some of the younger players don't appear ready to take their game to the next level, the staff can pursue more targets at that position.

The benefits of the extra practice sessions are endless and, with the defense about to take on a whole new look in 2014, the Ducks will use the next three weeks to not only prepare for Texas, but also for next season.