Oregon Football: Familiar Faces but New Perspective Shape Ducks' 2014

Kyle Kensing@kensing45Contributor IApril 2, 2014

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 16: Running back Byron Marshall #9 of the Oregon Ducks is greeted on the sidelines by head coach Mark Helfrich after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter of the game against the Utah Utes at Autzen Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Oregon Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Marcus Mariota sported a bulkier frame at the first day of spring practices Tuesday. Mariota's attention-garnering weight gain is an indication of the adjustments the Oregon coaching staff is emphasizing to improve the Ducks' existing formula.  

In the three months since Oregon last took the field, the Ducks heeded new defensive coordinator Don Pellum's words that they needed to "push more weight," per GoDucks.com.

Mariota is just one of numerous Ducks to check in for spring practice with more mass. Duck Territory, 247Sports.com's Oregon site, notes some of the significant weight gains made in the winter. 

Oregon made its bones over the last seven seasons with speed, but in 2014 it looks to take the next step by adding size to the mix.  

This renewed emphasis on strength is one of the ways in which second-year head coach Mark Helfrich is making his mark on the program. The Ducks offensive coordinator for four years under predecessor Chip Kelly, Helfrich followed in the order of progression that is an Oregon tradition.

University athletic brass seems to follow the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But that doesn't mean longtime Ducks staffers shy away from making adjustments.  

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 19: Linebacker coach Don Pellum of the Oregon Ducks yells out instructions to his players before the game against the USC Trojans at Autzen Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Such is the case with Pellum, who after more than two decades as an assistant was promoted from linebackers coach to replace Nick Aliotti in January. 

Aliotti made his own tweaks to the Oregon formula after spending some time in the program. His 15-season tenure is a prime example of how a familiar face at Oregon can change the way in which the Ducks operate.

After nearly a decade in the program, Aliotti crafted a 3-4 defensive scheme reliant on cycling through numerous players and generating turnovers to complement Kelly's torrid offensive pace. 

Continuity with a twist; that's the Oregon way. Ducks coaches have been adept at tailoring their game plan to their individual players' talents, but to compete at college football's highest level in 2014, Oregon must also adapt to the competition. 

Per The Register-Guard, "Pellum said he will stress discipline and fundamentals while doing his best to solve the Stanford problem." 

The "Stanford problem" refers to Oregon's consecutive losses to the powerful Cardinal, winners of the last two Pac-12 Conference championships. 

Stanford imposed its physical will on the Ducks in each of their last two meetings en route to the North-division title. The 2014 meeting promises to be another crucial step in the road to the Pac-12 championship.

And Stanford again promises to stake its game plan to size and physicality. A Facebook post claiming star offensive tackle Andrus Peat was also practicing at tight end proved to be an April Fools' Day prank, but the Cardinal will continue to employ jumbo formations on offense and tenacious blitz packages on defense.  

If a few tweaks to Oregon's otherwise tried-and-true formula means conquering this one problem, then that new perspective is certainly a welcome thing for the Ducks.