Oregon's third week of spring practices was the Ducks' first without wide receiver Bralon Addison, who suffered a knee injury April 10. Reshaping the offense in his absence took center stage for Oregon, which is now more than halfway through its spring slate.
Beat writer Andrew Greif of The Oregonian discussed replacing Addison with Bleacher Report this week:
Of those competing to play a prominent role in Oregon's passing game, redshirt freshman Devon Allen was a standout. Allen caught touchdown passes last Friday and Monday, per Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com.
Also trying to get into the mix is Johnathan Loyd, whose transition from the basketball team generated headlines a week ago. Loyd was the basketball Ducks' point guard, guiding Oregon to the third round of the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons.
He certainly has a learning curve, not the least of which is learning the nuances of Oregon's offense. Loyd told 247Sports' Will Rubin about some of the challenges:
I’m not really surprised. When I used to watch the games and I was looking at the sidelines and seeing all those people doing signs and stuff, I’m like ‘man that’s got to be crazy.’ I knew it was going to be tough for me, but I’m getting it down.
Loyd is not content just to be on the team, but rather is out to make an impact.
"I’m a competitor. I’m not coming on the team just to sit on the bench and cheer lead," he said Wednesday, per Gary Horowitz of The Statesman Journal. "I feel like I can do something out here, so I’m committed to it."
Should he find his way into the receivers rotation, it will not come as a surprise to those familiar with his abilities. Former Las Vegas Bishop Gorman teammate Jalen Grimble, now a defensive tackle at rival Oregon State, told KEZI that Loyd "most definitely" can make a splash on the gridiron.
"I told him, 'If basketball doesn't work out...I honestly wouldn't be surprised if you stepped out on the football field,'" Grimble said. "
A team needs contingency plans. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is entering his third year as Oregon's starter, and the redshirt junior is a favorite to compete for the Heisman Trophy. But should something sideline Mariota at any point in 2014, the Ducks need a Plan B.
Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie are competing for that role.
Oregon's many lopsided wins—four out of 11 were decided by at least 39 points—afforded the reserves opportunities to appear in games last season. However, their production was limited to 13 pass attempts and five rushes for Lockie and six pass attempts with four rushes for Rodrigues.
Springtime is a chance for both to take more meaningful snaps and for the coaching staff to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.
"Those guys did some good things in the scrimmage (and) also a couple things that they would definitely like to have back," Helfrich said, via Greif. "Jeff probably made a few more plays than Jake did overall (in Monday's scrimmage)."
Helfrich told reporters last week that the emphasis was on getting them up to the speed at which the Ducks are accustomed to playing.
"We’re very simplified in every phase, trying to get those younger guys out there playing fast and competing," Helfrich said, via Moseley of GoDucks.com.
Even if neither current backup sees any significant playing time in 2014, the competition has long-term significance. This season can set the foundation for 2015, when the Ducks will presumably be without Mariota.
Additionally, a team always risks a transfer when a quarterback slides on the depth chart, which Oregon saw last season with the departure of Bryan Bennett.
Bennett landed at Southeastern Louisiana, where, according to The Washington Post, he passed for 3,165 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,046 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led the Lions to the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The NCAA enacted a major provision this week, green-lighting unlimited meals and snacks for all scholarship and walk-on athletes. The latter caveat is particularly noteworthy, as, previously, walk-ons were not allowed free training table meals.
Oregon offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone told told Greif that the decision was long overdue:
The walk-ons put in just as much work and more work in some cases and then they'd have to go home hungry. It didn't really make a lot of sense to us. It's a huge step for them...We're excited about being able to eat with the entire team finally.
Coincidentally, those extra meals could have come in handy in the winter. A number of Ducks arrived at the first day of spring practice with considerably more weight than a season ago.
The formula was simple.
"You can lift three times a day, but if you're not fueling your body properly you're not getting the gains out of it," sports dietitian Adam Korzun said, via Greif.
Practice Makes Perfect
GoDucks.com's Moseley reports that Helfrich called Oregon's practice Wednesday the team's best of the spring slate:
If that's the standard, we're going places. Every period, we competed—which they have been [doing previously]. But the give and take of spring ball took effect. The defense would win a situation, and then the offense would come back. Collectively, everybody kind of surged.
Perhaps spurring on the team's inspired play were former Duck linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, who dropped in on workouts:
Cody Creason paid a visit to Oregon this week. The 4-star offensive lineman from Folsom, Calif., tweeted high praise from his unofficial drop-in:
WOW! Had a very impressive visit to Oregon #GoDucks— Cody Creason (@Creason_75) April 14, 2014
Kyler Murray, a 5-star recruit out of Allen, Texas, was one of two highly regarded quarterback prospects to visit Oregon this week. Murray declared Oregon one of his top five finalists in January, along with Clemson, Florida, Texas A&M and Texas Tech:
Top 5... (Alphabetical Order) ------------- Clemson Florida Oregon Texas A&M Texas Tech -------------— Kyler Murray (@TheKylerMurray) January 30, 2014
Baltimore Gilman 4-star standout Kai Locksley also swung by Eugene, Ore., for an unofficial visit. Locksley tweeted from the scene of practice Friday morning:
Out here nice and early! pic.twitter.com/gGlt4TFmnZ— Kai Locksley (@LOCKSnLOADED_3) April 18, 2014
247Sports.com has Maryland projected as the favorite to land Locksley. His father, Mike Locksley, is the Terrapins' offensive coordinator.
Oregon has just two verbal commitments in its 2015 class, according to 247Sports.com, but the past week proved the Ducks are in the hunt for high-quality prospects.