Certain qualities come to mind when thinking of Oregon football: High-scoring offense and trend-setting uniforms are likely the first two.
But in head coach Mark Helfrich's second season at the helm, the Ducks are embracing a new trait: that of a workmanlike, blue-collar team.
Per Jason Quick of The Oregonian, Oregon sported practice jerseys with a blue collar Monday, the first day of preseason camp. This latest Ducks fashion trend is one with particular significance for the 2014 season.
"[I]t's self explanatory," running back Byron Marshall told Quick. "[Helfrich] wants that blue-collar worker, a guy who is going to come to practice and work. He told us he wants to be unable to tell if we like games or practices more."
Despite winning at least 10 games every year since 2008—a feat that puts Oregon in exclusive company with Alabama—there's been one consistent rap on the Ducks. They simply can't stand toe-to-toe in a slugfest against power-based teams with beefy lines and old-school sensibilities.
Their losses since reaching the BCS Championship Game in the 2010 season seemingly confirm the knock. The Ducks dropped a heartbreaker to Auburn in the title game but fell 28 points shy of their season average.
LSU and USC handed Oregon its losses in 2011, and Arizona workhorse running Ka'Deem Carey wore down the Ducks defense a season ago. And, of course, November losses to Stanford each of the last two seasons denied the Ducks two Pac-12 championships.
Rectifying the mistakes that cost the Ducks in those losses is the difference between another great season in 2014, and a possible championship campaign. And adopting the mindset of coming to work every day, as Marshall describes, is the foundation.
The blue-collar mentality is the overall philosophy reflected in more specific areas of emphasis for Oregon heading into 2014.
On offense, quarterback Marcus Mariota cited red-zone efficiency as a primary concern at Pac-12 media days. That begins with the Ducks showing a more smash-mouth brand of football inside the 20-yard line.
Reinforcements arrive in the form of freshman running back Royce Freeman. Listed at 6'0", 229 pounds in his GoDucks.com bio, Freeman is a big-bodied option in those short-yardage situations.
The talented power back certainly brings a hard-hitting style to the Ducks' speed-based offensive attack, and his coaches and teammates are taking notice.
Defensively, Helfrich talked at length about execution during Pac-12 media days.
"In general terms, a lot of missed tackles, a lot of times up front we could have done things differently," he said.
Helfrich added that is "on us as coaches."
"We're not...going to dock our players on execution," he said. "Execution is coached."
Similarly, the blue-collar practice jerseys are the Ducks coaches emphasizing a change in attitude with a tangible gesture. Should it pay off, Oregon can add a new defining trait when the program first comes to mind.
They have already had diamond-plating and feathers incorporated into their uniforms. Perhaps a lunch pail is next for the Ducks.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.
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