Injuries Force Oregon To Revise Saturday's Spring Game
By John Baker
New Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has decided to follow former coach Chip Kelly's "we don't talk about injuries" motto through spring practice. Despite the fact the coach won't acknowledge or talk about injuries, they've bitten Oregon this spring.
The result is that Saturday's "spring game" will see some definite format changes. The action is slated to start at 11 a.m. PT Saturday at Autzen Stadium. A three-can food donation will get you through stadium gates and fans will likely see more of an offense versus defense format with a point system rewarding both sides for big plays, scores and more. Remember, the scrimmage will be televised on Pac-12 channels.
Helfrich did admit that scrapping the split-squad format was a reaction to a string of injuries, most of them nagging, that have plagued his roster. The goal now, he said, is to get the right people the number of reps they need to make evaluations accurate.
What little has trickled out about injuries seems to indicate some issues along the offensive line and at linebacker, though there's no confirmation on that.
So, what do you want to look for Saturday?
First and foremost, you want running back Byron Marshall to look like an answer. You want him to make the defense pay between the tackles and show enough wiggle to create big plays when he gashes the line of scrimmage. The Ducks also need to see what Ayele Ford, newly minted as a scholarship player, has to offer in case Marshall is less than impressive. Keep in mind that some of this will be incumbent upon the offensive line, but Marshall's ability to take the pressure off De'Anthony Thomas and prevent the latter from getting stuck in the backfield is essential. Thomas needs to be moved around the formation and play all over the offensive scheme. Having Marshall step up, as I've chronicled before, allows a whole slew of good things to happen to this offense.
The flip side of all this is that should the running game stutter, top recruit Travis Tyner, may get a much longer look in fall camp. The Ducks are trying to carry on five years of tremendous running success. Thomas can't go between the tackles 10 to 15 times a game. The Ducks must find someone or several someones who can. Saturday will give us all a look at whether a positive scenario is developing or we may have something to look forward to this fall.
Well, the backup quarterback spot is crucial. Don't expect Marcus Mariota to play much as he's entrenched as the starter and one of the nation's top young gunslingers. However, the battle between Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodriques for the backup spot should be entertaining Saturday. Mariota is not a big guy and will certainly take some shots this fall, so having a skilled backup that the team trusts is essential moving forward. The coaching staff has said little about what, if anything, separates Lockie and Rodriques, so we'll get a chance to view this battle out in the open for a change.
What about the defense?
Glad you asked because the only real question marks on defense are a couple linebacker spots that need to filled. The Ducks feel good about their defensive backs and the defensive line's biggest question may be how may guys get into the regular playing rotation. Oregon's defense, particularly when the No. 1 defense gets a crack at either of the two backup quarterback candidates, should be telling.
Even given the revelation that that Ducks and NCAA may have pulled a fast one and held a hearing last week, Oregon continues to do what it does at practice. Oregon is well-positioned for another 10-win season and a possible big-time bowl bid, while the NCAA sanctions that come down figure to do little to distract a team that, under coach Chip Kelly, learned to simply ignore the things that take away from the mission at hand.
New coach Mark Helfrich has learned that lesson well. The 2013 version of the Oregon Ducks football team seems fine with how things are being handled. On Saturday, they'll get a chance to give everyone a sneak peak at what's ahead.