Oregon Opens First Spring Camp Under Helfrich
By John Baker
Oregon and new coach Mark Helfrich open spring camp April 2 with the promise that much of what made the Ducks dominant under Chip Kelly won't change – except for what they want to change.
While Helfrich pays homage to the past, the opportunity be the Ducks' head man has been a goal he's worked hard to attain. He'll be his own man and certainly will tweak and turn the offense to his liking. He's said all the right things that keep alumni and Duck faithful calm and collected, believing he'll stay true to the Oregon of the last three years, but things inevitably change with a new coach.
The first hints of those changes should appear during this year's spring camp, which starts Tuesday. Helfrich will have three weeks with practice Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with a fourth week of Monday, Friday and then the spring game April 27.
Here's the schedule for this year. Remember, practice starts at 9 a.m. and there's no word on what, if any, portions will be open to the public. Word is there will be some open public practice times, but Helfrich hasn't issued anything definitive:
Tues., April 2
Wed., April 3
Fri., April 5
Sat., April 6
Mon., April 8
Tues., April 9
Thu., April 11
Fri., April 12
Mon., April 15
Tue., April 16
Thu., April 18
Fri., April 19
Mon., April 22
Wed., April 24
Sat., April 27 (spring game)
Note, the spring game starts at 11 a.m. and will be televised by the Pac-12 Network.
One of Helfrich's stated goals this spring is to incorporate some unscripted moments into the practice schedule. Usually, practice consists of tightly-controlled and timed periods in specific situations – goal line offense, the field goal unit or ball security drills, for example. Because the time coaches have with their athletes is so precious, most adhere strictly to practice scripts. That was the way former coach Kelly approached practice, but Helfrich has said he wants more uncertainty at times to test his players and his coaching staff.
In those unscripted situations, offensive coordinator Scott Frost will call the plays. Helfrich said he likes the idea of more unscripted moments to allow his coaching staff and players to think and react. Frost is a first-year offensive coordinator and will team with another new coach, passing game coordinator Matt Lubick. Frost wants to get a feel for how the two will mesh, not only in the closed environs or meeting rooms or on the field in scripted practice, but when they get something unexpected thrown their way.
What else might we expect?
While the Ducks became one of the nation's leading rushing teams the last five years, it's not impossible to see the offense shift a bit this year. Helfrich is a former quarterback and coached Andrew Walter during a record-setting stint as an assistant at Arizona State in 2002. He's also won a pair of national quarterback coach of the year awards (2010 and 2012) by footballscoop.com. And with a no proven running game waiting to set the table, it would seem 2013 is a good year for a quarterback-minded head coach to do what quarterback-minded coaches like to do – throw the ball more.
The Oregon Ducks spent the Chip Kelly years pushing the pace a football team can play. They pushed so hard and so well that Oregon is now considered a national power and yearly national title contender, no small accomplishment. But Kelly is gone and the pressure to continue that success fall squarely on Helfrich beginning April 2. How much change will he institute, and will it work? Those are the questions he'll face repeatedly through spring practice and the 2013 season.