Getting A Lift: Ducks Working Hard In Weight Room
By John Baker
Last year's losses to Stanford and Arizona, coupled with the near miss against a feisty Oregon State squad and a new defensive sheriff in town, has the Oregon Ducks looking for increased size and strength in the weight room this offseason.
Many have curiously called the 11-2 campaign in coach Mark Helfrich's maiden voyage as the Ducks' head man as "disappointing." One theme continued to ring out as the season came to a close: Oregon struggled up front against physical offensive and defensive lines. Whether it's true or not is up for eternal debate, but the perception has become fact.
Oregon players are taking a new mentality in the weight room as spring practice approaches. The days of being bullied offensively or defensively, they hope, are about to end.
For most teams, winning 11 games in a season is a high water mark. And while it's not bad, most players and staff see a season fading into the rearview mirror that left something to be desired. Stanford humiliated the Ducks physically and, just when it seemed the door to a BCS game and the Pac-12 title shot had closed, Stanford lost. The Ducks again controlled their own destiny, only to lay an egg in the Arizona desert the next weekend. The opportunities were there and the record was good, but most feel a sense of opportunity wasted.
Oregon's coaches and players have recognized a fly in their football ointment and judging by the things being said out of the Oregon football camp, increased strength and size are a priority. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum has put together changes in the team's strength and conditioning program and has demanded players be held accountable for their work. He's also testing them mentally, creating quizzes that players have to take each week and then teaching on the particulars of that week's lesson.
The linemen aren't the only ones getting rejuvenated in the weight room. Virtually all position groups are taking advantage of the restructured program and buying into the mentality of losing no speed or quickness while getting bigger and stronger.
Players like defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, wide receiver Keanon Lowe and offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone said they see the gains being made in the weight room for all position groups and like the way they are pushing each other.
But make no mistake, Helfrich isn't about to turn Oregon away from the fast-paced crew that's been so successful the last five-plus years. He sees the addition of size and strength as a natural extension of the program's growth. Oregon needs to be able to play several different styles of games to successfully counter a Stanford or Washington State or USC. Helfrich has said the team needed to get bigger and stronger along the line on both sides of the ball, which should be addressed in the weight room and through recruiting.
Linebacker Rodney Hardrick said that the culture of Oregon's weight room has changed. The perception that Oregon was bullied about last year doesn't sit well with this team and that has been a motivating factor for the players heading toward a 2014 season that is full of promise.
For Oregon, standing up to the bullies is top priority.