Oregon Primer: What To Look For In Spring Game
By John Baker
When Oregon takes to the Autzen Stadium turf on Saturday for its spring football game, questions and answers will be the name of the game. The Ducks seem poised for another big run in 2014, but defections and an untimely injury have left some holes.
Here's what to look for in the spring game.
When Bralon Addison went down with a torn ACL early in spring practice, the dynamic for the receiving corps changed dramatically. Already gone were De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff. With the loss of Addison, the team's second-leading receiver last season, an already youthful unit turned into a group of receiving infants. Youth is everywhere, but production is nowhere to be found — yet.
Although Keanon Lowe is back, he's more of a blocker and short-yardage guy than a big-play receiver. The Ducks possess a bevy of talented, fast and explosive receivers, but few with experience. The opportunity to see them in game-like situations should be revealing.
Oregon is looking for receivers who can contribute from among Devon Allen, Chance Allen, Darren Carrington, Dwayne Stanford, B.J. Kelly, Jalen Brown and former hoops player Jonathan Loyd. There are a lot of questions with this group and plenty of potential coupled with limited experience. Perhaps no other position group has as many questions.
New defensive coordinator Don Pellum has a difficult task ahead. He's replacing Oregon legend Nick Allioti and must also fix a perceived weakness in the run defense. On paper, the Ducks would appear to have plenty of talent and size to clog the inside. But consistent struggles with physical running teams last year left fans and opposing coaches with the belief that the Ducks could be bullied between the tackles. Whether that perception is true or not, the defensive line will be under a microscope on Saturday — and so will Pellum's philosophy.
It's time for Arik Armstead to reach the enormous potential that he has demonstrated at times since he arrived two years ago. Defensive ends Tony Washington and junior college transfer Tui Talia were effective during the Ducks' second spring scrimmage, so a continuation of that would be a positive sign for the defense on Saturday. Inside, Alex Balducci and Brentson Buckner are expected to help stop the run, while Stetzon Bair has emerged as a playmaker.
How will Pellum design his defense? Will Oregon be able to take away the middle and be physical at the point of attack? How will Pellum put his stamp on this defense?
Oregon fans remember the physical beating Stanford administered in the Ducks' loss to the Cardinal last season and how Oregon State nearly ran its way to a win in the Civil War game. Oregon needs to stop the run and develop a physical mentality. We'll see if that's the case on Saturday.
Another battle to watch is at running back between Bryan Marshall and Thomas Tyner. Marshall has shown increased quickness and acceleration this spring. Tyner hasn't been mentioned much, but he certainly demonstrated that he's got the speed and big-play ability reminiscent of the LaMichael James years. Don't sleep on Kenny Bassett, either. He's had a very productive spring and could be pushing for playing time with a good game.
Jeff Lockie seems to have moved slightly ahead in the battle to back up Marcus Mariota. But there hasn't been a clean, definitive break. Jake Rodrigues has had his moments, and Taylor Alie has seen some time with the first offense. Even Damian Hobbs has enjoyed bright moments, so Saturday's game will allow the quarterback contenders the chance to make their case.
The Ducks desperately need to find a capable backup in case Mariota is sidelined. Mariota tried to play through a knee injury last season and it proved less than satisfactory. The Ducks lost twice because Mariota's elusiveness and accuracy deserted him.
Saturday's Spring Game Lineup
Team "Mariasu" (team captains Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu)
QB: Mariota, Lockie, Hobbs
RB: Tyner, Bassett, Jones, Roseberry
WR: D. Allen, Kelley, Daich, Tewhill, Stolzenburg, Stanford
TE: Kai, Mundt
OL: Yruretagoyena, Lousi, Grasu, Pisarcik, Prater, Fisher, George, Voeller
DL: Buckner, Sloan, Kamp, Talia
OLB: Ragin, Coleman, French, Prevot, Carriger
ILB: Malone, Walker, Robinson, Thompson
DB: Mathis, Seisay, Manns, Daniels, Robinson, Dargan, Dixon
ST: Solis, Wheeler
Coaches: Frost, Neal, Campbell, Aiken
Team "Twifo" (Team captains Tony Washington and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu)
QB: Rodrigues, Alie
RB: Marshall, Forde, Benoit, LaCoste
WR: Lowe, C. Allen, Loyd, Carrington, Addison, Brown
TE: Baylis, Hagger, Brown
OL: Stevens, Hunt, McFadden, Brenner, Pierson, Stohr, Johnstone
DL: Balducci, Armstead, Daniel, Bair, Kenion
OLB: Washington, Dunmore, Garrity, Faulhaber, McCandless
ILB: Hardrick, Cassell, Mattingly, Ava
DB: Hill, Harrison, E. Amoako, S. Amoako, Williams, Dunn, Yim, Ekpre-Olomu
Coaches: Pellum, Chinander, Greatwood, Osborne, Lubick