Oregon Football 2013 Spring Wrap Up
Spring football at the University of Oregon in 2013 was pleasantly boring, lacking the intrigue of the previous year of a frenzied position battle to determine the starting quarterback. That competition, won by Marcus Mariota before the start of the 2012 campaign, has changed this year to whom will become his backup following the transfer of Bryan Bennett, who came up short in the position fight last fall.
With both Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie looking good in the spring game, the backup QB spot remains unresolved, one that will go into the fall and perhaps mid-season before one begins to separate.
With the depth chart essentially set for nearly every position, there was little for fans and media to clamor over; rather a business-as-usual approach set in, speculation over how new head coach Mark Helfrich may differ from Chip Kelly aside. With almost the entire coaching staff remaining intact from previous years, a true rarity in the midst of a new head coaching hire, the continuity should translate to continued success on the field.
Those hoping for Oregon to fade back into mid-tier level national obscurity known more for flash than substance after Chip Kelly’s departure for the pros are going to be very disappointed, as no signs point to any kind of step backwards regardless of new coach or possible looming NCAA sanctions.
National media pundits had originally predicted somewhat of a fall amidst accusations of improper recruiting sanctions and the loss of Kelly with little known of Helfrich, but this opinion seems to have tempered a little recently as all the key personnel and pieces remain intact for Oregon to make another run at the title.
It is truly business as usual at Oregon with a ho-hum aesthetic, meet the new boss same as the old boss. Four years ago it was a no-name Chip Kelly being promoted from within while maintaining continuity in the assistant coaching staff so as to continue the success Oregon had experienced under Mike Bellotti.
Now with Helfrich groomed for four years under Kelly to be his successor exactly as Kelly had before him, there is little to argue against Oregon doing more of the same even with the bar being set so incredibly high—Oregon the only team in the country with an active streak of four straight years in a BCS game.
If last year’s spring game was all about Mariota vs. Bennett for the starting QB job, this year’s spring game was downright boring, switched to an offense vs. defense format rather than two competitive teams due to a rash of minor injuries in camp leaving the depth chart thin. Reportedly no injuries are overly serious to possibly affect the team come the fall, but enough to make two full offensive line groups difficult to field forcing the switch.
This is not to say that there are no opportunities for younger players to emerge, but with the way Oregon has rotated playing time throughout its roster the last couple seasons even by all accounts a young team remains one that is highly experienced.
Oregon must replace two starting linebackers (Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso), a runningback (Kenjon Barner), and their most versatile offensive lineman (Kyle Long), but the athletes primed to step into those new roles have had extensive playing time already.
Of the incoming recruiting class, only a small handful appear to be in the mix to see significant playing time in 2013—kicker Matt Wogan, RB Thomas Tyner, DE Torrodney Prevot, and JC LB Joe Walker.
Oregon has its stars ready to shine once more, Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas likely to both get extensive Heisman hype early in the season. Mariota’s 2012 numbers were actually on par with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel (originally an Oregon verbal commit), but was perhaps a victim of his own success as it has become largely expected these days for Oregon quarterbacks to reset the record books—even as freshmen.
Wide receiver Josh Huff and tight end Colt Lyerla both return as the two primary receiving threats, with a plentiful roster of talented pass-catchers behind them.
The defense should continue its high-flying turnover-forcing ways, with a healthy and deep secondary unit that is among the best in the nation leading the way.
On the offensive side of the ball names to keep an eye on for 2013 to break out are runningback Byron Marshall, a sophomore stepping into Kenjon Barner’s role who quietly had nearly 500 yards rushing last season as a backup, and wide receiver Bralon Addison, a versatile multi-threat Texas talent who played extensively last year as a freshman and had a great spring game separating himself as the clear #2 receiver behind Huff.
Defensively, the loss of defensive end Dion Jordan (the third overall pick in the NFL draft) is the biggest hole to fill in Oregon’s hybrid 3-4 drop-end defensive scheme, junior Tony Washington the heir-apparent to step into that role.
Linebackers Tyson Coleman and Boseko Lokombo are the next in line to replace the departed Clay and Alonso, while behind them cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are two of the best playmaking shutdown corners in the game today.
QUARTERBACK – A
Marcus Mariota is among the elite of college football after only one season at the helm, the perfect player for Oregon’s system. The only question is who will be his backup—Jeff Lockie or Jake Rodrigues. Look for both to get opportunities to display their talents as the schedule looks primed for many blowout victories in 2013.
RUNNINGBACK – A-
De’Anthony Thomas is a star, but more of a hybrid slot WR/H-back than a 20+ carries-a-game runner. That job falls to sophomore Byron Marshall, who played well in his role as third string RB last year.
Incoming All-American freshman Thomas Tyner, who shattered the Oregon prep record books at Aloha High School (Portland, OR) is the X-factor that could push Marshall for carries, but expect Oregon’s run game to continue to be among the best in the nation even with the record-setting two-headed monster of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner now in the NFL.
RECEIVERS – B
Senior Josh Huff leads a group that is talented and deep. Huff hasn’t had a healthy year since his freshman campaign, but if his wheels are 100% there are few who can cover him.
Add to the mix Bralon Addison, BJ Kelley, Eric Dungy, and Dwayne Stanford, and Oregon has a very deep roster of speedy receivers primed to see the ball often.
At tight end future NFL star Colt Lyerla is a physical presence with a versatility rarely seen from the position, used as both a receiver and fullback (Lyerla had a rushing touchdown last season). Behind him the depth chart is a little cloudy, with several possible athletes capable of stepping up but no clear #2 yet emerging after Lyerla.
OFFENSIVE LINE – B+
Center Hroniss Grasu is an obvious Rimington Trophy candidate, leading a unit that rotates many bodies to stay fresh in the fast-paced Oregon attack.
Mana Greig and Tyler Johnston both recovering from leg injuries are a concern, and the loss of Kyle Long to the NFL leaves big shoes to fill as he was the Ducks most physically-opposing big body. However, look for Oregon to be business as usual up front with many names rotating in playing different spots along the line.
DEFENSIVE LINE – B-
Dion Jordan is gone, putting pressure on Tony Washington to step into the drop-end position, the key to Oregon’s multiple look hybrid scheme.
Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi are powerful big-body defensive tackles plugging the gaps, but an underwhelming freshman campaign from blue chip recruit Arik Armstead at DE leaves some doubt as to where exactly Oregon will get its pass rush from with Jordan gone.
Defensive end DeForest Buckner had a tremendous spring game, and could become Oregon’s next great pass rusher, but as of now it remains potential rather than production.
LINEBACKERS – B
Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay are both big losses, playmakers with key roles during Oregon’s current BCS streak (Alonso was MVP of the 2012 Rose Bowl).
Senior Boseko Lokombo is the most experienced returning player at any position, with Tyson Coleman likeliest to emerge as the next big name. Derrick Malone and Rahim Cassell have extensive playing time, and incoming JC transfer Joe Walker may be in the mix as well.
SECONDARY – A+
Oregon has arguably one of the very best secondaries in the entire country, elite in both talent and depth. Junior cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are solidified at the corners; Mitchell a shutdown who rarely has the ball thrown his way while Ekpre-Olomu is an elite playmaker with a knack for the ball and forcing turnovers on par with “the honeybadger” Tyrann Mathieu.
Behind them the safeties performed well last year, but Avery Patterson must show that he has recovered from his torn ACL and can return to his big play ability showcased in 2012. Senior Brian Jackson holds the other safety position, a big-hitting enforcer from Alabama capable of covering the whole field.
KICKER/PUNTER – C
The one chink in Oregon’s armor, arguably the one piece preventing an Oregon national title, has been the kicking game. Jackson Rice, a Ray Guy Trophy finalist, was a tremendous punter, albeit rarely used considering how often Oregon goes for it on 4th down and scores at a high rate. His old job now falls to Dylan Ausherman, a JC transfer who showcased a powerful leg in the spring game.
The kicker spot remains much more uncertain though, as returning field goal specialist Alejandro Maldenaldo has become the scapegoat of Oregon fans in recent years. His key missed field goals two years ago to USC and Stanford last season directly resulted in Oregon’s only home losses, and hindsight being 20/20 may have been the only thing preventing a national title from coming to Eugene during Chip Kelly’s tenure.
Maldenaldo remains on the team, but with a very shaky hold on his job, the loudest cheer of the entire spring game coming when Maldenaldo hit a 48-yard field goal leading to mockingly uproarious fan exuberance. “Hey, he finally actually hit one!” was sarcastically repeated throughout the stands at Autzen.
Incoming freshman Matt Wogan is said to have had the strongest leg in the prep ranks in 2012, leading to the speculation or hope of many fans that he will replace Maldenaldo in the kicking role upon his arrival in the fall.
Coaches haven’t given up on Maldenaldo, but fans sure have, and if another close game in 2013 ends in a missed Maldenaldo field goal preventing another possible Oregon title run the perception of his place in history as the weak link preventing the long-sought national title in Eugene will be forever secured whether deserved or not, Oregon’s equivalent of Bill Buckner.
If the Ducks lose a game again by a point or two with a last-second missed field goal for a third year in a row, Maldenaldo may have to enter the witness protection program in Oregon.
Expectations remain sky high for the Oregon Ducks in 2013, anything short of competing for the Pac-12 title and a BCS run considered a disappointment barring catastrophic injuries. A business-as-usual tact remains despite the head coaching change, with only subtle changes expected in the works.
During the spring game of note were several slant patterns and counter-runs, two standard offensive plays conspicuously absent from Oregon’s playbook in recent years, but otherwise it’s the same ol’ Oregon Ducks. All roads once again point to the Oregon-Stanford game determining the conference champion, this year’s battle taking place in Palo Alto November 7th.
Kurt Liedtke provided the information for our Oregon Football 2013 Spring Wrap Up. Kurt is a freelance sports and music journalist, a native Oregonian working with numerous publications and websites. He is VP of Campus Attic, a collegiate apparel and media company set to launch summer 2013. For more Oregon football analysis and commentary you can follow Kurt on Twitter @Keeerrrttt1.