As the Oregon Ducks hit the midway point of spring practice it is becoming clearer that there is still a lot of work to be done in the months to come prior to the season opener.
Chip Kelly’s high-flying offense has yet to find the groove and pace that allows them to soar. At this point they can barely spread their wings without having a talented and aggressive defense pounce on turnovers.
The core of the issues thus far have started, as expected, with the offensive line that is looking for 2 new starters including the pivotal center position which is left absent by Jordan Holmes. In the Ducks’ first outdoor scrimmage on Wednesday there were several errant snaps to quarterbacks and not even elusive signal callers Darron Thomas and Bryan Bennett could make up for the lost time. It will take time for a new group to gel and gain the necessary rhythm to operate Kelly’s blur offense. Give them a few months and a couple hundred burgers and the big belly bumpers will be just fine by September.
The rest of the offense is relatively hard to judge at this time because there are not many other positions in question with the players in camp. Quarterback, running back and tight end all have returning starters that have positions secure.
The real competition will be for playing time at the receiver position, with 2 or 3 prominent roles up for grabs this summer. Oregon is counting on an outstanding recruiting class to come in and fill those slots with athletic new comers. There could be as many as 6 freshmen, including the top two athletes in the country DeAnthony Thomas and Devon Blackmon, and one JC transfer competing for playing time. Expect to see about 3 earn it and the others redshirt, but with Kelly at the helm you never know how he will work talent into the rotation. The man has a huge brain under that visor, which is why opposing coaches and Autzen Stadium scoreboard operators dread him.
Lavasier Tuinei and Josh Huff have spots locked up already with their experience, and Huff is expected to become an impact player in the Pac-12. Huff did suffer a knee injury early in spring practice, which resulted in the collective need for fresh underwear among Duck fans. However, the injury does not appear too serious; Huff is walking with a brace on the knee but is not participating in practices for now.
The Duck defense has had the upper hand early in spring camp, typical for most programs since offenses need to work through rhythm issues to establish a pace.
The defense has taken advantage of offensive struggles and has shown great athleticism and speed, two qualities that carried them to a top-20 total defense last season. The defensive backs are essentially set with three returning starters, with the only battle being at the cornerback position opposite Cliff Harris.
The question marks are at middle linebacker and defensive tackle. Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay have stepped in nicely to fill the linebacker positions, while a host of tackles have been rotating in to get their shots.
The only concern may be with the versatility of the linebackers in pass coverage, especially if they need to stop the run if the defensive line struggles. What enabled the Ducks attack on defense was the ability of Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger to cover receivers.
While there are spots left to fill all over the field for the Ducks, there are a lot of players with playing experience in big games waiting to fill those voids. The most important thing is that when Oregon begins to gear up for the showdown with LSU, they will have the most talented and athletic group in Duck football history.
With the attitude the team has been built around, talent is king. Last season Oregon fell one field goal short of snatching the crown.
Only time will tell if these Ducks have what it takes to ascend to college football royalty.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.