Latest in a series on Pac-12 spring football camps. Today, Oregon, which turns to a new regime after Chip Kelly led the UO to four straight BCS bowls:
Starters returning – 15 (8 offense, 7 defense), plus PK Alejandro Maldonado.
Refresher on 2012 – The Ducks burst to a 10-0 start and were poised to be in the discussion for the national-championship game when they were upset by Stanford, 17-14 in overtime, in Eugene Nov. 17. They went on to blow out Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-1, averaging a league-leading 49.5 points and 537.4 yards a game. Head coach Chip Kelly, after initially appearing out of the NFL picture, was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles, ending a hugely successful run with the Ducks.
Coaching changes – Kelly’s offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich, takes over, and he retained seven Duck assistants, including several longtime aides. Helfrich hired Ron Aiken from the Arizona Cardinals to coach the defensive line.
Major spring concerns – Adjusting to Helfrich’s regime (although he says changes are minimal) . . . developing a backup quarterback to standout Marcus Mariota . . . replacing both starting OGs . . . seeking adequate successors to standout defenders Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.
Developments – Helfrich, like Kelly, kept all practices closed except the spring game, so information is somewhat sketchy . . . QB Jeff Rodrigues (6-3, 218), a better runner with more arm strength, seemed to lead over Jeff Lockie (6-2, 195) in the backup derby . . . meanwhile, Bryan Bennett, who once looked like long-term QB option, transferred . . . WRs Josh Huff and Bralon Addison had good camps, but WR Dwayne Stanford suffered a knee injury believed to require surgery . . . Ducks added to TE depth with a solid effort from Pharoah Brown, who should team with Colt Lyerla for a strong 1-2 punch . . . Maldonado, who has had some key misfires in the past, figures to get a strong challenge in the fall from Matt Wogan, 6-2, 195-pound freshman North Carolinian rated by some analysts as having the strongest leg in the country. Ducks made only 1 of 5 FG attempts from beyond 40 yards in 2012 . . . Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell should be the best pair of corners in the league . . . Nick Aliotti, veteran defensive coordinator, told the Oregonian he’s never had a trio of true sophomores like linemen Arik Armstread, Alex Balducci and DeForest Buckner, and that the line is the strongest unit on the defense . . . RB Byron Marshall (5-10, 201) showed flashes, but coaches still want more consistency from him, because it’s questionable how much pounding electric De’Anthony Thomas can take as a feature back . . . Portland-area product Thomas Tyner enters in the fall as a mega-hyped freshman RB . . . Mana Greig and Hamani Stevens look like the best bets to fill OG vacancies, but injuries limited their work there . . . Tony Washington supplants Jordan (No. 3 overall NFL draft pick) at DE/OLB, but 6-5, 245-pound Christian French’s skills have elicited some comparisons to Jordan . . . LB Tyson Coleman, figured for major playing time, had a leg injury for part of camp, but it isn’t serious . . . Sports Illustrated wrote that the NCAA committee on infractions met with the Ducks, and Kelly, late in April, and that it could levy penalties sometime in the next 2-3 months, possibly affecting the 2013 season.
Spring game – Using a scoring system that Helfrich admitted later he inadvertently tilted, the offense drubbed the defense, 65-10, running up 802 yards in 117 plays. Some 36,588 watched, by far the biggest turnout among Pac-12 teams.
2013 schedule – Oregon has three BCS-league teams in September, but the first significant test looms as Washington in Seattle Oct. 12. The Ducks also have to play at Stanford Nov. 7. They miss Arizona State and USC.