Oregon coach Mark Helfrich put it best this spring when he said, “In spring ball, you’re panning for gold a little bit. There’s a bunch of crap and one fleck of gold. You grab it and build on that and try to fix the other parts.”
With only 15 practices, there’s only so much a coach can do and only so much a team can accomplish.
Last week Ted, Kyle and I took a look around the conference and picked out the pieces of gold that each team found. I wrote about how though you never want to see an injury like Bralon Addison’s happen, the fact that it happened earlier rather than later gave other players the chance to take more reps during the spring with quarterback Marcus Mariota.
But that’s the silver lining to a very, very unfortunate situation. And there were plenty of other pieces of gold that should be mentioned in regard to the Ducks’ spring practices.
So here’s the Oregon spring gold from 2014:
The Ducks made some major weight gains (and a few significant losses) between the end of the 2013 season and when they took the field for spring practices. The offensive line as a whole put on more than 100 pounds while other players came into the season with a brand new physique -- defensive lineman Sam Kamp put on 29 pounds, tight end Johnny Mundt put on 20 pounds, linebacker Rodney Hardrick shed 12 pounds. This is definitely a piece of gold for the team this spring, and as long as they can all keep the weight on/off, it’ll make a huge difference next fall.
Last season Oregon gave up 3.8 yards per rush and didn’t have enough of a presence at the line of scrimmage. The Ducks only got to opposing quarterbacks 29, meaning they recorded a sack on 5.7 percent of snaps. That made them the 7th best pass rush in the conference (Arizona State led the Pac-12 with 8.2 percent) and 74th in the nation (Louisville led the country with 10.3 percent). However, in the spring game the D-line looked much stronger. Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner were in the middle of several big plays and that is a very, very good sign for defensive coordinator Don Pellum and the entire Duck pass rush.
There are still parts to Mariota’s game that can be improved (you know, he could’ve only thrown three interceptions last season instead of four). But really, the biggest strides Mariota needed to make this spring -- and the strides that it seems like he did make -- were in his leadership abilities. He, and several other Ducks’ leaders, are more lead-by-example guys instead of vocal, boisterous players. But Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost really complimented Mariota this spring on how he has been a better, more vocal leader for the Oregon offense. This is the year for the Ducks and they’re going to need a consummate, go-to leader. Mariota has walked the walk, now he’s talking the talk.
As I wrote earlier, the Addison injury is never something anyone wants to see and hopefully he has a swift and full recovery. But because of the timing of the injury, it gave players like Devon Allen, Darren Carrington, Dwayne Stanford and basketball-convert Johnathan Loyd more time to get a feel for the offense. All three of those players are ones that could step up for the Ducks in the fall and this spring gave them all a serious jump-start.
As good as Allen and a few others looked in the spring game, I thought the player who stole the show was Tyner. The Ducks need a reliable back this upcoming season, one who can help shoulder the rushing load with Mariota and contribute in pass protection. The battle is between Tyner and Byron Marshall (who led the Ducks in rushing last season with 86.5 yards per game). However, Tyner had a terrific spring and looked like he could steal that lead job this fall. On one play, he literally flattened Dominique Harrison. If he can continue to do that (though, hopefully to opposing defensive players and not his own), he could be major Duck gold.