Running backs coach Gary Campbell is back at practice, and so is receiver Dwayne Stanford. The Ducks are tired of hitting each other. Linebacking proceeds by committee. Jake Rodrigues is a playmaker, Jeff Lockie is cerebral, and Dustin Haines is the holder. Everything clear so far?
Smash and grab: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Erick Dargan team up in last year’s shutout of Arizona. If coaches and players are accurate in describing what’s going on at practice, Oregon’s defense might provide the Oregon offense with its most serious competition. Of course, in practice they know what’s coming.
The Oregon offensive line lags behind the defensive line, which thus far looks massive and dominating with everyone healthy and stronger. Ricky Havili-Heimuli in particular is the saltiest and springiest he’s been in four years, pain-free and eager to show what he can be…if not the next someone else, his authentic and promising self, after three years of nagging injuries.
The Ducks are loaded and deep. Heisman Pundit says Marcus Mariota could win a Heisman. ESPN says he’s an All-American. Byron Marshall looks like a real running back, and Hroniss Grasu and Tyler Johnstone can blast holes for him.
If everyone stays healthy and plays the way they’re supposed to, this team won’t face a serious challenge until Stanford. It should be next-victim-up until then, provided they can contain Keith Price and Brett Hundley.
Nick Aliotti told Ryan Thorburn of the Register-Guard, “Our D-line and our secondary are playing outstanding. Our linebackers are growing as we go. I think we’re getting better. We have some experience on the outside. The inside is where we need to develop some depth and maturity scheme-wise.”
Aliotti says he plans to continue the hockey line-change rotation on defense, employing as many as 22-26 players a game most of the time. The Ducks will go deeper against Nicholls, and should empty the bus versus rebuilding Virginia. By then they’ll know what they have, especially at linebacker, where all of the usual suspects have taken their turn in the lineup, proving themselves to be smooth criminals on some occasions and clumsy thugs on others. Lokombo and Coleman have nailed down spots. Everything else is in flux.
In helmets this morning Daryle Hawkins made another leaping grab, which makes about 20 in 18 days. Twitter and Facebook have been all atwitter about young players with gaudy resumes and shiny 40 times, but smart, steady, newly-married Hawkins keeps outplaying them in practice. He’ll get his number called before B.J. Kelley or Chance Allen, players Mark Helfrich says “haven’t put it all together yet.”
ESPN’s Travis Haney names Helfrich first among coaches with the most to prove this season, taking over from acknowledged innovator and genius Chip Kelly. Haney and others just don’t realize what a collaborative effort the Ducks were, and that the War Room is still staffed with 180 years of coaching experience, and the sideline is still peopled by a Ferrari-fast running back who scores every 8-9 times he touches the ball, and a squeaky-clean quarterback who nearly always throws to the right guy in the right place.
Arik Armstead grew an inch and gained 10 pounds of muscle. Christian French and Derrick Malone deepened their understanding of how the defense works and how to apply their speed and power in live action. Everyone moved into the new lockers and learned where the marble-tiled bathrooms were.
This team is ready for an explosion, a culmination of five year’s careful planning, recruiting and teaching. It’s the most outstanding group ever assembled in Oregon uniforms. They don’t have any limits unless they get really unlucky. Be sure to show up on time for kickoff, because you might miss something incredible.
This could be the most dominating and successful team in Oregon history. Given their recent history, that’s a stunning proclamation.
But not everyone is so optimistic. Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated says the Ducks will lose two conference games and finish 10-2. In his view Stanford is the likely conference champion at 11-1, meaning no one from the West Coast will get a shot at the big prize. Of course, Mandel is the same columnist who said the Ducks were getting a bowl ban, citing unnamed sources the night before the NCAA ruling was announced. So he’s been wrong before.