Oregon's Spring To-Do List
Despite its obvious success, Oregon still had shortcomings and some things it needs to shore up, and it can start addressing those needs as early as possible.
1. Implement New Ways to Run the Ball
Ever since Chip Kelly installed it back in 2007, the Oregon offense has been predicated on the run. Even after his departure, the emphasis on the run has remained. The Ducks led the Pac-12 last year in rushing yards, yards per carry, and rushing touchdowns, which means they are doing something right when they move the ball on the ground. This trend has to continue because it gives the Ducks a clear advantage over their competition in almost every game. Their practices should be intense and full of running drills to maintain overall team speed and knowledge of the Oregon playbook that is filled with all sorts of running plays.
2. Outwork and Find a Way to Thwart Stanford
The biggest competitor for Oregon in the Pac-12 North over the last few years has been the Stanford Cardinal. When a team encounters an opponent as challenging as Stanford, it is imperative to identify the areas of weakness against that opponent. The Ducks lost to the Cardinal in 2013 by a score of 26-20, and have finished second to Stanford in the Pac-12 North the last two years. UO must figure out what Stanford does well, specifically against them, and adjust the most to those areas. Oregon knows it can beat physical teams; it just needs to know its playing style can defeat them, too.
3. Groom a Backup Quarterback
Marcus Mariota won’t stick around forever at Oregon, but he has decided to play his redshirt junior season with the Ducks, even though he easily could have justified his entry in the 2014 NFL Draft. Mariota passed for over 3,600 yards and 31 touchdowns to only four interceptions in 2013, and that wasn’t even the whole story. Mariota presents dual-threat capabilities at the quarterback position, and rushed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns.
A player like Mariota is not easy to replace, and that is why Oregon needs to start looking for his successor now. The Ducks currently have four other quarterbacks on their 2014 roster; Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues saw time on the field in 2013, but it was so minimal that it is hard to predict if their ability will translate into consistent, high-caliber performance.
Coach Mark Helfrich needs to evaluate the talent he has on the roster and choose a quarterback in whom he believes in the most. Once that choice is made, the grooming process can begin.