When Chip Kelly says he is “pleased” with how his Ducks have performed thus far in the spring, it must mean that behind the closed gates, some pretty good football has been transpiring. Kelly qualified his evaluation of the Oregon football team by saying he is not “satisfied,” but did say that overall things have gone well for the Ducks.
To receive a more in-depth look at the team that needs to replace 6 starters on offense (LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, David Paulson, Lavasier Tuinei, Mark Asper and Darrion Weems), and just three or four on defense (Eddie Pleasant, Terrell Turner, Josh Kaddu and Anthony Gildon), I questioned offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.
MH: “The guys are competing very well. I think the biggest deal right now is improvement, and that’s what we’re stressing a lot this spring…just great effort and improvement. Everybody is on an upward trend, which is good and to be expected during the spring. All that stuff will sort itself out.”
DI: How’s true freshman Jake Rodrigues doing?
MH: “He’s doing well. He’s working to get back up to full speed. It’s so hard for that guy to come in-he should be in fifth period Spanish class in high school, and he’s out here. He’s doing better day in and day out just keeping his head in the game, and learning from each rep out there whether you’re behind the center or not. I’m excited about him.”
DI: How would you describe the difference between Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota?
MH: “I really don’t see those guys as being different at all. I think they’re smart, they’re tough. They both have good arms. They’re passers first, before they are runners, but then they both can really run. It’s just a matter of manufacturing some experience, and trying to get the best product out there.”
DI: Do you think your quarterbacks will run more this year?
MH: “I don’t know. TBA.”
DI: Are walk-ons Ayele Forde and Kenny Bassett good enough to compete for playing time?
MH: “They both ran very well when we were live the other day. That’s the thing about a tailback. It’s like a quarterback. The best thing for those guys is live football, but you can’t do it everyday. The wear and tear will catch up with you.
Kenyon’s (Barner) doing really good things and De’Anthony’s (Thomas) doing some really good things. Ayele and Kenny are both doing some really good stuff.
We’re not sitting in our offices every day going, ‘oh my god, what are we going to do at tailback?’ Obviously you need to stay healthy and ideally you’d have a couple of more bodies out there, but we can’t dwell on that.”
DI: How are they doing?
MH: “We’re just looking for consistency out of some of those guys. Evan Baylis fits in that mode of you have to take the flashes in spring ball and work on those…the good stuff that they do on play 17 is what you have to build upon. Then on play 2, 7, and 9 when they bust it, you have to fix those.
At times in spring these guys are going to make mistakes. They’re going to be lined up next to a guy who has never run that play before, and something’s going to go wrong. In spring ball, you’re going to have a boom and bust day on both sides of the ball, and you just have to battle through that and build it toward the end.”
About true freshman Baylis: I like him a lot. He’s a tough kid. He did some good things early, and now with installing more, it adds us so quickly for those guys and we’re going so fast, that sometimes they’re not going to do it perfectly. And we realize that, but his effort’s been good, and his ability to learn has been very positive. So, for where he is, he has been doing very well.
DI: How about Curtis French?
MH: “He’s doing better. He’s another guy we just need consistency from.”
DI: Do the tight ends have the physical frames you want?
MH: Yeah, when they come off the bus, they look great. Now we just have to have them match the play with the look.”
MH: “We’re rotating everybody through everywhere. This time of year a lot of bodies change. Some guys put on weight, which is good. Some guys take off weight, which is good. Some guys just mature, or the light comes on and maybe the guy you slotted at right tackle, maybe he’s doing a good job at center or the right guard’s doing a good job at left guard. That’s one thing we constantly do in spring is rotate guys through by day. If you’re playing right guard one day, you’re playing left tackle the next day, and just seeing what sticks at the end.
DI: Anybody stand out?
“At times all the guys doing some really good things. Hroniss Grasu is practicing really well and consistently. The younger guys: James Euscher and Tyler Johnstone have done some really good things. Ryan Clanton has been really good at times.”
MH: “A work in progress. Blake Stanton has been the best receiver in practice by far and away. All the other guys have done things at times. The guys who have been the most consistent and done the best work have been Daryle Hawkins and Blake Stanton.”
Everybody else has flashed at times. So whether it’s Josh Huff, or Rahsaan (Vaughn) or B.J. (Kelley) or Devon (Blackmon), we just need those guys to be more consistent.”
DI: Do you see De’Anthony Thomas carrying the ball a lot?
MH: “Hopefully he’ll have the ball a lot, whether at tailback or receiver or moving him around. He and Kenjon and Josh Huff have proven they can do some special things with the ball in their hands. So, we just need to figure out ways to not be predictable.”
DI: Is your offense more complicated than other Pac-12 offenses?
MH: “I have no idea.”
DI: How’s finding a replacement for Eddie Pleasant at rover looking?
NA: “I still think it’s a work in progress. We’re going to put our best four guys on the field. So, the rover doesn’t have to be a guy who is playing rover right now It could be Ifo (Ekre-Olomu) or Terrance Mitchell. It could be Brian Jackson or Avery Patterson. Our best four guys are going to be on the field, whether it’s free safety, rover, or corner. We’re looking at various guys there, and I think they’re all competing very well.
With practice and the tempo the way it goes, I think that we’re getting a lot of things done on both sides of the ball and getting a chance to evaluate guys in a lot of situations. It’s been good so far.”
DI: Any players pretty much solidified a starting job?
NA: “There’s no separation with me for anybody. There’s maybe a few guys in the defensive front that separate themselves by their dominance, but other than that, there’s a lot of positions up for grabs.
We’re getting a ton of reps, I think the first day we had 156 reps. In days following 145-148.
The pace certainly hasn’t slowed down, it’s picked up. It was chaotic at times, but in the long run I think it really helps us because the game becomes slower and it’s a lot easier when you’re getting signals coming in.
I’m pleased with where we are right now.
My goal is that we’re playing hard every one of those reps, chasing the ball and giving maximum effort. And I think for the most part we’ve been doing that.
It’s not utopia, but for the most part, there are very few guys who don’t get the way we want to do things around here…the Oregon way, win the day and all that stuff. I think we’re getting it.”
DI: How’s the defensive front?
NA: “Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart are dominating.
I think (Arik) Armstrong for a freshman is doing a lot of good things. He’s still getting the pace of things and how things work around here but, I think for the most part he is doing great. (Jared) Ebert is doing some good things. It’s hard to say. I don’t watch all the guys on every play. I haven’t noticed him in a bad way.”
NA: “Kiko Alonso is a good, dominating football player. Michael Clay has been hurt a little bit, so some of the younger inside backers are getting a lot of reps and that’s probably good for us because we need those guys to be viable, valuable, accountable, back-up guys who can play and give us some good downs. They’re getting a ton of reps.
So the guys getting the most reps are Anthony Wallace, Rahim Cassell and Derrick Malone.
Malone is getting better. He’s learning the defense, but he doesn’t have it all the way down. I always would like to see him run faster and be stronger, but he really has improved. We need him to step up and he knows that. He’s still improving. We’re never happy as coaches. If they were perfect they wouldn’t need us. His quickness and change of direction is outstanding. I think he needs to be more stout at the point and cerebrally understanding the scheme, he needs to make leaps and bounds.”
Alonso: “When you come off a great performance like that it gives you a lot of confidence. And when you have confidence I think it helps you in anything you do. Nothing is given. He has to continue to work and improve and he knows that. Kiko is a worker. He likes football. So he’s going to work and practice hard every day and continue to grow, so I’m very pleased with Kiko.”
NA: “If I was analyzing it, I think that the defensive front is pretty darn good. I can see seven to eight guys there that I like. Linebackers, the first group in my mind is pretty good, but we have to figure out who those back-up guys are. Corners, I think we’re solid enough with guys who have played a lot of football. I wish we had more.
With Boyett out, safeties are getting a lot of reps.
In my mind we need to get back-up linebackers, a fourth corner, who is going to start at the safety/rover position.
At the back-up linebackers I don’t think anybody is jumping out at me right now, but they’re all working their butt off. Rodney Hardick is out and he played some good downs for us last year.
I like the kids. I don’t want to give them too much praise. I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s spring ball. You mix and match guys. It’s a typical spring so far.”