It was just the latest example of athletes who are making big strides in Oregon spring practice, as a focused and committed team prepares for a season with national and conference title hopes (Scott Olmos, USA Today Sports Images photo).
Offensive lineman Andre Yruretagoyena has added 15 pounds of muscle, and Steve Greatwood names him and Hamani Stevens as two upperclassmen who have made a marked improvement in technique this spring, showing growth in consistency and determination that will make them vital contributors in a very deep and cohesive unit. Young players like Doug Brenner, Cameron Hunt and Jake Pisarcik are following their lead, each with significant strength gains of their own over the winter.
Several of the offensive linemen are raving about the challenge they’re facing every day from Oregon’s beefed-up defensive line, where Sam Kamp and jc transfer Tua Talia have joined Alex Balducci, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead as the quick, strong nucleus of a front that is going to be much more effective in 2014, backed by a group of linebackers that gained valuable experience last year. The Ducks can put athletes on the field in waves, and the commitment to being bigger and stronger has paid visible dividends. Don Pellum has instilled new energy and aggressiveness, a constructive swagger.
All eyes will be on the receivers at the Spring Game with Bralon Addison out, but Dwayne Stanford, Keanon Lowe and Chance Allen have all had solid springs, according to reports, and the Ducks can supplement the receiver corps with two-tight end packages and two-back sets, utilizing the depth and talent they have at those positions. It’s never a mistake to get the ball to Thomas Tyner or Byron Marshall in the open, and Marcus Mariota is adept at laying the ball out for them.
Behind Lowe, Allen and Stanford is a depth of speed. B.J. Kelley, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington and Jalen Brown are all terrific athletes, and Tony James and Charles Nelson, who’ll join the team in June, are equally fast and talented. Devon Allen won the 110 and 400-meter hurdles and the 100 meter dash at the Oregon relays Saturday. In high school he was clocked in 10.48 in the 100. James, Kelley and Nelson would all finish within a step of him.
Though the position remains a question mark, the group has been showing good signs in practice. Mariota has worked patiently with them throughout the winter and will continue to do so all summer.
Oregon’s entertaining combination of explosive offensive and opportunistic defense could come together beautifully this season. It’s as solid and deep a team as they have ever had, and the attitude is excellent. The players aren’t making any brash predictions, just remaining committed to the goal of getting better every day. The Spring Game will be a showcase of everything they’ve learned, and a marvelous appetizer to a sumptuous season.