Oregon’s coaches and players are speaking with a new determination this spring, and it seems to be more than brave spring practice talk, because it’s backed up by some sustained hard work and tangible results.
Team leaders like Tyler Johnstone and Hroniss Grasu are talking openly about what went wrong last year and the need to get stronger and execute better. They’re not satisfied with 11-2 and #10 in the country. They’re pointing to last year’s losses to Stanford and Arizona, vowing to get bigger, stronger and tougher every day.
It’s more than just lip service and talking points. The team went to work in the weight room over the winter. Defensive tackle Alex Balducci is a rock-hard 305, Stetzon Bair 290. Sam Kamp bulked up to 287, and T.J. Daniel to 275.
Don Pellum says he wants a new swagger from his defense, not the trash-talking kind, but a confident understanding of the job and their ability to do it, an aggressiveness about getting after it and applying the right technique.
Fans will hear more as spring practice continues, and the strongest indication will be the purpose and discipline the Ducks show at the Spring Game and in September.
But everything we’re hearing so far suggests a team with a mission and a very clear sense of purpose, driven by a coaching staff that’s more organized and communicating with a focused intensity.
One of the hardest thing to do as a human being or an athlete is critical self-evaluation, to make an unflinching assessment of what we’re doing and make real change.
It’s especially hard for elite athletes, because they’ve been told since the time they were 9 how great they are.
But this group has exceptional character and leadership. They won’t settle. Player after player on the roster has accepted the commitment to making himself better, and surrendering individual recognition to team goals.
It’s early, but it’s looking right now like the 2014 Ducks will be exceptional for their work ethic and their focus. It’s something that starts with exceptional leadership in athletes like Marcus Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Grasu and Johnstone. A few left, but all the rest appear to be embracing the message.
Watching their progress, and seeing if they can carry through on this optimism and ferocity is going to be a lot of fun. Year two, Oregon just might be remade in the image of their new coach, smart, competitive, and willing to keep working until they achieve everything they’re capable of.
The Suds Ducks of the world might disagree, but they’ll miss out on a great journey when they turn out to be wrong.