Featured Photo Courtesy Gary Breedlove Photography
The weather forecast earlier last week called for partly cloudy skies on Saturday, with a chance of some showers. That gloomy prognostication never materialized, and yesterday’s spring game by the Oregon Ducks was held under clear and warm conditions — as perfect an April morning as you could hope for.
Once again, two important traditions were honored in the spring game. Veterans representing all branches of the military were honored with special jerseys worn by all players, that read “Support Our Troops” instead of the familiar nameplate on the back of the jersey. Also, once again, admittance the the game was in the form of non-perishable food item donations to Food For Lane County. Both observances were huge hits; vets and fans alike were visably moved by the recognition of our military personnel’s service to our country, and FFLC received a record 76,000 lbs. of donated food, despite having thousands fewer fans than last year’s spring game.
Oh yes — there was also the minor matter of some football to be played.
Because of an ominously large injury list, the 2013 spring game was played in an offense vs. defense format. Unfortunately, there were not enough healthy bodies to split into two teams. While the offense was a clear victor on the scoreboard, 65-10, the scoring system in place seemed to favor the offense. Coach Mark Helfrich said after the game that both sides of the ball have plenty of tape to draw learning experiences from, and that the most important consideration was to be competitive and come out of the game injury-free. In both respects it was clear that the Ducks accomplished their goal.
The offense may have won the day running away on the scoreboard and the stat sheet, but the defense is not an area to be worried about as a result. Many of the most experienced defensive starters saw little or no action, and quite a few players beyond the familiar two-deep did see action. Bright spots in the defensive performance included the play of Christian French, Dior Mathis, and Bronson Yim; all three scored well in terms of tackles overall and tackles for loss. Coach Helfrich said that on other days during spring camp the scoring has gone the other way, with the defense very much on top. That is certainly the case, and in spite of defense coordinator Nick Aliotti’s dismay at the yardage and points that the defense gave up, they were not as bad as the final stat sheet would indicate.
Rather, the defense found themselves up against an offense that ran efficiently, especially when quarterback Marcus Mariota was running it. Mariota was stellar in his spring game outing, and picked up right where he left off at the end of last season. As good as he was in the 2012 spring game — and Mariota was sensational — he was even better yesterday. He was in the game for more drives than might have been expected. While it was never stated by the coaches, that may have been for the benefit of the rest of the offense surrounding him, to let players (and especially newer player) adjust to his increased role as the Ducks’ field general. Mariota directed the offense with ease and authority, and is clearly doing well in his ever-expanding role as the leader and field coach of the offense.
All Duck fans were eager to witness how the battle for backup quarterback, between Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, would pan out. Both players started out shaky, and for now the gap between Marcus Mariota and the rest of the quarterbacks is considerable. As the game progressed, however, both Rodrigues and Lockie settled down and improved their play.
The competition for who follows Mariota is quite close, and unlike last year’s competition between Mariota and Brian Bennett there is no clear front-runner. We won’t know who the backup QB will be until we get into the 2013 season in the fall. Jeff Lockie started out a bit shakier than Rodrigues in some respects, but overcame any deficiencies to claim victory on the stats sheet. By the end of the game he was playing much better than he started.
The eye test, however, can probably be claimed by Jake Rodrigues. Rodrigues started out uneven, but seemed to turn things around a bit sooner than Lockie. He was also the better runner, if only for the spring game, and both his throwing stance and running showed no indication whatsoever that he is hampered by his leg injury suffered at the end of his high school career. His speed and cuts looked very good, and generally Rodrigues seemed to be making good decisions about running. Again, however, he’s not a lock for the backup job, and it will be very interesting to see how both QBs improve come August.
Byron Marshall performed well in the running game. He has benefitted from the large amount of real game time that he experienced last season. Marshall may very well be the back that carries 20 or 25 times a game come fall, but the RB position will probably still see some platooning in August before we see who will step up behind Marshall.
Bralon Addison separated himself from the other receivers in this spring game. Last year, Addision played well, but if his improvement continues as it appears to be, Addison will torch the field and be an excellent piece of the receiving corps. Covering Josh Huff, DeAnthony Thomas, Colt Lyerla, and Addison could prove to give opposing defensive coordinators problems sleeping at night before playing the Ducks! Also, Eric Dungy played well late in the game, displayed solid hands and sideline work, and even collected the craziest fumble recovery we’ve seen in quite awhile!
On the kicking front, Alejandro Maldonado was a pleasant surprise. After a season in which his range and accuracy were in doubt, his lone field goal of 48 yards exceeded what anyone in Autzen thought him capable of. Hopefully he can parlay that into success in the regular season.
Now, unfortunately, we have the dog days of summer upon us, as we await the coming of fall camp and the 2013 football season. On the bright side, we have much to look forward to and there is no reason not to believe that the Ducks will be in the forefront of both the PAC-12 and national championship races.
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