With the turn of another calendar month, we have finally, mercifully, reached April, which brings about the beginning of spring ball in Eugene.
New coach. New hope. New beginnings.
With Mark Helfrich at the helm for the first time in his career, Scott Frost getting his much deserved attempt at running an offense, and Marcus Mariota taking over the leader role, there is a felling of freshness in the air, as the program faces a Chip-less season for the first time six years.
Stars must be replaced, sure, but Oregon is in re-load, not re-build for the first time in its history. Five-stars replace five-stars, speed replaces speed; from where we sit, the train keeps on rollin’.
Fifteen practices bring a relief from the monotony of the season, with basketball ending its magical run, and baseball still months away from a final conclusion. While Eugene, OR, isn’t located in the south, it is beginning to take on that kind of feel, as the passion for the program continues to build, fueled by 12-win seasons and fast-paced, electrifying play.
When fall rolls around, and the freshmen have entered the fray, Oregon could field the fastest team they have ever had. While Kenjon Barner, who shone in his only season as a starter, is off to the big-time, he is being replaced by perhaps the most highly recruited player the program has ever seen.
Thomas Tyner, all 6’0″, 205 pounds of him, brings a combination of size and speed rarely seen by Duck fans, who have become accustomed to the jitter-bug back. Not since Jonathan Stewart has Oregon fielded a back with good size and breakaway speed. Tyner, however, is a ways from showing us what he can do.
Spring is here now, and what’s on the field is not to be ignored.
De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota are back; sure-fire Heisman contenders if we’ve ever seen one. Colt Lyerla is set to break out, and Byron Marshall will give Tyner a run for his money come fall. The defense is loaded as well, with the entire secondary returning intact, and a defensive line loaded with sophomores who gained valuable experience last season.
New hires in the coaching staff also bring an air of excitement as well, led by receivers coach Matt Lubick, fresh off winning the receivers coach of the year award for his work at Duke. Also on board is Ron Aiken, last seen roaming the sidelines as defensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals.
Then, there’s the man under the microscope, Mark Helfrich, tasked with replacing the most popular, polarizing and successful coach in school history. In just four seasons, Chip Kelly went 46-7, won three conference titles, went to four BCS games and took Oregon to its only national title game. He now resides in Philadelphia, leaving the keys to the Ferrari for the new guy.
Helfrich, born and raised in Oregon, is entering his “Dream job,” under the tightest of watches, and will assuredly be scrutinized and examined for his every move. It’s an unenviable position for the 38-yr. old, but from all indications, he seems the man for the job.
Considered the front-runner the second Chip left, Helfrich is loved by players and coaches, respected by the community, and dedicated to keeping the Oregon ship afloat.
Starting with these 15 practices, he is officially on the clock.