Another football season has come and gone. Overall, it was another successful run for the Ducks, even if they did not meet their ultimate goals. Another 11-win season. Another win in a bowl game. Another top-ten ranking to wrap up the year.
Mark Helfrich proved that he can handle the pressure of running a major college program, Marcus Mariota continued to improve and impress, the running game showed it was not rebuilding but reloading, and despite some stumbles at the end of the season, the team showed cohesion and unity in overcoming those difficulties in the Alamo Bowl.
Next season, however, there will be a lot more changes for the team to deal with. Nick Aliotti, after decades of dedication and hard work (and not much credit for the job he did), is no longer the Ducks’ Defensive Coordinator.
DeAnthony Thomas and Terrance Mitchell are leaving early for the NFL, while Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi and several other key defensive players have used up their eligibility. Thankfully, many important players such as Marcus Mariota and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu have committed to staying.
Oregon has been here before. After Darron Thomas declared for the NFL draft, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the QB position. Last year, it was the departure of Chip Kelly – with many wondering how Mark Helfrich would handle the transition. The Ducks are consistent in their approach to personnel and new players.
Now, with the rise to national prominence, the quality of players filling the yearly roster openings, makes it likely that the Ducks will maintain their hard-fought-for program momentum.
The biggest question for next season unquestionably is on the defensive side of the ball. Finding the right coach for the Defensive Coordinator position is paramount. Will Helfrich promote from within, or will he look for someone outside the program to fill the role?
Clancy Pendergast of USC, Randy Shannon from Arkansas and Utah State defensive coordinator Todd Orlando are some of the ‘outside’ names currently circulating, while defensive backs coach John Neal is one likely candidate to be promoted from inside the program.
No matter who is hired, he will have some big shoes to fill. While Aliotti had his share of detractors among the Oregon fan base, he consistently put together solid defensive units, even when Oregon wasn’t able to recruit the type of players it has now.
Whoever takes the helm of the DC is going to find a sizable challenge awaiting. With so many players leaving on the defensive side of the team, the look and chemistry of the defense will be completely different. There are still quite a few important players remaining, though, such as Ekpre-Olomu, Deforest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci. These players, coupled with up-and-coming young linebackers Torrodney Prevot, Danny Mattingly and Tyrell Robinson, ought to provide another year of solid defense.
Oregon looks quite deep on offense, even with DAT and Huff leaving. With a nearly intact offensive line unit, young playmakers at tight end, such as Johnny Mundt and Pharaoh Brown, and with Mariota, Bralon Addison, Byron Marshall, and Thomas Tyner all returning, Oregon should continue to score points at a ridiculous level. There are certainly some question marks for the backups at wide receiver, but the athleticism of the young players, such as Devon Allen and Chance Allen, should bolster the position.
Another year of change is coming for the football team, but once more the Ducks appear to be in good position to weather that storm and continue on with their successful run.
Top Photo D.C. Photography