Oregon’s annual Spring Game will kick off the 2016/17 football pre-season for our beloved Ducks. The highly-anticipated action at Autzen Stadium should make for a very intriguing springtime Saturday.
After every season another exciting group of players leaves the University to seek illustrious careers in the NFL, thus leaving us with a bunch of questions heading into the spring game. With alumni such as Vernon Adams, DeForest Buckner, Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison leaving for the draft, starting positions for this coming year’s team are up for grabs, and it will be an all-out brawl to see who wins.
Here are five reasons this year’s Spring Game could be the most interesting Saturday at Autzen yet.
1. Brady Hoke and the 4-3 Defense
In arguably one of the biggest moves of the offseason, our Ducks hired former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke as the new defensive coordinator. Hoke has shifted from the 3-4 defense the Ducks have utilized since the Nick Aliotti years, and has implemented a 4-3 defense in order to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
In addition, it also allows the defensive backs to play more with a natural ability and looseness. With Hoke’s reputation as a defensive mastermind and the way he was able to influence San Diego State, Michigan and Ball State, it should be very interesting to see what he can do with this Oregon defense.
2. Matt Lubick’s Promotion to Offensive Coordinator
In addition to the changes on defense, the Ducks were also forced to make changes to their offensive staff after the departure of offensive wizard Scott Frost prior to last year’s Alamo Bowl. In a time of need, however, Matt Lubick stepped up and took charge, and implemented his twist to the offense during the bowl game. Now with spring practices and scrimmages in full swing, Lubick will be refurbishing this Oregon offense and implementing a few tricks he has up his sleeve – such as the fake punt we saw in the Alamo Bowl.
Since the action in the Spring Game is generally focused on making the event a fun day for the players and fans, be ready to see some wacky plays that will make jaws drop. In addition, it should be interesting to see what Oregon implements from Lubick’s new playbook. Though no matter what plays the team runs, the Oregon offense is so explosive and fun to watch, it will make this year’s Spring Game one of the best the Ducks have hosted in recent history.
3. Another Top 25 Recruiting Class Flocks In
With the departure of Ducks headed to the professional level, Oregon has once again inked some big names in this year’s recruiting class. The Ducks finished 24th overall in the nation in recruiting rankings.
Many of the incoming athletes have been on campus here in Eugene and in the gym since signing day. By getting an early start, recruits are able to learn the playbook, build off their standout seasons in high school, and begin the transition to becoming “Men of Oregon.” It is also beneficial for them to take part in spring drills, and to get acquainted with their new teammates.
On April 30th these new faces will have their first chance to make impressions among the community. It will also be the first time the new recruits will realize their dream of playing in a packed Autzen Stadium with a roaring crowd. With the Spring Game rapidly approaching, be ready to watch the future of Oregon football arrive and put you in awe.
4. Starting Quarterback Battle
Aside from reeling in a big fish in Hoke, the Ducks also acquired graduate transfer Dakota Prukop from Montana State. He will compete for the starting job this summer. Along with Prukop, redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and true freshman Terry Wilson are looking to nab the starting QB gig.
So far, both Jonsen and Prukop seem to have the upper hand through the first part of the spring, but after a long spring and summer, Wilson could move into the running quickly. The starting quarterback gig is wide open and the Spring Game is the perfect opportunity to show not only the coaches but the fans why one player should start over his teammates. It will be quite the battle for the starting job, and the Ducks should be in great shape heading into September.
5. Returning Players
Another big topic on everyone’s mind is, “How deep is this team with its maturing athletes returning this fall?” Last year the Ducks were one of the youngest teams in terms in player age, but with a year or two under their belts, players such as Ugo Amadi, Taj Griffin and Canton Kaumatule will be able to have stand-out years as full-time starters.
In addition to the younger players Oregon has to offer, the Ducks also have an astounding group of upperclassmen with the likes of Pharaoh Brown, who is returning from a severe leg injury two years ago, Darren Carrington, who stunned us all with his acrobatic catches and early Heisman candidate Royce Freeman, who is coming off a record year.
With all the talent the Ducks have to offer and the desire to finally bring Eugene its first football championship, it should be a fun year to watch the returning talent.
So, Duck fans – what are you looking forward to seeing in this year’s Spring Game?
Top Photo by Kevin Cline