Coming off one of the most successful seasons in Ducks history, hopes are high. Despite losing Marcus Mariota and other contributors to the success of last year, the players this year are ready to show they can win too.
Head Coach Mark Helfrich has done a great job at succeeding with the personnel he has in uniform. Many people didn’t believe in his ability to lead a team, but he proved last season that he has what it takes to lead a team to the end. Now, the challenge lies in fixing the open wounds, and sealing the cracks from what almost ended up as a National Championship last season.
Summer ball is right around the corner, and Ducks fans are interested in seeing the changes. Here are three holes that Helfrich and staff need to fill in order to make it back to the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row.
This one goes without saying. Despite having an improved and seemingly ready to play Jeff Lockie, any quarterback will be something of a dropoff from last season. Without knowing if Vernon Adams will be successful with the offense, Ducks fans can rest their heads knowing Lockie understands what it takes to win. But will he win?
Lockie backed up Mariota for the last two years, so he spent some valuable time learning from the greatest Oregon QB ever. His lack of game experience is a little scary, so be wary of what is to come. Adams is set to practice for his first time with his new squad, so everything is still speculation in regards to the former Eastern Washington standout.
Though he has had much recent success, expect Helfrich to be under a lot of pressure. Ducks fans and the athletic department expect this team to win. Not having Mariota will be interesting, so it is unknown what could happen with the offense this season.
If it weren’t for injuries to the offensive line last season, the Ducks might have averaged 50 points per game. Jake Fisher and Hroniss Grasu both missed extended time last season, but the offense was somehow still effective. Both of these players took their talents to the NFL, leaving a massive void heading into this season.
Thankfully, former standout left tackle Tyler Johnstone has healed up from knee injuries that forced him to miss all of last season. Johnstone was the projected starting LT last season, so having him back in the lineup to take over for Fisher is huge.
The biggest loss on the line, however, was that of Grasu. Grasu had four years of playing experience under his belt, which can’t be overlooked when moving on to the next guy. The center position seemed up in the air, but with the recent news of Notre Dame center Matt Hegarty announcing his transfer to Oregon, that seemingly massive hole was fixed.
Going into summer, there are a lot of new players on the offensive line. There will be three new players on the line with Tyrell Crosby and Jake Pisarcik. The talent is all there, but the familiarity is not. The main focus for this offensive line unit will be getting used to each other, hammering out the signal calls, and learning how to flow with the offense. If all goes well, this could be the best offensive line unit in recent Ducks history.
As a whole, the defense underperformed last season. Even though they only allowed 23 points per game, there were times where the defense looked like it had no idea what it was doing. Opposing offenses knew exactly how to pick apart the Ducks’ defense, which became very evident against Ohio State. The Buckeyes provided the blueprint for beating the Ducks, so a big focus this summer will be on improving the weaknesses that were exploited last year.
Losing Arik Armstead, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and Erick Dargan to the NFL will be very difficult. The Ducks will get back most of their linebackers — a position that was very weak last season. It’s easy for us to say who we think could start on the defense, but only time and practice during the summer will tell.
What we do know is this defense will be ready to play come Week 1. Led by potential Top 10 pick DeForest Buckner, this defense is looking to lessen the gap with the offense. People are tired of hearing people talk about the Ducks as an offense-only team. Veterans like Buckner, Joe Walker, and Rodney Hardrick have a lot to prove this season. With no Mariota miracles to be had this season, there will be more pressure on the defense to perform.
No matter what, it’s going to be a great season for the Ducks. Armor is armor, until it starts to break down. The race to the College Football Playoff is all about who can keep their armor patched up consistently. Despite having a few questions heading into this season, the Ducks are stacked and ready to prove they can repeat the greatness of last season.
Top Photo by John Sperry
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