5 Things to watch heading into Oregon Ducks Spring Practice
5 Things to watch ahead of Oregon Ducks Spring Practice
It's back to work for Mario Cristobal and the Oregon Ducks.
The time to celebrate the Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl Championships is over and now Oregon needs to look forward to the upcoming season with spring practice beginning Thursday, March 5.
On the eve of spring practice, there are many questions on the minds of Ducks fans.
Here are five of the most crucial things to watch as the Ducks get ready for the Spring Game next month and the upcoming football season this fall.
The Quarterback Competition
The most critical question looming over the Ducks is who will replace four-year starter Justin Herbert.
The Ducks haven't had a real quarterback competition in nearly eight seasons when Marcus Mariota beat out Bryan Bennet to replace Darron Thomas, so the process may not be familiar to Oregon fans.
Redshirt Sophomore Tyler Shough, redshirt freshman Cade Millen, and true freshman Jay Butterfield will be the leading candidates to replace Herbert as Oregon's starting signal-caller.
Shough's teammates have spoken highly of him, including wide receiver Bryan Addison: “One thing I’ve seen out of Tyler is, he’s a lot more confident and he’s a lot more precise with what he does. He knows what he’s doing. (Herbert) is putting a great role model on him. Whenever Tyler is in the game, it’s just like (Herbert) is in the game. Really, they are two of the same to me.”
Shough should have the upper hand having been in the program for the past two seasons and being a highly-touted four-star recruit coming out of high school. However, those seasons were with former offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, who left to become the head coach at UNLV. Now, all three quarterbacks will be learning under a new system with newly-hired Joe Moorhead.
Joe Moorhead's offense
Speaking of which, what will the offense look like under Moorhead anyways?
At his introductory press conference, the new lead offensive mind in Eugene would not commit to an offensive style, however, he ran the spread as offensive coordinator at Penn State, and shouted out the pistol which the Ducks have ran for three seasons.
""I think there's a bunch of guys in there that are very smart, very experienced and have a bunch of good ideas. So right now we're in a process of going through all the Oregon calls from last year, seeing what we liked, seeing what fits, and we'll go through the Penn State, Mississippi State stuff. Then try to, you know, combine all those great ideas, and certainly pistol is part of the discussion."
Moorhead holds an impressive resume. In his first season as offensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions, Moorhead won the Big Ten and placed 21st in scoring offense (37.6 points) and 50th in total offense (435.6) nationally. They also shattered then-school records for total offense (6,056), passing yards (3,650) and points scored (526). Sports Illustrated and Yahoo both named Joe Moorhead the nation's No. 1 rising assistant coach in August 2017 ahead of his sophomore season in Happy Valley. In his second season, the Nittany Lions shot up to seventh in scoring offense (41.1 points) and 19th in total offense (460.3 yards), once again setting school records.
Can Mykael Wright become a starter?
Despite starting cornerbacks returning for their senior season, Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash rated sophomore Mykael Wright as the fourth-best returning player in the Pac-12 next season, only behind Jevon Holland in the Oregon secondary.
One would think they could play Wright in the slot to get him on the field more, but Holland was ranked as the nation's best slot corner in the nation last season, so moving Holland away would be unwise. Can Wright prove Treash correct by winning one of the starting jobs this offseason away from the seniors?
Wright made an impact as a true freshman, including a kickoff return for a touchdown against USC and a game-winning pass defended against Washington. He finished the season with an interception and four passes defended in 306 snaps.
How do the freshmen look?
The Ducks welcome the top-rated recruiting class in the Pac-12 and some of them are on campus early after signing during the early signing period in December, including five-star linebacker Noah Sewell who along with fellow five-star Justin Flowe will look to fill the gap left behind by Troy Dye.
Spring practice can be crucial for the development of freshmen to get them ready to play significant snaps during their true freshman seasons. For example, if Justin Herbert had enrolled early rather than playing baseball at Sheldon High School, he likely would have been the starter on opening day as a true freshman. That could bode well for four-star pro-style quarterback Jay Butterfield who has enrolled on campus already and aims to win the starting job.
What's the deal with the offensive line?
Last but not least, how will the offensive line look?
The Ducks' offensive line last season was a finalist for the Joe Moore Award, which recognizes the nation's Most Outstanding Offensive Line unit. The o-line returns its best player this year, Penei Sewell. However, their next five best offensive linemen are heading to the NFL Draft.
Head coach Mario Cristobal and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal always get dominant offensive lines ready to go by the time the season starts, but replacing four starters will have growing pains.
The contenders to start include Ryan Walk, Cole Young, Dawson Jaramillo, Malaeasala Aumavae-Laulu, Sam Poutasi, Steven Jones, Jonah Tauanu'u, Alex Forsyth, and Chris Randazzo.