- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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Three things we learned in the spring:
The O-line is going to be much more physical. Minor tweaks were made in the offseason strength and conditioning plan and it meant major strides for the Ducks, specifically the offensive linemen, who put on more than 100 pounds as a position group. Center Hroniss Grasu said the group felt like it was pushed around last season against Stanford and Arizona and wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.
The receivers will be young. With Bralon Addison injured, the staff is searching for where those passing yards will be made up because the receivers are going to be very young next season. It’s not very often that a redshirt freshman at Oregon is getting quality reps at such a key position, but it’s going to happen at receiver.
The linebackers are going to be the core of the D. The spring only amplified this feeling. With Don Pellum now coordinating the defense from the middle of the field and still working with the inside linebackers, this group is going to be scary good. It’s not crazy to think all four starters could be among top six tacklers this season (last season all four starters were in the top eight).
Three questions for the fall:
How much will they spread the ball around? Last season, 68 percent of the Ducks' passes were thrown to receivers. Now, with Addison injured and the leading receiver being Keanon Lowe (he caught just 18 passes in 2013), will passing game coordinator Matt Lubick try to get the ball to the tight ends and running backs more? Maybe. Especially considering there’s more receiving experience in those position groups than at receiver.
Who will become the lead back? The compliments have seemed pretty evenly split between Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall this spring. But when push comes to shove and the Ducks need a first down, who will Helfrich call on? Both averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2013. Both were almost equally productive -- Marshall averaged one touchdown every 12 carries while Tyner averaged one touchdown every 12.8 carries. Who becomes “the” guy in 2014?
Can the defense stop the run? The Ducks struggled in stopping the run in 2013. Opponents averaged 3.8 yards per carry vs. the Oregon defense, and 34 percent of rushes went for at least five yards. The linebackers will be solid. The defensive backs should be all right. But can the D-line make a statement at the point of attack?
One way-too-early prediction: The Ducks will win the Pac-12 North. Oregon doesn’t have to play USC or Arizona State and its road schedule is pretty kind. Stanford, on the other hand, plays USC and has tough road games at Washington, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. This’ll be a close race, but the Ducks will come out in front.