Cleaning out the pre-spring notes on Oregon beginning spring practices Tuesday.
A quote from coach Chip Kelly on redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota that was left out of my story this morning on the quarterback competition. Kelly was asked about Mariota's rapid development: "That's what we were excited about. Each week you could see him starting to grasp things." On what Mariota's specific improvements were: "He improved everywhere. That's the key. There's never one thing."
Here's a small world tidbit on Mariota's competition, sophomore Bryan Bennett. As a prep sophomore, Bennett was UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince's backup at Crespi High in Encino, Calif. Bruins fans probably have a good idea how Bennett become the starter -- the oft-injured Prince blew out his knee early in the season opener.
Center Hroniss Grasu rooms with Bennett. But he also has a third roommate: 320-pound defensive tackle Rick Ricky Heimuli, whom Grasu often blocks in practice. And, yes, they take their competition -- and squabbles -- home with them. Said Grasu, "We go at it every day. I get mad at him for knowing my calls and he thinks I know his calls."
I asked linebacker Michael Clay for some guys he thinks are ready to step up on defense. He named sophomore corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, sophomore linebackers Rodney Hardrick and Anthony Wallace, and junior defensive tackle Jared Ebert. He also was high on the idea of DT Taylor Hart moving outside to end to replace the departed Terrell Turner: "People don't understand that Taylor is an athletic guy. He's going to surprise people."
One of Kelly's big things is not letting "outside distractions" -- read: media reports -- get into the locker room. But, of course, Kelly can't encircle his players within an impenetrable bubble. I asked a couple of guys whether they'd noticed all the offseason attention -- read: hype -- that USC is getting and whether it bothered them. Yes, all said, they'd noticed. Said Clay, "Does it get into my head? No. Do I notice it? Yeah. Everyone can read the newspaper or go on ESPN.com and see it. But around here we don't talk about it. We're focused on us."
Clay didn't say it specifically but it was clear that he and his teammates know how important it is to focus also on the Pac-12 blog.