- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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We’re past the halfway point of Oregon spring football, so let's take a look at the biggest storylines of the spring season thus far.
1. Weight gains. Holy moley weight gains.
Oregon is always one of the fastest teams in the nation, and always working to get faster. But the biggest and strongest? Not as much. But after this offseason, some of its players are looking like they could be a much bigger force when it comes point of attack. The offensive line as a whole put on more than 100 pounds, and that certainly is going to help Oregon get out to a stronger start. An extra few pounds on some of those guys can convert into blocking for just a second longer, which gives Marcus Mariota or a running back an opportunity that might not have been there last season. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said that the gains (and some good losses) were accomplished by just making minor tweaks in the conditioning program. So, if we’re giving out an MVP for the offseason, the frontrunner at this point could be Oregon strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe.
2. Addison, out.
The blow the wide receivers took when Bralon Addison went down last week is pretty huge. His absence means that Keanon Lowe is going to have to make major strides in his production from last season. How major? Well, even if he triples his number of catches, that would still have only put him at No. 3 on the receptions list in 2013. Look for Lowe to lead the receivers during the spring game, but with an entire offseason to gain chemistry, that top receiver spot could be more of a competition this fall. Earlier this spring, Mariota told ESPN.com that he had been throwing a lot with Dwayne Stanford, Chance Allen and Darren Carrington during the offseason, so those will be names to watch. Also, former basketball player Jonathan Loyd adds a bit of a wild card to the Ducks receivers after joining from the basketball team in the spring.
3. Lubick’s laboratory.
Even before Addison went down it seemed pretty likely that the passing game coordinator Matt Lubick would be airing it out a bit more this season to players other than wide receivers. Tight end John Mundt led the tight ends in receptions last season, and Pharaoh Brown was also in the top 10 in receptions. There’s no reason to think those two and fellow tight end Evan Baylis couldn’t be targeted in Lubick’s plans a bit more. Even if they all just pick up one extra pass a game, that would make up for what the Ducks lost from last season. And running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have good hands and should be able to contribute as well. And getting those two more involved in the pass game would also help the run game, because defenses would have to play a bit more honest if the backs provided a receiving threat.
4. Defense playing with a new attitude.
New coordinator, new attitude. Several defensive players have said that they’ve enjoyed their spring practices and how new defensive coordinator Don Pellum breaks down why they’re doing a specific drill. It gives the team more purpose in what they’re doing and because of that, they’re already moving faster. It certainly helps that Pellum is coming from the linebackers (he still coaches the inside linebackers) and they’re the deepest and most experienced position group on the field. That experience gives him more freedom and time to work with the defense as a whole.
5. Good competition in the secondary.
Speaking of the defense, Oregon needs to find some guys in the secondary so it can maintain its terrific pass defense. Last season the Ducks allowed just 5.5 yards per pass attempt (No. 3 nationally), and the Ducks led the nation by only allowing completions on 34.3 percent of passing attempts of 10-plus yards. But, three defensive back starters are gone after accounting for 210 tackles, eight interceptions and 16 pass break-ups in 2013. Those statistics are going to have to come from someone else this season, but the good thing is that several names have come up this spring as likely candidates to pick up that slack. Mariota said that safety Erick Dargan has been almost as difficult to throw against as Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. And names such as Dior Mathis, Tyree Robinson, Chris Seisay, Troy Hill, Issac Dixon and Reggie Daniels are all popping up from time to time. With that many names, the competition is fierce. If things go the way they did in the past, then the cream will rise to the top and the Oregon defensive backs should be in good shape.
6. Food, glorious food.
One of the biggest advancements from an off-field side of football this spring was the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ decision to allow unlimited meals and snacks for student-athletes. It's a major change for the athletes, who now will be able to worry less about where their meals are coming from. This new rule also covers food for non-scholarship walk-on athletes, which is a big advancement, considering if they previously wanted to join in on training table with their scholarship teammates, they'd have to pay $8.72 per meal.
21hChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell