It’s hard to feel confident in a position group when there isn’t a single senior in the meeting room, but Oregon's tight ends are one of the team's deepest and most experienced groups.

The Ducks return rising junior Pharaoh Brown and rising sophomores Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis. In 2013, those three accounted for five touchdowns and 475 yards on just 30 receptions, and with another offseason under their belts, more can be expected during the spring game and next fall.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks and Tennessee Volunteers
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesJohnny Mundt aims to lead a productive group of Oregon tight ends.
“I think we can contribute a lot more,” Baylis said. “We’re all a lot more comfortable and we know more about the system and can really understand the offense. [The coaches] can trust us more to put in more tight end packages and involve us more in the offense now that we have a better understanding.”

Mundt described the offseason as “intense,” because they all wanted to make sure they came into this spring as ready as possible. With the Ducks losing their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers, the tight ends might be looked at more by quarterback Marcus Mariota in the passing game. There also is a big push by the offensive line this offseason to become more physical, so they need to be ready to handle serious blocking duties as well.

“We were all pushing each other in the weight room and in conditioning,” Mundt said. “We’ve all put on weight and gotten better and stronger. It’s going to be exciting.”

“We put in a lot of hard work,” Baylis added. “We were making sure we were all at [7-on-7s] and all the extra work, getting in reps with the quarterbacks, lifting in the weight room, just making sure we were ready and would be in good shape to produce as tight ends this season.”

Baylis said the biggest difference between the group last season and this spring is mainly in accountability. With another year in the program, every player has matured and is focusing even more than he did last season.

And with each player maturing as an individual, the group as a whole is making strides forward to be a reliable, deeper position group for the Ducks offense.

“We’re not accepting mental mistakes and small, little things,” Baylis said. “We expect more out of ourselves and our group.”
They say defense wins championships. Well, creating negative plays typically makes for a winning defense.

We're defining negative plays as tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (we went with forced fumbles instead of fumble recoveries). We're tallying how many of each that Pac-12 defenses produced in 2013 and -- more important -- how many of those negative plays were created by returning players.

We move on to the North Division. You can see the South here.

(Number in parentheses is number of negative plays made by returning players).

California

Tackles for a loss: 76 (43)

Sacks: 18 (13.5)

Interceptions: 5 (3)

Forced fumbles: 9 (4)

Key returner: Jalen Jefferson (6.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, INT)

Key loss: DL Deandre Coleman (9 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

Breakdown: The Bears’ 2013 defense, perhaps the worst unit in team history, was hit so hard by injuries, these numbers aren't of much consequence. The big questions are if players such as DE Brennan Scarlett, DT Mustafa Jalil, S Avery Sebastian can put up numbers this fall after returning from injuries.

Oregon

Tackles for a loss: 70 (40.5)

Sacks: 28 (18.5)

Interceptions: 17 (8)

Forced fumbles: 17 (12)

Key returners: OLB Tony Washington (12 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles); CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5 TFL, 3 interceptions, forced fumble)

Key losses: DE Taylor Hart (6.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Terrance Mitchell (5 INTs)

Breakdown: Mitchell's decision to enter the draft a year early hurts -- just as Ekpre-Olomu's decision to return was a pleasant surprise -- but the Ducks have plenty of numbers coming back. Washington led the 2013 defense in TFL, sacks and forced fumbles, and Ekpre-Olomu was a consensus All-American.

Oregon State

Tackles for a loss: 75 (43.5)

Sacks: 25 (11.5)

Interceptions: 19 (13)

Forced fumbles: 13 (7)

Key returners: CB Steven Nelson (6 INTs); S Ryan Murphy (8 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs, forced fumble).

Key losses: DE Scott Crichton (19 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Rashaad Reynolds (3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 6 INTs, 2 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Crichton led the Beavers in TFL, sacks and forced fumbles. His playmaking won't be easy to replace, though having a healthy D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor at LB should help the front seven's numbers. Nelson and Reynolds tied for the Pac-12 lead in interceptions.

Stanford

Tackles for a loss: 109 (44.5)

Sacks: 44 (13)

Interceptions: 13 (10)

Forced fumbles: 15 (7)

Key returners: Kevin Anderson (6.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, INT); S Jordan Richards (4.0 TFL, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble)

Key losses: OLB Trent Murphy (23.5 TFL, 15.0 sacks, INT, 2 forced fumbles); LB Shayne Skov (13 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Murphy was among the most productive defensive players in the nation, Skov was the defense's leader, and guys like D-linemen Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner shouldn't be overlooked, so the Cardinal defense loses a lot of numbers. The biggest question is how well Anderson replaces Murphy.

Washington

Tackles for a loss: 74 (58)

Sacks: 41 (36.5)

Interceptions: 16 (8)

Forced fumbles: 11 (6)

Key returners: DE Hau'oli Kikaha (15.5 tackles for a loss, 13.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Marcus Peters (3.5 TFL, 1 sack, five interceptions, forced fumble)

Key loss: S Sean Parker (3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INTs)

Breakdown: These numbers reflect that the Huskies are in great shape with their front seven but the secondary is rebuilding. The Huskies should be plenty capable of putting pressure on opposing QBs, and that should help a secondary that will be young.

Washington State

Tackles for a loss: 75 (52)

Sacks: 21 (18)

Interceptions: 16 (3)

Forced fumbles: 17 (9)

Key returners: DE Xavier Cooper (13.5 tackles for a loss, 5.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); LB Darryl Monroe (8 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles)

Key losses: S Deone Bucannon (4.5 TFL, 6 INTs, 3 forced fumbles); CB Damante Horton (3.5 TFL, 5 interceptions, forced fumble)

Breakdown: Like their friends from Seattle, the Cougars return a lot of production from their front seven but they are rebuilding their secondary. In fact, Bucannon, a four-year starter, leaves some of the biggest shoes to fill in the Pac-12.

3-point stance: No help needed

April, 8, 2014
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1. Northwestern has played its hand in the unionization issue beautifully. The university never blamed its student-athletes. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has gone public with his opposition to the union, but has done so with facts and without histrionics. The last thing Northwestern needs is NCAA president Mark Emmert making headlines by calling unionization "grossly inappropriate." Emmert has been an ineffective reformer. He lost a lot of credibility by railroading Penn State before he had the facts. He could best help Northwestern by going on vacation for the rest of April.

2. Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann said it would be great if the Newark Star-Ledger went out of business. Hermann doesn't like what one columnist writes about her. The Star-Ledger last week laid off 167 people in her state. You would think an athletic official who has been accused of verbal abuse in the past would think twice before lashing out. Whatever justification Hermann thought she had to say that, she didn't.

3. I got a tour Monday of the not-quite-one-year-old football building that Phil Knight built for Oregon and I have three words: Oh. Em. Gee. Whatever you heard or read about the spare-no-expense design doesn't do the building justice. Italian leather chairs. German lockers. Brazilian wood floors -- in the weight room. Turkish toilets. (I am leaving a few countries out.) Wall coverings and upholstery of football leather. Hand-painted foosball players. And on. And on. The arms race is over. We have a winner.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Loyd
AP Photo/Morry GashJohnathan Loyd will look to strut his stuff on the football field as a receiver for the Ducks this season.

It's less than a week into spring practice, and Oregon has added a new receiver to its roster: former Ducks basketball player Johnathan Loyd.

Loyd, the winningest player in Oregon basketball history and a four-year starter for coach Dana Altman, will use a loophole in NCAA rules that permits players a fifth year of eligibility in a different sport, the university said in a statement.

The 5-foot-8 Loyd attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, where he played both football and basketball. On the football field he was a cornerback and returner, but after spending some time spent watching practice, he seems to be making a pretty smooth transition to receiver.

"That's one thing I can do -- I can catch the ball," Loyd said. "I can run and I can catch. Receiver is not too much different than anything else."

Loyd will be a boost for the Oregon receiving corps, as coach Mark Helfrich looks to replace the team's Nos. 1 and 3 receivers from a season ago.


(Read full post)


Pac-12's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
EUGENE, Ore. -- In the midst of player unionization movements and NCAA rules discussions, the Oregon defense is reminding itself of a simple fact while working through spring practices: Football is fun.

“You know when you’re a kid and you can just run forever, you can play forever ... Somehow, sometimes football gets you so bogged down that the kids don’t play with that, that fun, spirited emotion,” Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. “And football has to be fun.”

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Don RyanErick Dargan (right) and his teammates are trying to bring some swagger to Oregon's defense.
Fun obviously means something different to every person. Most people wouldn’t consider early-morning workouts or weight lifting until you can’t feel your quads to be “fun,” but for the Ducks, it is.

The idea is to get back to the joy most of these players felt when they were children, playing Pop Warner football in front of their parents and coaches. There’s no way to completely avoid the thoughts that they’re playing on national TV and that scouts and fans are going to have opinions. However, if each player can get to a place where he’s enjoying himself, the other stuff will take care of itself.

Coaches have scaled back in terms of the football verbiage. That means less jargon for the defense this spring, which hopefully translates to more big plays on the field in the fall.

“You have to reduce the thinking,” Pellum said. “You have to free them up to have a little more fun. You have to create practice situations where it seems fun, where it’s competitive. And you have to allow those kids to do it.”

And they’ve changed the verbiage a bit, too. Defensive back Erick Dargan said Pellum has been emphasizing two words for the defense this spring: attitude and swag.

“Attitude has always been there, but the swagger is becoming a bigger part because sometimes we lack swag,” Dargan said. “Swagger isn’t just about fashion. It’s about how we carry ourselves and how we get ready to play. Always being ready and confident. The swag -- it’s not about how you dress, it’s about how you wear it.”

Dargan said for the Ducks, that swag has been defined as dominating one’s area and doing it with confidence and strength.

The Ducks certainly need that kind of approach this spring as they aim to replace two starters on the defensive line and three in the secondary. The linebackers return starters and depth, which will help the defense as Pellum is also in charge of coaching the linebackers.

The Ducks allowed a Pac-12-best 4.6 yards per play last season. But when it came to third and fourth downs, Oregon struggled, allowing teams to convert on 40 percent and 46 percent of their attempts, respectively. Neither one of those statistics placed the Ducks in the top 40 nationally.

Another way the players are enjoying this spring is with intra-position group competitions. This winter, the competition level between players improved in the weight room, and that has continued onto the practice field this spring.

Some of the defensive backs have an open competition with interceptions. So far Dargan, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are in. Any DB can throw his name into the hat, but there can only be one winner and that guy gets dinner from every other player in the ring.

Pellum isn’t encouraging each group to create these kinds of competitions, but he’s not going to make them scale back, either.

“All of that stuff is good,” Pellum said. “Friendly, good-spirited competition is good. This is the only time most of the kids are going to play football in their life, so they need to be enjoying every second of it.”

And if they are enjoying themselves this spring, while getting back to the fundamentals and playing with more spirit and confidence, Pellum believes there’s a better chance they’ll enjoy themselves during the 2014 season. Of course, wins are fun, and that’s also a big goal for Oregon. But right now, as the Ducks work their way through 15 spring practices, having fun is also a major concentration.

“We have to play with that spirit,” Pellum said. “We have to have a little more of an attitude. We have to play a little more disciplined, [be] tougher, meaner and have fun doing it.”
video

Allen (Texas) quarterback Kyler Murray punched his ticket to the Elite 11 finals with an MVP performance at the Nike Football Training Camp in Dallas. Murray spoke about his performance and commitment timetable with ESPN's Phil Murphy.
Welcome to the mailbag. It's Friday, and that is always a good thing.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Bryan from Portland, Ore., writes: Now that Northwestern football players have been declared employees, and are eligible to unionize, can they be taxed for their scholarship? Nobody would be very happy to have to pay $15K in taxes for a full ride scholarship to NW.

Ted Miller: You are correct. And if college football teams in the major conferences unionized across the country, things would become complicated.

In fact, I don't think that's what's going to happen. Further, despite my mailbag last week and tweak of Texas AD Steve Patterson here about being all business until it comes to the issue of treating college football players like employees, my feeling at present is unionizing college football would be fraught with potentially negative unintended consequences and probably not a good thing for the sport -- both for those who play as well as those who coach and administer.

Yet the threat of unionization, the threat of players uniting to get a better cut of the action, is what I view as a positive good. Unionizing should be a last resort if the folks who run things don't figure out a way to treat the players better.

To repeat myself from last week, my thinking on this aligns with Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, and I keep linking his article because he wrote things I was thinking before I did, so he merits acknowledgment.

Further, this represents a change of heart for me. For a long time, I saw a scholarship as enough payment, and I resented the ignorance of the drive-by-columnists who took shots at college football without regularly covering the sport. My feeling was only a handful of players owned real star power, and that the jersey players wore on Saturdays actually held the enduring value and ultimately created the revenue. But that position was developed in the 1990s. Over the past three to five years, with conferences realigning and then signing mega-deals for broadcasting rights, as well as the coming College Football Playoff, I've adjusted my thinking.

What should players get? Glad you asked.
  • Full cost of attendance scholarships. My feeling is this is going to happen pretty soon.
  • Lifetime disability coverage for injuries suffered while they played college football.
  • Players should be able to profit from their images, though we certainly understand this could get complicated to monitor.
  • Transfer rules need to be reevaluated, making it easier for players to change schools. That will make life difficult for coaches, but they are paid $3 million or so a year to deal with difficulties.
  • There should be a need-based fund that pays for parents to go on recruiting visits and to attend games.

I also think we need to reevaluate player-agent contact. While pay-for-play with boosters is about a program gaining a competitive advantage, player-agent contact is about a player looking out for his future. You'll notice that the carping about agents tends to come from coaches, ADs and fans because they don't want their star players entering the draft before their eligibility has expired. Rules against agents have zero benefits for players.

Sure, you could open up some unsavory situations, but it seems like it would be better to have as much as possible happening out in the open than what we have now.


Gret from Salt Lake City writes: Hey guys, the Big Ten blog did this a while back and I thought it would be fun to try here! If you could be the dictator of the Pac-12 for a day, and could only make three changes, what changes would you make?? and no school, no matter how powerful, could fight you on anything. They would all just have to go along with whatever decisions you made.

Ted Miller: First, I adopt much of what I wrote above.

Second, I'd force the Pac-12 Network and DirectTV to reach a compromise deal. This is mostly because I am sick of hearing about the impasse between Pac-12 Network and DirectTV.

Third, I'd schedule more day games. There would be no more than two 7 p.m. PT (or later) kickoffs during the Pac-12 schedule.

Fourth, I'd make Kevin call me "The Great and Powerful Oz." Oh, oh … or "Heisenberg."


Ryan from New York writes: Ted, Nice "puff" piece on the Bruins. But they need to beat somebody other than embattled Bo Pelini and a depleted USC team that dressed less than 50 scholarship players in LA last fall. UCLA is 1-6 in the last couple of years against Oregon, Stanford and ASU. Not good. Before you start popping off about being a national title contender, you have to beat the good teams. Oh, and beating an underachieving Virginia Tech team that played more than half the game with a backup QB who had thrown less than 5 passes all year doesn't count. Peace out.

Ted Miller: I was wondering where you'd been. I fear it's going to be a long and frustrating year for you, Ryan.

UCLA welcomes back 19 starters from a squad that beat five teams that won eight or more games last year, including a 10-win USC team. By 21 points! Also back is QB Brett Hundley, leading a team that finished the season 10-3 and ranked 16th.

The Bruins are going to be ranked in or very near the preseason top 10. Oregon, USC and Stanford all visit the Rose Bowl.

You can stew and frump all you want, but the reason people think highly of the Bruins’ chances is something called "supporting evidence."


Brian from San Diego writes: You know how cities across the U.S. have sister cities? Los Angeles has Athens, Greece for example; and San Francisco has Naples, Italy. Just for fun what schools would you say are "sister schools" of Pac-12 members?

Ted Miller: Just for fun.
  • Arizona-Florida: If you've hung out at both places, you'd get it. Close color schemes, too.
  • Arizona State-Florida State: Hey, bud, let's party!
  • California-Michigan: Great state schools. And not afraid to tell you about it.
  • Colorado-Texas: Perhaps the nation's two best college towns.
  • Oregon-Ohio State: Our fan base is more obnoxious. No, our fan base is more obnoxious. Wait. I like how you think. Same here! (Hugs). [70 percent of Oregon fans will find that at least reasonably funny; 30 percent will swear a blood oath against the Pac-12 blog].
  • Oregon State-Kansas State: Great coaches, overachieving programs, folksy atmosphere, cool towns.
  • Stanford-Duke: They could talk about computer code and James Joyce. Only problem is Duke students are mostly folks who got rejected by Stanford and the Ivy League.
  • UCLA-North Carolina: Good schools. Great hoops tradition. And shades of light blue!
  • USC-Alabama: They'd argue endlessly about which program is the "Greatest in College Football History," and the experience would be absolute bliss for each fan base.
  • Utah-TCU: The Pac-12 is hard! The Big 12 is hard!
  • Washington-Miami: They shared a national title and are presently trying to regain their national stature. And this pairing would give Hurricanes fans somewhere to go in the summer and Huskies fans somewhere to go in the winter.
  • Washington State-LSU: These programs are very different but if you got the fan bases together the party would be absolutely epic, whispered about for centuries, as in: "Great Granddaddy, tell me about the time you partied for four weeks with those Cajuns."



Happy Friday!
It might be a very different looking Oregon team that takes the field next fall … and not because of the uniform changes (though, those are sure to be something different). Instead, the guys wearing those uniforms might fill them out a bit differently.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks and Tennessee Volunteers
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesOregon is hoping the weight gained by player like Johnny Mundt will not affect the team's speed advantage.
Through this winter, several players went through some significant weight changes by making minor tweaks in the strength and conditioning program. But coach Mark Helfrich is hoping that the weight gains aren't just shown physically but in how the players take the field, as well.

“Hopefully a lot of that is confidence,” Helfrich said. “Just that edge of you feeling a little better about yourself, you’re moving a bit more, you’re physically bigger. It’s just you’re coming into the play with more confidence and that’s a big deal.”

Defensive lineman Sam Kamp put on the most weight of any player, packing on another 29 pounds and fellow lineman T.J. Daniel added 22. Not to be outdone, the offensive linemen packed on more than 100 pounds as a unit, with guard Doug Brenner leading the way with 26 pounds and Matt Pierson, Cameron Hunt and Elijah George all bulking up at least 20 pounds.

“I think we’ve kept our speed and athleticism,” center Hroniss Grasu said. “The added weight gain is just there to get us more physical and blowing the defensive line off the ball where we lacked that toward the end of the season.”

But it wasn’t just the big men making significant changes. Tight end John Mundt packed on 20 pounds and in the linebacker group, guys like Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker and Tyrell Robinson all put on at least 15 pounds.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is up to 218 pounds and hopes to be at 220 for the start of the 2014 season, while both leading backs made some important changes -- Byron Marshall lost six pounds (down to 201 pounds) while Thomas Tyner added 14 pounds and is up to 215.

With all of the weight gain the main concern would be that the high-powered offense the Ducks feature might be lacking some of that Oregon speed, but the players have tried to keep up their speed with the added weight. Mundt said that one of the focuses was finding that sweet spot for each player at which he stayed as fast as possible but got as big as possible.

“We were all pushing each other in the weight room and in conditioning,” Mundt said. “We’ve all gotten better and stronger, so that’s a good thing. … I think we have more strength and size across the board, but we’re still moving fast.”

Added bulk is certainly going to benefit this team,and as long as each guy can still move the same, the only teams struggling with the weight gain with be opponents. In May, if a player doesn’t appear the same when he takes the field for the spring game, it’s not the uniform, it’s the guy in the uniform.
Athlon Sports is big on lists. And we’re big on bringing you their lists because, well, it's the offseason, and it’s fun.

One annual list in particular always seems to get folks all hot and bothered, and that’s their annual ranking of the Pac-12 coaches.

Before people go all crazy on Twitter, remember, THIS IS NOT A PAC-12 BLOG LIST. We are simply sharing it because we think it’s interesting. Your thoughts are always welcomed in the mailbag.

Here’s the 2014 list that Steven Lassan put together:

  1. David Shaw, Stanford
  2. Chris Petersen, Washington
  3. Todd Graham, Arizona State
  4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State
  6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  7. Jim Mora, UCLA
  8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
  9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
  10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
  11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
  12. Sonny Dykes, California

Some thoughts:
    [+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez (right) is ranked sixth on the Pac-12 coaching list by Athlon.

  • I went back to their 2013 and 2012 rankings and noticed a few interesting moves. Rich Rodriguez was No. 3 last year and is No. 6 this year. I find that interesting since he won the same amount of games last season as in 2012 (8-5), scored a signature win last season by topping No. 5 Oregon and did it without his 2012 quarterback. Granted, Arizona had a light nonconference schedule last fall, but does that warrant being dropped a quarter of the way down?
  • Two years ago, Shaw was No. 9 on their list, despite being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2011. Last year, he bounced up to No. 1 and is in the top spot again. For having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, I see no problem with him being No. 1 again.
  • My first thought was that Petersen was way too high, considering he has never coached a single game in the conference. Then I pushed that silliness out of my mind. He has coached against this conference, going 5-2 during his stint with Boise (not counting games against Utah when it was in the Mountain West or the bowl loss to Oregon State last season when he wasn’t the head coach). Plus, he’s a two-time national coach of the year. That’s a better résumé than anyone else in the league. I’ll buy him at No. 2.
  • My biggest gripe with the list is Mora at No. 7. He was No. 11 on the 2012 list and No. 8 on the 2013 list. All he has done is go 19-8, win the South title one of those two years and beat USC twice. Doesn’t that get you a statue on campus? He has bolstered the national reputation of the program and was given a nice contract extension for his work. I would slot him in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot with Todd Graham. Both have nearly identical résumés so far. Both are 2-0 against their rival. Both have won the Pac-12 South. They have split their head-to-head games with each winning once on the road. Both have had one blowout bowl win and one bad bowl loss. The only reason I’d probably put Graham ahead is that he was named coach of the year. But Mora belongs in the upper third.
  • Sarkisian is interesting. People are quick to rip his hire at USC, but recall the coaching job he did at Washington when he first got there. He turned a winless team into a pretty good program. Petersen is coming into a much more advantageous position than when Sark first got there. How that translates to USC remains to be seen.
  • Helfrich was No. 12 in 2013. For winning 11 games in 2013, he gets that big boost all the way up to No. 11. I get the sentiment -- that the Ducks were “supposed” to go to the BCS title game last season. He can’t control an injury to his quarterback. Don’t be shocked if he’s in the top five when Athlon releases its 2015 list.
  • Whittingham has stumbled from the No. 4 spot he occupied in 2012. Like Helfrich, he can’t control the unfortunate rash of injuries that have plagued his quarterbacks since coming into the league. I know this, there aren’t many defensive-minded coaches I’d take over Whittingham.
  • Riley continues to be in the upper half of the list. Which is completely fair. He’s done more in that setting than most people could. Oregon State fans seem to clamor annually about what’s on the other side of the fence. When the day comes that Riley does step down (and I have to imagine it will be on his own terms), those complaining about change will miss him.

You get the idea. Lists are hard to put together, because everyone has a bias and an opinion. I think MacIntyre has done some great things at Colorado, and I think Washington State’s progress under Leach has been outstanding. As for Dykes, well, let’s give it another year and see what he can do with a healthy roster.

So we once again salute Athlon for making the list. Even if we don’t always agree with it.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
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Oh, you mean my pilot's license? That's out back in the Cessna. Or perhaps you're referring to my license to kill. Revoked. Trouble at the Kazakhstan border. I could give you the details but then I'd have to kill you, which I can't do because my license to kill has been revoked.

Reviewing the Pac-12 pro days

April, 3, 2014
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Washington was the final Pac-12 school to host its pro day Wednesday, essentially putting an end to 40-yard-dash season. Here is a look at some of the conference's top prospects and a few others who helped their cause over the past month.

Arizona (March 6)
Big name: RB Ka'Deem Carey. After getting clocked at 4.70 in the 40 at the combine, Carey's pro day was a bit more intriguing than some of the other big-name players. There was some improvement -- various reports had him in the high 4.6-range -- but it wasn't enough to change the book on him. Still, Carey's production should make up for his perceived shortcomings.
Sleeper: OLB Marquis Flowers. Flowers reportedly ran in the 4.4s and had a good showing in position drills.

Arizona State (March 7)
Big name: DT Will Sutton. The Sun Devils' pro day further cemented what scouts learned at the combine, when he turned in below average numbers. There was slight improvement at the pro day, according to several reports, but nothing to save his falling stock.
Sleeper: RB Marion Grice. Grice was invited to the combine, but didn't participate as he recovers from a broken leg suffered late in the season. He also didn't participate at the pro day, but will hold an individual workout for NFL scouts on April 8.

California (March 19)
Big name: DT Deandre Coleman. Coleman only participated in the bench press at the combine, but fared well in field drills on campus with a reported 40 time in the mid 4.9-range. Coleman is projected by most to be a mid-round selection.
Sleeper: RB Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow was perhaps the player with the most to gain at pro day. The book on him has always been that he's loaded with talent and the physical skills necessary to be an impact player. It didn't happen for the Bears before he decided to leave early for a shot at Sunday football. Despite injuring his hamstring midway through his 40, Bigelow still was reported as running in the high 4.4-range with former Cal running backs Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best looking on.

Colorado (March 12)
Big name: WR Paul Richardson. There were 24 teams on hand, with Richardson the obvious prize of the nine that worked out. He only participated in the vertical jump, short shuttle and three-cone drills.
Sleeper: LS Ryan Iverson. Iverson will not be drafted, but after four years as the Colorado long snapper he has a chance to make some money at the next level. His 27 reps on the bench press were a team high. All the Colorado results can be viewed here.

Oregon (March 13)
Big name: RB De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas' 4.50 40 time at the combine was among the disappointments for the conference and turned a perceived strength into average attribute. After his showing in Eugene -- a 4.34 40 time -- the world is back on its axis. On his combine performance, Thomas told the Ducks' official website: “I ran a 4.5 in ninth grade, so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’. I feel like that made me train harder and I used it as motivation.”
Sleeper: CB Avery Patterson. Patterson was left puzzled by his own performance after putting up just 10 repetitions in the bench press, but the two-year starter remains focused on making the jump to the next level. He's likely the type of player that will have to earn his way on a team via a training camp invitation and possibly a practice squad.

Oregon State (March 14)
Big name: WR Brandin Cooks. The Biletnikoff Award winner could have showed up to the Beavers' pro day as a spectator and it likely wouldn't have mattered. His showing at the combine was enough to solidify his stock as a first-round pick. Cooks didn't take part in field drills, but did run routes.
Sleeper: WR Micah Hatfield. Yes, a receiver with 20 career catches helped his cause. One scout told the Oregonian he had Hatfield at 4.33 in the 40 -- the same times Cooks clocked when he was the fastest receiver at the combine.

Stanford (March 20)
Big name: OL David Yankey. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and St. Louis were the only no-shows at Stanford. If the mock drafts are to be trusted, Yankey figures to be the first Stanford player of the board. He improved slightly on the bench press (22 to 25) and clocked the same 40 time (5.48) from the combine.
Sleeper: DE Ben Gardner. Is it fair to call Gardner a sleeper after earning some form of all-Pac-12 recognition the past three years? Probably not, but after not being invited to the NFL combine we'll go ahead and list him here anyways. Gardner benefitted most from the day, quantifying his explosiveness and athleticism with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.

UCLA (March 11)
Big name: OLB Anthony Barr. After running a 4.66 40 at the combine, Barr was clocked at 4.45 to ease any lingering doubt about his straight-line speed. Barr helped his case to become a top-10 pick and will likely be the first player from the Pac-12 selected.
Sleeper: RB Malcolm Jones. The Gatorade national high school player of the year never developed into the player UCLA fans were hoping for, but he's still hanging on to hopes of an NFL career. He was credited with a 4.57 40 at the Bruins' pro day.

USC (March 12)
Big name: WR Marqise Lee. Lee went Jerry Seinfeld and chose not to run, letting his combine performance serve as the final measurement of his ability. After not lifting in Indianapolis, Lee finished with 11 reps in the bench. He's tagged for the first round.
Sleeper: DE Morgan Breslin. Like Gardner, who he has been working out with in San Ramon, Calif., Breslin was a combine snub. He ran a 4.75 40, put up 26 reps on the bench and registered a 35.5-inch vertical jump. Here are the complete results for the 18 players who took part.

Utah (March 19)
Big name: CB Keith McGill. One of the fastest risers since the season has ended, McGill decided to participate in every drill despite a good showing at the combine. His 40 time (4.52) was a hundredth of second slower than what he did at combine, and his vertical leap (35.5) was about four inches less.
Sleeper: FB Karl Williams. The 240-pound former walk-on clocked a 4.5, which will could give him a shot to get in a training camp.

Washington (April 2)
Big name: RB Bishop Sankey. Content with his good showing in Indy, Sankey elected to just run the 60-yard shuttle and catch passes. Most mock drafts have Sankey, who left with a year of eligibility remaining, as the No. 2 running back.
Sleeper: QB Keith Price. There were 19 quarterbacks at the combine, but Price was not one of them, marking the first time since at least 1999 that the conference didn't send a quarterback -- and it could be longer -- we could only find combine rosters dating back that far. Price got good reviews for his performance Wednesday, but it would still be surprising if he gets drafted.

Washington State (March 13)
Big name: S Deone Bucannon. WSU's remote location and limited number of pro prospects resulted in less than a dozen scouts on hand, but those that were there got to see one of the conference's most intriguing prospects. Bucannon just participated in position drills after performing well across the board in Indianapolis.
Sleeper: K Andrew Furney. Furney showed a leg capable of hitting from beyond 60 yards and further established himself as a potential candidate for training camp invitations.
The true mark of a great offensive line is for it to never be talked about, for it to be the silent wall that moves the pile and allows for others -- the running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers -- to shine.

It’s an unfortunate position in that regard because it means really the only time people will talk about it is when it’s playing poorly -- none of the fame, all of the blame.

But it’s a part of the position. For players like Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, it’s almost better because rather than just having receiving stats or passing stats or rushing stats, the O-line gets to celebrate all three.

[+] EnlargeHroniss Grasu
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiSenior center Hroniss Grasu has taken it upon himself to be a vocal leader on Oregon's O-line.
“As an offensive lineman, that’s your characteristic,” Grasu said. “When our running backs score a touchdown, we take a lot of pride in that or when Marcus [Mariota] has six, seven seconds to sit in the pocket and throw a touchdown, we feel like that’s ... our moment of glory. A lot of people don’t see it that way but as offensive linemen, we understand it.”

So from that perspective, the Oregon offensive line racked up the stats last season. It was top 20 in the nation in passing yardage, top five in the nation in passer efficiency, and top 10 in the nation in rushing yardage.

But it was in the losses when the O-line gained its moments of bigger recognition that stand out the most clearly to Grasu and his group.

“They wanted it more,” Grasu said of the opposing defensive lines. “That’s very hard to say.”

They didn’t win the line of scrimmage, didn’t hold their blocks as long as they should’ve, didn’t play with a low enough pad level. All of the basics, all of the things that group needs to go unrecognized, weren't executed. And suddenly, they’re deficiencies, and recognizable ones at that.

The Ducks rushed for 198 yards in their loss to Arizona, averaging 5.1 yards per rush. However, when the three longest runs of the game are taken out of the equation that statistic drops to 4.1 yards per rush, more than two yards below their season average.

The same was true in the Ducks’ loss to Stanford, except that they only rushed for 62 yards (2.6 yards per rush). And when the three longest runs in that game are taken out, that number drops to just 1 yard per rush.

Against the Wildcats, Oregon reached the red zone five times but only converted on three of those attempts (two touchdowns, one field goal). Against the Cardinal, the Ducks got there just three times and only scored one touchdown.

“When we’re getting down in the red zone it’s on the offensive line,” Grasu said. “We have to score the ball. When we get down on the 5-yard line against Stanford or the 1-yard line against Arizona, that just, for an offensive lineman, takes a lot of pride out of you.”

So re-instating that pride became a focal point for Grasu and the rest of the line during the offseason, which means they want to go back to being as anonymous as possible in the public while providing obvious production.

They started in the weight room, packing on more than 100 pounds as a unit. The competition started there, with each guy trying to one up the other on each rep each week, resulting in a much bigger O-line at the start of spring practices.

“I think as far as from the size aspect we’ve always gotten a little bit of bad press for being a little undersized,” left tackle Tyler Johnstone said. “And I think we’re turning that around this year. ... We’re bigger and stronger and a little more fierce this spring ball for sure.”

Johnstone, who isn’t participating in spring practices as he rehabs his knee, has become a player-coach of sorts, coaching the group up from the sideline.

He, like Grasu, is becoming more vocal, pointing out the smallest of errors on the line. After the size gain in the offseason, that has become the focus of his spring -- making the minutiae the most important and making sure every member in the offensive line meeting room feels the same way.

Being that vocal enforcer isn’t always easy, though.

“The issue was that since we’re all such good friends, we don’t want to upset someone else,” Grasu said. “If someone isn’t playing hard enough we don’t want to get on their case, we’re going to wait until the coach does so we don’t look like the bad guy.”

Grasu said that winning games now trumps being the “bad guy,” and that players are pushing each other more and more as they look back and film and realize how different a play could’ve been if they had just held a block a moment longer or stayed in the film room to study gap assignments for just 10 more minutes after practice one day.

“It’s very easy to look back and say ‘Hey, if we just move our feet six inches and don’t hold on this play, it’s a touchdown,’ ‘If you execute here it’s the difference between a huge win or not,’” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “We need to get a little edge of toughness, a little edge of physicality while still being extremely disciplined. That absolutely is a topic this spring.”

And as long as the O-line gets edgier and more physical on the field, they’ll be as anonymous as they want everywhere else.
1. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson made a compelling case Tuesday for the value of participating in college athletics, echoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. They both said, in so many words, if you want to go pro, go pro; let college athletics be college athletics. I hope the difference is maintained, too. There is room to provide more benefits to college athletes without professionalizing them. But once an employer-employee relationship is established, the rules will change. Whether they can change without rendering college athletics unrecognizable, ay, there’s the rub.

2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.

3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.

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