Coming into this season, the Oregon linebackers were expected to be one of the Ducks’ biggest strengths, considering their depth and experience. On a defense that’s looking for players to step into prominent roles, the linebackers return three of four starters while also boasting an impressive two-deep.

But rather than a statistical advantage, the biggest adjustment the linebackers are bringing to the Ducks this season is both emotional and mental. The leader of the unit, Don Pellum, has been promoted from LBs coach to defensive coordinator.

“We have our own linebacker culture that we’ve had for years,” juniorRodney Hardrick said. “We have a different standard, different culture in our room and now that [Pellum is] the coordinator, we’ve extended that culture to the defense. Now, everyone is on the same page and is doing what we’ve been doing.”

This culture preaches showing up early to practices, treatments and meetings, going the hardest and knowing the most about the defense.

Obviously all of those facets are parts that each position group on the Ducks defense found important, but with a group clinging to that as its identity, it becomes even more important. Thus, a culture is formed.

Senior linebacker Derrick Malone said he already has seen the defense practice faster, but to him it’s pretty normal since Pellum has always coached the linebackers this way. Now, he’s just coaching the entire defense this way.

“It’s the way he gets us programmed that certain way right when we come [to Eugene],” Malone said. “Right when we come in as freshmen, that’s the only way we know. As linebackers we don’t know any other way. It’s the foundation.”

But now that’s becoming the foundation of the defense, which will only help moving forward. If the defense continues to buy in to the linebacker culture, it should show major improvements this spring since the linebackers have been one of the Ducks’ most consistent position groups.

“The whole defense is starting to come around,” Malone said. “It’s all spilling over to the other units. … You can see that change.”
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on on the Metaphysician Network.

To the notes!

Matt from Beaverton, Ore., writes: I'm sure by now you've read the news about the Ducks losing Bralon Addison this season due to an ACL tear. He looked to take a huge step in becoming a focal point of the Ducks offense with Huff graduating. Do you think Oregon returns to running the ball far more frequently, or are there players you think will step up to fill the void? I'm curious how Jonathan Lloyd (senior point guard for the basketball team) pans out as a return specialist/WR.

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Ducks are not devoid of offensive talent, but replacing Bralon Addison will be difficult.
Ted Miller: Losing Addison is a big blow for two reasons. First, he's an intriguing talent who was expected to become QB Marcus Mariota's No. 1 target this fall, an important distinction considering Mariota is a Heisman Trophy contender. Second, the Ducks are now as green at receiver as any team in the Pac-12. They will be without their top four receivers from 2013.

What's left? There's veteran Keanon Lowe, a good leader and a tough blocker, but he only caught 18 passes last year. In terms of wideouts, the next most productive returning receiver is sophomore Chance Allen, who caught five passes.

Of course, there's young talent. A top-five team with Oregon's offensive name brand isn't going to be devoid of guys who could immediately step in and shine, but how that pecking order develops is a mystery. Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and the mercurial B.J. Kelley are possibilities.

Lloyd? It's fun to speculate, but being a great athlete doesn't mean you'll be a good receiver. That gets a firm "We shall see."

As for compensating in the passing game, the Ducks are strong at tight end, so you probably will see more from those guys. They also, as you note, could lean more on the running game, as Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have the potential to be a 2,500-plus-yard tandem.

One of the Ducks mottos is "next man in" and losing Addison hardly knocks the Ducks out of the Pac-12 and national title race. But if you made a list of the top-five most important Ducks in 2014 a week ago, he would have been on it.

 




Ray from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Recognizing that football is a big moneymaker for college athletic departments, conferences and networks, I'm curious as to whether we've already seen the peak of this sport. Between unionization of athletes and issues with concussions and the incidence of brain damage in former players, it seems like there are some issues ahead. Can educational institutions continue to feature a sport that has apparent long term consequences to the players and cash the checks without some lifetime responsibility to those students? 18-22 year olds always think they are immortal, but the faculty and administrators should know that a significant percentage of the kids have potential for injury and brain damage. Perhaps not as bad as what the Roman gladiators had, but still substantial enough that some court cases could change the financial equation. Do you think you'll need to bone up on badminton or soccer rules as an alternative sport for the Pac-12 blog at some point?

Ted Miller: This is a time of change in college football on many levels, and those changes aren't independent of each other.

We've reached critical mass with the flowing revenue and big-money salaries, where the relative deprivation between athlete and coach/administrator is impossible to ignore. We've also reached a point where we need to take strong steps to address player safety and long-term health issues. Most folks around the game see this, even if they don't agree on all the next steps.

The good news is this: Crisis often breeds progress.

As for your question, "Has college football peaked?" Maybe. But that's not my impression.

Ultimately, I don't think college football is going anywhere. Too many people love it and care about it to not figure out ways to improve things.

And the notion of no Pac-12 blog surely will motivate them all to come up with changes we all can believe in.

 




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: So recently it was announced that the student government at the University of Utah was proposing changes to the fight song "Utah Man" because they felt it was sexist and offensive to some people. I would love to know what someone who is not a die-hard Ute thinks about the whole situation ...

Ted Miller: It's funny how trivial things such as this are often highly controversial, emotional and political. My guess is the folks who most loudly claim they are aggrieved probably have never and will never even sing the song.

Still, my first response? Why not change it to "Utah Fan." What is lost? Fact is plenty of Utah fans are women. The assertion that "man" is an inclusion term is disingenuous.

Don't think so? Your momma is a man. See.

The story included Utah social work professor Joanne Yaffe observing, "I don’t think I’m being hyper-PC, I’m just thinking about not really being included in the song."

I agree. Perfectly reasonable observation. And reason to make a change.

Yet she then unfortunately added, "I think that the U can feel like a very isolating, unwelcoming place, and maybe this song is part of that."

Sigh. That's just gobbledygook. And disingenuous whining is a good way to lose a sympathetic audience.

If I were in charge at Utah, I'd change it to "Utah Fan."

And you folks know I'm up to snuff and never bluff.

Getting to know Kyler Murray 

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
10:00
AM ET
video

Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

DESOTO, Texas -- When describing quarterbacks, there are certain words and terms that are often used.

Those often heard are winner, clutch, leader, resilient, precise, competitive, field general, accurate, playmaker, calm, cool and collected, among others.

In the case of Under Armour All-America quarterback Kyler Murray, they might all apply.

Video: Oregon LB Tony Washington

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Chantel Jennings speaks with Oregon OLB Tony Washington about the team’s depth and Don Pellum becoming defensive coordinator.

Ducks' Bralon Addison has torn ACL

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:42
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[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesA torn ACL for top wideout Bralon Addison could shelve him for the season, according to reports, leaving Oregon with a void at receiver.

The Oregon Ducks have lost top returning receiver Bralon Addison to a torn ACL suffered Wednesday in spring practice, according to multiple reports.

Addison's knee injury could shelve him for the season, the reports said, leaving the Ducks with a void at the position. The team lost its No. 1 and No. 3 receivers in Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins, who were seniors in 2013.

Addison had 61 catches for 890 yards with seven touchdowns last season, when Oregon's top four receivers accounted for 72 percent of the receiving yardage and the season receiving touchdown total.

But Addison was the only player of those who was to return.

Oregon was hoping he could use that experience not only to step up as a player but also lead the other younger receivers.

Senior Keanon Lowe also returns. He played in 12 games and started three for the Ducks but averaged just 19.4 yards per contest.


(Read full post)


And I said "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?" … Well, that's the one thing we've got.

Offensive explosion plays: North

April, 10, 2014
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Just as defenses like to create negative plays for offenses, offenses like to create explosion plays -- plays of more than 20 yards.

So which Pac-12 offenses created the most explosion plays in 2013? And how? And who's coming back in 2014?

I appreciate you asking.

The number to the left is the team's national ranking. "TDs" is how many of the explosion plays produced touchdowns. The "returning in 2014" is the explosion plays produced in 2013 by players who return in the fall.

In the "lost" and "returning" categories, we list players who had five or more explosion plays in 2013.

We did the South Division on Wednesday. Here's the North.

3. Oregon (11-2)
2013 explosion plays: 106 (64 pass, 42 run)

TDs: 11 pass, 14 run

Returning in 2014: 64 (29 pass, 35 run)

Lost: WR Josh Huff (24); RB De'Anthony Thomas (111); WR Daryle Hawkins (6)

Returning: RB Byron Marshall (14); QB Marcus Mariota (13); WR Bralon Addison (10); RB Thomas Tyner (9); TE John Mundt (5)
6. Washington (9-4)
2013 explosion plays: 87 (53 pass, 34 run)

TDs: 8 pass, 7 run

Returning in 2014: 40(28 pass, 12 rush)
Numbers included suspended QB Cyler Miles and WR Damore'ea Stringfellow, who each contributed four explosion plays.

Lost: RB Bishop Sankey (24); WR Kevin Smith (14); TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (8)

Returning: WR Jaydon Mickens (10); WR Kasen Williams (6)
11. Oregon State (7-6)
2013 explosion plays: 84 (74 pass, 10 run)

TDs: 10 pass, 1 run

Returning in 2014: 42 (35 pass, 7 run)

Lost: WR Brandin Cooks (35); WR Kevin Cummings (5)

Returning: WR Richard Mullaney (10); TE Caleb Smith (9); RB Storm Woods (8); RB Terron Ward (5)
T37. Stanford (11-3)
2013 explosion plays: 68 (43 pass, 25 run)

TDs: 14 pass, 10 run

Returning in 2014: 54 (42 pass, 12 run)

Lost: RB Tyler Gaffney (11)

Returning: WR Ty Montgomery (18); WR Devon Cajuste (12); WR Michael Rector (11)
T64. California (1-11)
2013 explosion plays: 58 (50 pass, 8 run)

TDs: 8 pass, 3 run

Returning in 2014: 39 (33 pass, 6 run)

Lost: WR Richard Rodgers (11); WR Jackson Bouza (5)

Returning: WR Chris Harper (11); WR Bryce Treggs (10); RB Khalfani Muhammad (6)
T73. Washington State (6-7)
2013 explosion plays: 55 (52 pass, 3 run)

TDs: 17 pass, 0 run

Returning in 2014: 55 (52 pass, 3 run)

Lost: None

Returning: WR Dom Williams (11); WR River Cracraft (10); WR Vince Mayle (8); WR Gabe Marks (7); WR Isiah Myers (6); Kristoff Williams (5)

Video: Oregon OL Tyler Johnstone

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
9:00
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Chantel Jennings speaks with Oregon left tackle Tyler Johnstone about his rehab and what he's doing for the Ducks offensive line this spring.
As he has done the past five seasons, ESPN contributor Phil Steele takes a crack at projecting the preseason AP Top 25 Insider.

Steele has been pretty solid the last couple of years -- picking all 25 ranked teams in consecutive seasons. If he’s projecting your team, chances are they’ll be the list. He notes that this isn’t his personal preseason ranking, but rather his projection of how the AP will likely vote.

The Pac-12 is represented with Oregon at No. 3 and UCLA at No. 7 and three other teams in the projected Top 25.

Steele on Oregon:
While the Ducks, under new head coach Mark Helfrich, failed to make a BCS bowl for the first time in five seasons in 2013, they still managed their sixth-straight season with double-digit wins. This year they return 15 starters, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is clearly one of the Heisman favorites heading into 2014. The biggest question might be how they adjust to long-time defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's retirement. However, they do return linebacker Derrick Malone, their leading tackler, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu could be the best cornerback in the country.

Stanford and USC check in at 12 and 14, respectively, and Washington rounds out the group at No. 22.

He raises an interesting point regarding the Cardinal:
The biggest question for the Cardinal in 2014, however, is how they will navigate one of the toughest schedules in the country: Stanford plays Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA --- all on the road.

The Pac-12 finished up 2013 with six teams ranked in the Top 25. ASU is the only team that was ranked to close the season that isn’t projected by Steele. But the Sun Devils are likely to receive some votes and have a chance to slip into the Top 25 in the first couple of weeks with a softer schedule. But then it ramps up for ASU with four straight games against teams in Steele’s projections, starting off with a home date against UCLA. Recall the last couple of seasons that game has essentially decided the Pac-12 South title, and the road team has won in consecutive years. Then ASU is at USC, home to Stanford and at Washington.

Arizona ended the season receiving votes and should start out 4-0 (vs. UNLV, at UTSA, vs. Nevada, vs. California). Then the Wildcats have back-to-back games against Oregon (in Eugene, can you say revenge game?) and home to USC. A 4-0 start and a win in either of those games keeps the Wildcats in the Top 25.

Oregon State may receive a few votes as well -- though voters will likely be timid with the Beavers considering how last season started. Still, with three projected nonconference wins (vs. Portland State, at Hawaii, vs. San Diego State) the Beavers should be undefeated heading into conference play at USC. A 4-0 start and a win over USC would go a long way toward getting OSU in the Top 25.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
2:30
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If I owned the Twins, I wouldn't even show up here. I'd just hire a bunch of scientists to do my homework. I mean, if you're rich you don't have to be smart. That's the whole beauty of this country.

video

Projected Preseason AP Top 25 ESPN Insider Phil Steele joins Toni Collins to discuss his take on what he thinks the AP Preseason Top 25 will look like for the 2014 college football season.
EUGENE, Ore. -- One of Oregon’s more imposing figures -- 6-foot-3, 297-pound senior center Hroniss Grasu -- is about to become even more imposing.

“Leadership-wise, I need to get better,” Grasu said. “[I need to not] be afraid what other people think about me. I’m going to get on their case if they’re not blocking well.”

There are certainly parts of Grasu’s game that can be elevated over the next year but after passing up the 2014 NFL draft, Grasu is looking at this spring as an opportunity to become more of a vocal leader for the Ducks.

[+] EnlargeHroniss Grasu
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiOregon center Hroniss Grasu believes he must transition into being a vocal leader.
After a disappointing 2013 season, which Grasu partly attributes to the offensive line falling off and losing its competitive edge, he has decided to make his final year with the Ducks a better memory, and he knows the only way he can do that is by leading the charge -- not only by leading by example, which his teammates laud him for, but also leading with his voice.

“I think he is being more of a vocal leader,” backup center Doug Brenner said. “On and off the field, he’s such a good role model for everyone. I’m just trying to learn everything I can from him before he graduates.”

But it’s not an easy transition for Grasu and it’s a problem coach Mark Helfrich has seen before. He has a team problem, which many coaches would consider the best problem to have -- too many nice, respectful guys.

“That’s kind of one of our great shortcomings is we have a lot of great guys in leadership positions that are naturally very quiet,” Helfrich said. “Especially in Hroniss’ case … he’s a guy who can play better and certainly also has the authority to speak up.”

“Naturally, I’m a nice guy,” Grasu added. “I’m nice with everyone. Even when I’m pissed off I’ll hold it in.”

But that’s coming to an end now. Grasu is beginning to hold the rest of the Oregon O-line to his own standards. And after last season when the offensive line let up, he was less than pleased.

For the Ducks' offensive line, that’s a very good thing because Grasu’s critiques should only improve the group. But Grasu’s standards are that of an All-American, Rimington Award candidate, so the offensive line is going to have a new standard starting this spring.

“The thing you always talk about with those guys is that it’s not a personal thing, it’s a standard of what’s acceptable both from themselves and from the guy next to him or the backup or whomever it may be,” Helfrich said. “It's, ‘Hey, that wasn’t up to our standard. Do it this way or step here or do this.’ ”

The Ducks finished the 2013-14 season with the second-best offensive yardage in the nation (565 yards per game) while finishing in the top 10 in yards per play (7.6, No. 2 nationally), yards per rush (6.3, No. 5 nationally) and yards per completion (10.8, No. 9 nationally).

But Grasu said all of those stats can improve next season, which was a big reason why he chose to return to Eugene. And with him becoming a more vocal force in the offensive line meeting room, it’d be a hard group to bet against.

“In many ways, he’s the glue of the offensive line,” Brenner said of Grasu. “Every play starts and ends with Hroniss.”

And is there anyone else he’d be more comfortable with in that position, especially now that Grasu is starting to hold everyone else up to that standard?

“No,” Brenner said. “Not at all.”
The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
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.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

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