Oregon Ducks spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
9:30
AM ET
OREGON DUCKS

2012 record: 12-1
2012 conference record: 8-1
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker

Top returners: QB Marcus Mariota, RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, C Hroniss Grasu, TE Colt Lyerla, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DE Taylor Hart

Key losses: RB Kenjon Barner, OLB Dion Jordan; LB Kiko Alonso, LB Michael Clay

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Barner (1,767 yards)
Passing: Mariota* (2,677 yards)
Receiving: Huff* (493 yards)
Tackles: Clay (101)
Sacks: Hart* (8)
Interceptions: Erick Dargan* (5)

Spring answers

1. Little changed post-Kelly: The biggest story of the Oregon offseason -- the departure of coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles -- was played down by the Ducks, both coaches and players. After the initial weirdness -- new coach Mark Helfrich's term -- it was mostly business as usual. Little changed, in large part because the staff remained largely intact under Helfrich.

2. Mariota the man: While practices were closed, a brilliant spring game performance as well as the general scuttlebutt, related that QB Marcus Mariota was sharp on the field and took a step forward as a leader. Mariota enters the offseason as a top Heisman Trophy candidate, and that makes him the frontman for a team that has to replace some key leaders. Playing great is the best sort of leadership.

3. Passing fancy: The expectation is that the Ducks will throw more next year. For one, Mariota has considerable passing skills. Second, the Ducks are deep and experienced at receiver, even if De'Anthony Thomas becomes primarily a running back. But it's not only about Josh Huff and company. There's also a nice tandem at tight end with Colt Lyerla and the emerging Pharaoh Brown.

Fall questions

1. How will the offensive line stack up? The Ducks welcome back three starters on the O-line, but both guards need to be replaced, and that didn't get resolved this spring, mostly due to injuries.

2. The pecking order at RB, LB? The general feeling is that Thomas and Byron Marshall will step in to replace Kenjon Barner, but the wildcard is touted incoming freshman Thomas Tyner. If he's ready for primetime, and Marshall steps up, that would allow the offense to use Thomas in a more natural hybrid WR/RB role. The biggest holes on the team, of course, are at linebacker, and injuries clouded the picture this spring.

3. Will the Ducks really just keep motoring along under Helfrich? Oregon fans are right to be confident that Helfrich can keep the Ducks momentum going. After all, the "promote the offensive coordinator" model has worked great since the Ducks began their rise to national relevance. But because we haven't seen Helfrich as a head coach, and because the bar has set about as high as it possibly can be, the change at the top of the program is the primary issue heading into 2013.

Ted Miller | email

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