Oregon Ducks: Scott Frost

Offseason spotlight: Oregon

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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We're taking a look at a player from each Pac-12 team who could step into the spotlight in 2014.

Spotlight: TEs Pharaoh Brown, Jr. (6-6, 241); Evan Baylis, R-So. (6-6, 235); Johnny Mundt, So. (6-4, 232)

2013 summary: This tight end troika combined for 30 receptions for 475 yards and five touchdowns.

[+] EnlargePharaoh Brown
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesPharaoh Brown, who had 10 receptions for 123 yards in 2013, hopes to get more involved in the Oregon offense in the fall.
The skinny: Quick: Which Pac-12 team probably has the most talent at tight end heading into 2014? Stanford? Nope. USC? Nope. Oregon State? Well, maybe. The Beavers are pretty stacked at the position, too. But Oregon, which has long had good tight ends -- future NFL players, in fact -- laboring mostly in obscurity, has a dynamic threesome that coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost need to more fully integrate into their offense this spring and fall. All three of these guys are big and athletic. Note the yards per catch: 12.3 for Brown, 17.8 for Baylis and 17.6 for Mundt. Brown started five of the last nine games after missing the first three games with an injury, finishing with 10 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. His injury provided the opportunity for Mundt to turn in one of the true "what the heck?" performances of 2013, when the freshman caught five passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in his starting debut against Tennessee, though his best moment might have been a vicious and effective stiff arm to an SEC defender. He didn't, however, keep up the pace, finishing with 16 receptions for 281 yards and three TDs. Baylis might have been playing the best of the three at season's end, though he finished with just four receptions for 71 yards. QB Marcus Mariota's top two passing targets next fall are sure to be receivers Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe, but there is no reason the tight end position can't boost the Ducks' offensive diversity with 50 or 60 receptions, not to mention help in the running game in two-tight end sets. Who says you can't use Stanford's "jumbo" formation in an up-tempo offense?

Previous spotlights

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- As Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas made his way to the locker room following the Ducks’ 59-10 win at Virginia, he stopped to sign his autograph for one of the many Oregon fans still lingering after the game.

It was quite fitting that he was asked to sign a pair of sneakers.

Thomas, once a high school track star, was again nearly impossible to catch. He only carried the ball 11 times, and it was more than enough touches to rack up 124 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Some outside the program have wondered if the 5-foot-9 Thomas can be an every-down back for the Ducks, if he can run in the footsteps of his predecessors, LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. The answer? Thomas doesn’t need to carry the ball 20 times to be a dynamic leading rusher. His versatility is his trademark, and he again showcased it with his ability to line up as a receiver, run between the tackles, and also return kicks. It was the second straight week that Thomas ran for over 100 yards. This week, he lined up more as a receiver than he did in the season opener against Nicholls State.

Next week against Tennessee?

“We’re going to change what we do every week so people can’t figure us out,” said offensive coordinator Scott Frost.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Heather Dinich/ESPNIt seemed fitting De'Anthony Thomas signed shoes considering how he ran wild in Oregon's win over Virginia.
Keeping Thomas’ role a mystery is as much a part of the game plan as scoring at warp speed. Thomas didn’t return punts against UVa, but he can do that, too, and Frost said not to rule that out this season, either. One role that won’t change for Thomas -- being a leader as some of the younger backs like Thomas Tyner continue to develop.

As far as Thomas is concerned, he’s more than happy to continue sharing the load.

“It was great just to be out there, switching in the backfield, just showing off all our weapons,” he said. “It’s a great feeling just to get in there, hop out and let the other guys get touches. That’s the best thing about it, we’re very strong in the backfield. I feel like it doesn’t matter if Byron is in there, Thomas is in there. I just feel like everyone is going to get positive yardage and it’s going to help our offense.”

Oregon has now racked up 850 rushing yards in two weeks. Tyner, a true freshman, ran for a three-yard touchdown on the first play of his collegiate career. It was Thomas, though, who made Virginia’s defense dizzy. His back-to-back touchdowns in the first quarter gave Oregon a 21-0 lead, including a 40-yard burst.

“We felt good about the matchup of getting our playmakers the ball in space today, so getting him on the edge and letting him create in space, that was a big part of our game plan.” Frost said. “There were several times during the game where, once he got the edge, he was tough to bring down. We want to protect him a little bit. He’s not the kind of back we want to get the ball to up the middle 20 times a game. He’s kind of our knockout punch. We want to get him the ball in situations where we think he can make a big play and he answers the bell every time.”

Just ask Virginia.

“It’s pretty tough,” Virginia senior defensive tackle Brent Urban said of defending Thomas. “It’s the kind of thing where you need guys to get up the field and contain him and make sure he doesn’t get the edge on us.”

Thomas had the edge.

He averaged 11.3 yards per carry. There were only four games last season in which Thomas got double-digit carries. Coach Mark Helfrich said he doesn’t ever want to have to answer how much Thomas can handle because that would mean he was injured.

“It’s kind of like, how many pitches can a right-hander throw?” Helfrich said. “You don’t want to get to that magic number where he needs Tommy John surgery.

“We want the ball in his hands. We were trying to make a concerted effort from the first play to try to create some space, whether it’s the screen game as a receiver, or movement guy. He likes to be that guy, kind of a moving target. We need the ball in his hands and we talk all the time about ways to move him, line him up and get him the ball.”

How and where is anyone’s guess.
Much has been made of Chip Kelly's departure from Oregon, and many questions remain regarding how new head coach Mark Helfrich will handle the red-hot Oregon program in his first stint as a head coach. How much will things change in Eugene?

Through the first spring under Helfrich, it looks to be more of the same for the high-flying Ducks. That is true on the field and in their search for the next Oregon quarterback.


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Spring ball has come and gone and the Oregon coaches are on the recruiting trail. There were a lot of questions this week, and these are the three we chose to run with.

Steven R. (San Francisco, Calif.): What are your thoughts on the Ducks offering a quarterback that has never started a game at the high school level? I mean, don't get me wrong, Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) looks like a player, and Marin Catholic kids can play, but it just seems like a risky move this early in the process. Is this a legitimate concern or am I being an over-reactive fan?


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With the first spring practice under new head coach Mark Helfrich over, the Oregon coaching staff is on the road to identify and evaluate potential recruits, and there a lot of targets in the west who have yet to receive an Oregon offer. The spring evaluation period could result in a number of new offers being extended to a handful of top recruits, and the coaches also will be looking to uncover new targets and work to build relationships with players who could earn offers in the fall.

One of those with the potential to earn an offer received a visit from Ducks' defensive backs coach John Neal Wednesday.


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It has been an eventful week already for the Oregon Ducks, preceded by a solid performance in Saturday's spring game. The Ducks hosted several recruits on the weekend and made a strong impression on each of them. On Tuesday, the momentum kept up as the Ducks nabbed their third commitment for the Class of 2014.


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Once the offer came in, QB Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) didn't hesitate in making his decision.


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With a casual 52 points and an impressive overall performance by the Oregon offense on Saturday, the Oregon Ducks showed that not much has changed in Eugene with Mark Helfrich as head coach.

Based on the reaction of some of the recruits in attendance, it appears to be more of the same on the recruiting side of things as well. While it wasn't a large group of recruits, the program made a huge impact on the kids that made it to campus. The Ducks hosted just one athlete who currently holds an Oregon offer, but five of the other recruits on hand are on the short list at their respective positions.


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In the Ducks' 2011 recruiting class, Oregon fans were overjoyed when Florida quarterback Jarrard Randall committed to the Ducks. Few paid attention when two more quarterbacks committed a couple weeks later. Randall didn't qualify and, around a brief stint at LSU, he has bounced around junior college programs.

All that the other two quarterbacks have done is lead their respective programs to a pair of blowout wins in BCS games as redshirt freshman. One of them -- Johnny Manziel -- was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. The other is well on his way to becoming one of the best in a long line of talented Oregon quarterbacks. As a skinny kid that didn't start until his senior high school season, not many Oregon fans so batted an eyelash when Marcus Mariota committed to the Ducks.

While having a quarterback come in with just one year of experience is not the ideal situation, certain players have enough talent to make it possible.

After a second unofficial visit to Eugene in the past two months, Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) could become the next talented, but inexperienced quarterback to join the Oregon program.

"It was a great visit. I've already seen everything, but it was great to get up there again," Mahalak said. "I had the chance to sit down and talk to coach Helfrich and talk to the other coaches as well. The game speaks for itself. Nothing has changed and the offense was great all day with Marcus leading the way."

While the offense, the weather, the coaches and the atmosphere surrounding the game were all memorable moments for the Marin Catholic star, the family feel of the program and the family connections to the area have all helped push Oregon to the top of his wish list.


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It appears that not much has changed early in the Mark Helfrich era. Spring practices remain closed to both the public and the media, but there will be plenty of eyes watching the Ducks this spring.

The Ducks are expected to host a several recruits throughout the spring. The Ducks don't have a traditional junior day the way several other schools do these days. In this week's mailbag, we discuss the fact that despite not having a typical junior day, the Ducks seem to be making an effort to get more kids on campus for visits earlier in the process.

Michael S. (Oakland, Calif.): That's great that Morgan Mahalak (Novato, Calif./Marin Catholic) visited this week because I hear he is a very good athlete, but are the Ducks really recruiting him as a quarterback? It seems odd to recruit a player at a position as important as that, to a program like Oregon, without knowing how he plays at the position during an actual game. [Jared] Goff was the man for them [Marin Catholic], so I guess I just don't understand it. This is by no means a knock on the kid, as the coaches have forgotten much more than I'll ever know. Just curious if you had any insight.


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When Chip Kelly left for the NFL and took defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro with him, there was concern around the Oregon program that the Ducks' longtime coaching staff would fall apart. USC approached defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, Louisiana Tech pursued former receivers coach Scott Frost and long-time running backs coach Gary Campbell was rumored to be close to retirement.

In the end, they all remained in Eugene, and the Ducks added two coaches with great potential.


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Chip Kelly isn't terribly big. He's not notably loud, either. Nor is he typically expansive. Who he is, however, is -- was! -- the presence most often cited as transforming Oregon's football program from good to great. So his absence from the Ducks' first spring practice Tuesday was impossible to ignore.

Yet it's a tribute to the culture Kelly sought to create that it appears his players did a pretty darn good job of doing just that. Mostly.

"At first, a lot of the guys were talking about it," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's a little different. But by the end of practice, it was good. Kind of the same. Once we got rolling, it was the same old game of football."

New coach Mark Helfrich, who was promoted from offensive coordinator, admitted to reporters that his first practice sans Kelly was "weird, at points." But Oregon moves too fast to stop for navel-gazing. It's "next man in" when a player or coach leaves or goes down, and so it will be for the beginning of the Helfrich era.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAs a redshirt freshman, Marcus Mariota quarterbacked high-flying Oregon to a No. 2 final ranking.
Without a doubt, the transition from Kelly to Helfrich is the point A of the Ducks' 2013 story. There's no question about point B, either: Mariota.

Somewhat lost in the regional shuffle of the Kelly-to-the-NFL talk and the national hullabaloo over Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel's brilliant Heisman Trophy season was Mariota's extraordinary performance as the Ducks' redshirt freshman starter.

Mariota was in the cockpit for a team that finished ranked No. 2 in the nation after whipping Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. He piloted an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.5 points per game) and was fifth in total offense (537.4 yards per game).

Individually, he ranked first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. In the Conference of Quarterbacks, he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after completing 68.5 percent of his throws for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He also got better as the year went along, despite the competition being decidedly tougher. As Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard pointed out, "[Mariota] had 11 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 152.74 rating in the first month of the season, and 21 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 171.10 rating after that."

That efficiency number would have ranked third in the nation. Further, keep in mind that Oregon's tendency to stomp opponents into submission by halftime meant Mariota was either on the bench or handing off during most fourth quarters.

While Mariota isn't the only reason many see the Ducks as national title contenders again in 2013, despite Kelly's departure, he is the biggest. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Honolulu native is a seemingly unflappable player who combines A-list speed with notable passing accuracy.

There is little Mariota didn't do well in 2012, so the idea of him improving can foster many pleasant thoughts among Ducks fans. And there are areas in which he can improve. Mariota said his offseason focus has been footwork. New offensive coordinator Scott Frost, promoted from receivers coach, believes Mariota's established strengths can become even stronger.

"I think we can clean some things up and be even more efficient," Frost said. "There are some things we want to tweak to help him have more of an opportunity to impact the game. We wouldn't trade him for anybody. We think he can do some amazing things and win a lot of games. We're going to feature him as much as we can."

With the Ducks welcoming back their entire cast of receivers and being questionable at running back, it's almost certain Mariota will throw more next season. That will mean more opportunities for him to put up big numbers. If he hangs up impressive stats while the Ducks continue to roll up wins, Mariota will gain the esteem of Heisman Trophy voters.

Mariota, the Fiesta Bowl MVP, isn't a guy who seeks out the spotlight, but he also doesn't seem to be afraid of it.

"My parents raised me to handle whatever comes at you," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Then he added, "I'm really looking forward to spring practices."

That sounds very Chip Kelly. Or maybe we now should say that it sounds very Oregon.
On Jan. 4, Oregon, fresh off its second consecutive BCS bowl victory, was at an all-time high. Then, while riding that wave of emotion, it watched Chip Kelly transformed into Hamlet -- "To go or not to go, that is the question..."

Kelly was certain to leave for the NFL before he wasn't. And then -- poof -- he was gone, off to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. Hey, a guy can change his mind.

If Kelly had stayed, the big spring and fall question for the Ducks was what do they need to do to make the proverbial next step. Seeing that they had finished ranked No. 2 in 2012 and played for a national title in 2010, the singular step that needed to be taken was winning a national championship.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanEven with Chip Kelly's departure, the Oregon Ducks are still in pretty good shape with talented starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Kelly knew this and thought about it a lot, though that's not the sort of thing he'd admit. While Kelly always preached laser-like focus on the task at hand, let's just say that he didn't turn away from a TV set when Alabama was playing. He knew the team -- and the conference -- that needed to be overcome.

Now, with Kelly cracking wise at reporters on the East Coast, the question becomes slightly less ambitious and more general for the Ducks, who open spring practices on April 2: Can new coach Mark Helfrich & Co. sustain what Kelly built?

Of course, anybody who has paid more than passing attention to the Ducks of recent vintages knows exactly the three-word phrase that will meet all such inquiries: Next man in.

The program is -- wisely, most believe -- following a formula that has worked before. Rich Brooks begat Mike Bellotti, who begat Kelly, who begat Helfrich. That pattern would seem to position well new offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who was elevated from receivers coach. Bellotti, Kelly and Helfrich each was the Ducks' offensive coordinator when he was promoted to the corner office.

Still Frost, who knew how things would fall if Kelly bolted, felt an ambivalence during Kelly's NFL flirtation and eventual elopement.

"It was just an interesting ride," Frost said. "I think all of us were a little bit torn on the whole thing. We've had such a great amount of success here that part of us didn't want to see anything change. We wanted to keep it status quo and see how long we could do this thing. Everybody loved Chip and how the program was running. But at the same time, change is inevitable, and it's given me and some other guys more opportunity and responsibility."

The hand Helfrich and Frost inherited is pretty darn strong. The Ducks have 16 starters returning from a 12-1 team, including eight from an offense that ranked second in the nation -- first among AQ conference teams -- with 49.5 points per game. Topping that list of returning starters is quarterback Marcus Mariota, a short-list Heisman Trophy candidate.

Still, it's not unreasonable to think some players might be shaken at Kelly's departure. After all, he had a pretty big personality.

"During our time here, we've lost players people didn't think we could replace and our message has always been it's the next man up. Do the job," Frost said. "It would have been hypocritical of us not to treat [Kelly leaving] the same way. We're approaching it the same way we ask the players to approach it when we lose a key piece. Step up, do your job and go forward 100 miles an hour."

Along that very line, Helfrich and Frost well know that one of their chief tasks is sustaining the culture around the program. While the coaches need to be themselves and not try to ape Kelly, it does help that Kelly took only one full-time assistant with him to Philly -- D-line coach Jerry Azzinaro. There's plenty of continuity, both in terms of scheme and the day-to-day operation, procedures and philosophies of the program.

"The culture is already built," Frost said. "It isn't like we have to start from the bottom. We're excited about that. We'd be fools to try to change much at all because of the success we've had."

The same goes for Frost now coaching quarterbacks. It's long been a position of strength for the Ducks, and Mariota might be the most talented player the Ducks have ever had at the position, at least since Joey Harrington, circa Y2K. There was little Mariota didn't do well in 2012, when he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a redshirt freshman, ranking seventh in the nation in passing efficiency.

"I think we can clean some things up and be even more efficient," Frost said. "There are some things we want to tweak to help him have more of an opportunity to impact the game. We wouldn't trade him for anybody. We think he can do some amazing things and win a lot of games. We're going to feature him as much as we can."

The Ducks' offense under Frost won't change, but it will evolve. For one, there's good reason to believe Oregon will throw more in 2013, with Mariota and his entire cast of receivers back.

And, as good as the offense was last fall, it did have a bad game -- a 17-14 home loss to Stanford.

"I give Stanford credit," Frost said. "That game kept us out of the national championship game. There's always room to fix things and get better."

Oregon's improvement on defense -- a combination of scheme and talent -- has bolstered it as a national contender. The question that looms among Oregon skeptics is whether the Ducks' offense can roll up big numbers against a big, fast and well-prepared defense. Like Stanford. Like Alabama.

To find out, the Ducks first need to solve Stanford, a team they'd taken to the cleaners the previous two years.

The word in Eugene, post-Kelly, Spring I? Change is good. Of course, there are plenty of things many are going to miss with Kelly no longer around.

Offered Frost: "I could make some sarcastic remarks to you if you want me to."
One of California's top quarterbacks in the 2014 class has yet to receive any offers, but it isn't for a lack of talent. After making up the credits he was unable to earn as a freshman, QB Manny Wilkins (Novato, Calif./San Marin) is awaiting the results of his SAT so he can be in the clear on the academic side of things.


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Pac-12 recruiting notebook

February, 7, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- The twins Robinson -- Tyree and Tyrell -- and Darren Carrington all went window shopping. But in the end, they trusted their guts and suppressed the knee-jerk, caveat emptor reaction when Chip Kelly left the Oregon Ducks for the NFL.

At a national signing day event at the San Diego Hall of Champions, the trio from San Diego all put ink to their verbal commitments and signed to play with the Ducks, ending weeks of speculation that they would be 11th-hour flips and spurn the Ducks and new head coach Mark Helfrich.

"At first it was about exploring options," said Tyrell Robinson, who attends Lincoln High in San Diego with his brother. "We made a commitment to Chip Kelly. When he left, we felt disappointed because who doesn't want to play for a man like that? Me and my brother took our trips to UW and SC, we turned down Ohio State. We were very close to switching schools. We liked UW a lot on our last visit. But at the end of the day we felt Oregon was still the best choice for us."

"Us" being the operative word. Because the Robinsons were going to be a package deal no matter what.

"That was really important to us," Tyrell said. "We were going to go to the same place so it was a matter of finding the spot that was best for us. We really had to think about it. We wanted to see what else was out there after Chip left. That was our chance to get out there and see what else was available.

"But Coach Helfrich told us we were going to be a big factor in this recruiting class and he felt we could come in right away and make an impact."

Carrington, a wide receiver from Horizon High School, said he liked the elevation of Scott Frost from receivers coach to offensive coordinator.

"I was definitely considering somewhere else," he said. "They talked about throwing the ball more and I think in the end, this was the best fit for me."

Carrington's father, Darren Carrington Sr., was the main speaker at the event that included hundreds of San Diego athletes in various sports. The former NFL safety said he was there to counsel his son, but ultimately let him make his own decision.

"I was there to give him information, but you're raising a man so you have to teach him to make up his own mind," Carrington Sr. said. "Chip was checking things out so we thought it was only fair that we check things out. We took a couple of trips and ultimately this is what he thought was best for him."

MORA THE CLOSER

Center Scott Quessenberry (Carlsbad, La Costa Canyon High), the No. 3-rated center nationally and an ESPN 300 player, said head coach Jim Mora was "very convincing" when he met with him. One of the early knocks on Mora, of course, was that he lacked college experience and might struggle in recruiting. But his first two recruiting classes say otherwise.

"I hope he's proved a lot of people wrong," Quessenberry said. "We've got a heck of a class. He's changed people's minds about recruiting and UCLA football. We're hungry. We're coming and we're going to win a lot of games."

Quessenberry said he prefers the center position, but feels he's versatile enough to play anywhere on the line.

"Anywhere they need me, I'm ready," he said.

CHANGE OF HEART

Cornerback Derek Babiash (Poway, Poway High) said he's at peace with his decision to sign with Arizona after initially giving a commitment to Washington. The 6-foot, 165-pound cornerback who ranks 38th nationally at the position, said he got caught up in all of the excitement of being recruited when he made his initial commitment.

"When I made my first commitment, I went on a spring game visit and I think it was rushed and spur of the moment," Babiash said. "I just got really excited. I went home and thought on it and decided it wasn't going to be the right place for me.

"I think I'll have the opportunity to step in right away and if I work hard I can be one of the five DBs in that (3-3-5 defensive) set."

USED TO WINNING

New Colorado running back Michael Adkins (La Mesa, Helix High) comes from one of the strongest high school football programs in San Diego. He's aware of the difficulties facing Colorado and he's looking forward to attacking it head on.

"I'm from Helix and we have a winning tradition," Adkins said. "I hate losing. I'm looking forward to getting there and helping change some things. The team is young so hopefully we can come in and start making a difference in the Pac-12."

Asked about new coach Mike MacIntyre, Adkins said he loved the enthusiasm.

"He's a fiery guy," Adkins said. "He knows his stuff. And I loved the whole staff. They really felt like a family."

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