Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

ESPN 300: Top Pac-12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
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This recruiting cycle represents a huge year for talent in California, which means the Pac-12 should be able to put together some very healthy recruiting classes. In looking at the top five targets for the conference in the 2015 ESPN 300, it's no surprise that three come from Southern California. But if the Pac-12 wants to have a better overall finish in the recruiting rankings next year -- USC at No. 14 overall was the highest finish in 2014 -- the conference will need to reel in several out-of-area standouts, which is why the first two names on the list are here.


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EUGENE, Ore. -- A team is only as good as its twos and threes -- or so says Oregon wide receiver coach Matt Lubick. If that’s true, the Ducks are about to find out how good they are in the passing game.

While the addition of former Ducks basketball player Johnathan Loyd to the football team brought some excitement last week, it was quickly overshadowed by the news that wide receiver Bralon Addison had torn his ACL.

While there have been several success stories of players who’ve returned quickly from these types of injuries, considering the timing of Addison’s injury, Lubick needs to count on his twos and threes for the brunt of the receiving duties in the 2014-15 season.

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon RB Thomas Tyner might need to make more plays in the passing game this season.
“They’re very eager,” Lubick said of his youthful players. “They’re excited to learn. If there’s a blessing in disguise about an injury happening at this time it’s that it gives those guys reps now as opposed to right in the middle of the season when they wouldn’t get as many reps.”

And those guys need to take the reps considering the personnel situation in the wide receiver corps.

Of the Ducks’ top 10 leaders in receptions last season, the top four will not be playing next season (that includes Addison, who was the No. 2 receiver last season). Those four players accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Ducks’ receptions and 72 percent of the Ducks’ receiving yardage. As a group, receivers 5-10 last season accounted for only slightly more catches than Josh Huff did on his own.

And of those six players who return, only two are pure receivers -- Keanon Lowe and Chance Allen. The other four are tight ends (John Mundt and Pharaoh Brown) and running backs (Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall).

“The neat thing about spring ball is you’re trying to figure out about your team,” Lubick said. “Is our best personnel group two tight ends? Is our best personnel group two running backs or is it still three wideouts? We still don’t know that. We’re still trying to find that out.”

Over the past three seasons Oregon has had a running back in its top four receivers, including the 2012-13 season when running back De'Anthony Thomas led the team in receptions. However, for Tyner or Marshall to boost themselves into the top four, they’d have to nearly triple their receptions next season. It’s certainly possible, but Oregon would still need receivers to step up because they’re not going to be able to throw to backs or tight ends on every play.

The two returning receivers from last season’s top-10 group -- Lowe and Allen -- only accounted for 23 catches, 331 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.

However, it’s not ridiculous to believe that such inexperienced players could make a huge jump in just one season. From the 2011-12 season to the 2012-13 season Colt Lyerla and Daryle Hawkins went from just 12 combined catches to 50 catches. From the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 season Addison went from 22 catches and 243 yards to 61 catches and 890 yards.

But when Lyerla, Hawkins and Addison made those jumps there were several other players making huge impacts from a receiving standpoint as well, guys like Thomas and Huff. This season, Lowe and Allen won’t have that luxury because there aren’t other experienced players around them in the passing game.

Another issue for the Ducks is that the young guys are going to need to play above their age from a consistency and blocking standpoint. Generally, blocking isn’t one of the aspects emphasized for most high school wide receivers and so they get to college and need to learn that skill.

“At Oregon, it’s not just about catching balls,” Lubick said. “You have to be able to make plays without the ball. You have to be able to make plays with the ball. You can’t do one without the other, you have to do both. That’s sometimes the biggest adjustment for guys who weren’t used to doing that in high school.”

Lubick said that he, offensive coordinator Scott Frost and coach Mark Helfrich will be looking for the most consistent wide receivers through the spring and those will be the ones who get the starts in the spring game.

“The good thing about it is we have a lot of talent, a lot of resources and our offense gives us a lot of flexibility to have a whole bunch of personnel groupings,” he said. “… To be in our offense, whether you’re a tight end or running back, you have to know all the spots. It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up.”

But chances are, no matter who steps up, there will be at least a few completely new names catching balls during the spring game.

On one end will be a possible Heisman contender (assuming his receivers can help boost his passing yards) and one of the best-known quarterbacks in the nation. And on the other end will be a bunch of the Ducks’ twos and threes. People know how good QB Marcus Mariota is. Now, according to Lubick’s reasoning, they’ll find out how good the passing offense is as a whole.
I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
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.

Video: Oregon LB Tony Washington

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

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
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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.

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.
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.
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.

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