Tako Tuesdays: The Mirage

You people have a problem.

Ever since waking up January 3rd and heading to Brail's (if you were in Eugene), Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles (if you were in LA), or somewhere equally greasy and delicious for a post-Rose Bowl hangover breakfast, you've been silently counting down the days to spring practice. It had been mere hours since Russell Wilson's snap fell fractions of a second too late, and you were already itching for another fix.

January dragged along. February was worse. March? Torture. Sure, the basketball team helped a little, but there just isn't enough scoring in basketball. I mean come on guys, 59 points? Get it together.

Finally, April, and some bushleague website is making you sit through a bunch of bullshit. You're so close to what you crave, and we're up here on our pedestal, playing with your emotions. An psychological test of the highest order. You made it.

And now spring practice has finally arrived. And what do you get?

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via farm1.staticflickr.com

If you head over to the Mo Center today, you can see as much of this as you want. Take a look at that tree. Crazy ass branches. Has it started growing back leaves yet? You'll have to lace up the trail shoes and find out. The dog park, it's there. Soak it in. Perhaps take a visit to the Science Factory. It's a weekday, so it shouldn't be too crowded. But you sure as hell aren't gonna see any Oregon football. Practices are closed, to the public, to the media, to everybody who doesn't have a jersey number. Oregon football practice is more exclusive than Jay-Z's Cannes Film Festival afterparty. Though in both scenarios, Mark Helfrich is stuck outside, waiting for more girls to show up so the ratio stays good.

To sum up, you've gone and got yourself excited for something that NO ONE IS GOING TO SEE. That's like geeking out over swamp muck found on one of Saturn's moons, or taking a vacation to Loch Ness to try and get a glimpse of it's mythical monster guardian. Enthuse all you want, but don't be surprised when people look at you funny.

And so, to the surprise of no one, I'm reaffirming my general indifference to spring football. I'm glad our guys are getting reps, and get a chance to flex their competitive juices a bit. But, unlike some of you, I won't be clamoring for information about who played where, and with who, and how well. The worst thing a fan can do, for both your personal well being as well as the well being of the people you talk to, is overreact to something that happens in a spring practice.

Here is a list of things that should, under no circumstances, cause anyone alarm during a spring practice:

  • The depth chart - Bryan Bennett practicing with the twos or Ayele Forde returning kicks in April means exactly one thing: that's what they did in practice that day. It doesn't mean that's what the depth chart will look like at Autzen Stadium on September 1st. And keep in mind, this isn't even the whole team yet. The majority of the freshman class won't join the program until summer, and a number of players from that group could have an impact on the two-deep.
  • Players being held out of practice - A "student-athlete" could be held out of practice for a number of reasons, the two most prevalent being: injury-based, and academic or discipline-based. With injuries, it's important to keep this in mind: the first game of the year is just under five months away. Excepting a major injury (like Carson York, who will be out at least until summer workouts after tearing his patellar tendon in the Rose Bowl), any dings or tweaks that happen in spring will be long healed by the time fall camp rolls around. And as far as discipline goes, missing a day of practice can be for something like skipping a class or missing a meeting, or it can be something bigger, like what Cliff Harris faced last year and Josh Huff may face this year if his impending DUII case goes poorly. If it's major, we'll hear about it. If not, it's because a guy saw some ducks and decided to feed them, or wanted to have lunch with a cute girl, or really needed to take a dump. Note: two of these are actual things I skipped class for in college (still graduated with a 3.5 gpa). See if you can guess which one is fake!
  • Anything Jake Rodrigues does - The true freshman enrolled in school in January, and will be one of three freshman in spring camp, along with DE Arik Armstead and TE Evan Baylis. Rodriguez is very talented, and will be a first-rate Oregon quarterback down the road. But having command of the Chip Kelly offense is not something that comes quickly. Dennis Dixon was a senior and a third-year starter his first year in the system. It took Jeremiah Masoli almost a full season of bull-rushing his way through people to settle in, and you could make the case that the offense didn't truly click with Masoli at QB until the 42-3 massacre of Cal in 2009. And Darron Thomas already had two full seasons of practice time under his belt when he assumed the starting job in 2010. So to expect Rodrigues to come in to spring ball, still not 100% after suffering a broken leg last November, would be foolhardy. He's going to make some impressive plays, plays that will let Duck fans glimpse into the future of the program. But it isn't his time, almost certainly not this season and definitely not this spring.
  • The offense not clicking - We've seen it every spring since Chip Kelly took over the program: defense dominates spring ball. They win competition days, and the spring game is a low-scoring affair. But every fall, the Oregon offense trots onto the field and lights up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree non-denominational holiday shrub. Why is this? Simply put, spring ball is about trying things and seeing how they work. And our defensive scheme is better equipped to function during this than the offense. Our defense will play 20+ guys a game during the season, so there's no issue with trying out different configurations of players; it's something we're already doing anyway. But the offense works better if the same offensive line is blocking for the same quarterback and running back, doing the same zone read play over and over again until the other team gives up and runs away. In the spring, the offense is trying new formations and wrinkles that may or may not work. They may have fundamental problems, and will be scrapped before fall, or they may be a great idea that just needs more practice in order to implement. Either way, they aren't working in the spring. For those reasons and others, it's easier to build a great defense than a great offense, making it all the more astounding that Oregon's is this good year after year.
Lastly, and this can not be understated, NO ONE IS GOING TO BE ABLE TO WATCH PRACTICE. So any news about practice that you hear will come secondhand through a football department filter, with varying degrees of truth and coachspeak happening. If that's going to satisfy your craving for football, then by all means, soak up every bit of gossip you can. But just remember: you're just going to make the wait from the Spring Game to the start of fall camp that much worse. My advice? Reoccupy yourself. Take up knitting, yoga, or salsa dancing. Get psyched for the NHL Playoffs, the start of the MLB season, or new seasons of Mad Men and Game of Thrones. Speaking of Game of Thrones, read the A Song of Fire & Ice series - six books should keep you occupied until August. And if you really can't live without Duck football, watch madmike1951 highlight videos, or rewatch the Rose Bowl off your DVR for the hundredth time.

You people have a problem. You're beyond fixing. But I think, by providing a little clarity and an even keel, I can help ease your pain as we trudge on through the desert of the off-season. Spring practice may look like an oasis, but stopping to admire it will only make you thirstier. Keep moving, and you just might make it.
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