The spring game is always a welcome time for me. The college football season is so short and the offseason is so long. My heart lies with college football and the spring game is essentially the "hump day" of the off-season.
If you really want to nerd out on a team, the spring game is the best time to do it. You get to see the entire team get a lot of reps and see the base offense and defense on every play.
All of the action and performances you see Saturday will be carefully over-dissected for the next few months. Just remember that the spring game is a glorified spring practice. A lot will happen in terms of player development and the depth chart between the spring game and the first game of the season.
With that being said, here's what I'm looking for, and you're viewing guide, for the 2014 spring game:
Offense in its second year under Mark Helfrich
Are we going to see the same amount of passing or more of a commitment to the running game this season? Last year, the Oregon football team seemed to lack a clear identity of who they were on offense and never developing a go-to strategy. With the still depressing loss of Bralon Addison more pressure will be on the underrated Byron Marshall and rising star Thomas Tyner.
Defense under first-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum
Don Pellum played linebacker at Oregon and graduated in 1985. He's been coaching for the Ducks for 21 years, making him one of the obvious choices to replace Nick Allioti as Oregon almost always promotes from the internal staff in place. The linebackers are a strength this year so we won't see a switch away from the 3-4 base defense. The differences we see, if any, will be in pressure on blitzing and other coverage's. I'm interested to see how many fire zones are used, man/zone ratio, and whether the defensive linemen play one or two gaps on defense.
Who steps up at receiver?
Josh Huff graduated, De'Anthony Thomas left for the draft, and Bralon Addison is out for the year. This means that Keanon Lowe has to step up on offense. I think players like BJ Kelley, Chance Allen, and Devon Allen will be playmakers this year and solid contributors.
How much of the tight ends will we see?
With the lack of proven depth at receiver and the strong running capabilities of the Oregon backfield, I wonder how many tight ends we'll see line up on the line of scrimmage and in the slot as part of the base offense. Johnny Mundt ran into our hearts with his breakout performance against Tennessee and is, from what I've been told, looking jacked coming off of winter strength and conditioning. Players like Brown, Kai, and Baylis are contributors that could also see much bigger roles this year.
Penetration by the defensive line
How much havoc can the defensive line create? Can they draw plenty of doubles and free up the linebackers to roam and make plays? Arik Armstead has put all his focus on football and with other linemen Balducci and Buckner I'm hopeful that the line can be a formidable front.
Improvement on the offensive line
The offensive line, at times last year, really appeared to sputter. While never allowing any plays to get blown-up, the line struggled to open up gaping holes and get strong pushes at the line. Many running plays took a while to develop. While the biggest room for improvement is probably evident in the guards, the offensive line needs to operate as a single unit more so than any other unit on a team.
Who plays opposite of Ifo?
The departure of Terrance Mitchell raises questions at what was debatably the strongest unit on the field. With players like Troy Hill and Dior Mathis among others, this unit may not lose a ton. Mathis has been one of the fastest players on the team according to reports throughout his college career and I think he could be one of the breakout players this fall. Erick Dargan at safety will be a big security blanket while everyone gets up to speed.
Will the kicking game improve so that I don't have a heart attack during every extra point?
For some reason or another, the kicking game has really struggled. Everyone knows this. My heart flat lines every time a field goal is attempted and hold my breath during extra points. I know Wogan is capable of being the kicker we want him to be. It makes me sad to think about where Oregon could have been if the kicking game was better, so I'll just stop this post early.
Will the weight everyone has put on negatively impact their speed?
While Oregon has always prided itself on its speed there have been some instances where some more size would've been beneficial. This off-season players put on a lot of muscle. Most of the time, putting on muscle and weight actually helps speed. Hopefully the Ducks are looking faster and bigger Saturday.
I'm just really excited for Oregon football to be back, if only for a day. I'm excited to see the entire roster play. Mariota will ball out but after him we can see Rodrigues and Lockie get plenty of reps. I'm happy that I can cheer for every touchdown and sack and the only way I'll feel bad about this game is if someone is seriously injured (which I pray doesn't happen).
Get your food and beverage of choice ready for Saturday, because it is Gameday.