Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich spoke on Monday at the 2016 Media Day Press Conference. The Ducks’ lead man certainly has his hands full this season against a loaded Pac-12 Conference.
Sitting in front of a large media contingent with his green Oregon t-shirt, alongside a Ducks “O” khaki hat; Helfrich seems more comfortable this season than in years past. And why shouldn’t he? Helfrich is entering his fourth season now as the head man in Eugene, and there couldn’t be a better time to leave an impression on the program and Pac-12 opponents alike.
On the minds of the media all offseason was what can Oregon do to clean up their mistakes from 2015? And that was the first actual question posed to the Ducks head coach on Monday.
“Too many points, too many yards, too many explosive plays. Our two big keys (for 2016) are explosive plays and taking care of the football on offense. The (limiting of) explosive plays and taking the ball away on defense,” Helfrich replied.
He went on to add, “Knowing your assignment. Communication. It’s a million tiny details that add up to that drastic change.”
Wide receiver Devon Allen was the next hot topic of discussion. Currently, the flash of human light is in Rio for the 2016 Olympics and his Oregon Duck membership for the season is completely up in the air, as Helfich addressed the issue early in his presser.
“The plan for him right now is to win a gold medal. We’ve discussed a few things, but there are several conditions that are involved in that.”
The coach went on to say that the team is having a “watch party” or “team meeting” to watch Allen perform in Rio. Nevertheless, his odds of returning seem like a coin flip.
The most polarizing topic this offseason however, has been the subject of starting quarterback. It has been a serious competition since spring practices between senior transfer Dakota Prukop and redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen.
“Some good, some bad, but a lot of progress has been made. We’re going in the right direction so that’s a good thing,” said Helfrich in reference to their quarterback competition. “But no, ‘boy, this guy was unbelievably better than everybody else moment.’ No.”
The head coach almost seemed perturbed that he could not speak of one player being better than the rest of the group. It was quite interesting to watch his body language during this topic. It is possible Helfrich assumed in spring he would have a clear choice less than one month away from the Ducks’ first game, but that is hardly the case.
Later, he was asked if he believes the competition will come down to the final week of the summer before a quarterback decision is made.
“If you learn one thing, you can’t predetermine it. You can’t predict it, by this date we’re going to have...” Helfrich continued to say, “Predetermining things isn’t always best. It has to be natural. That’s a good Eugene term. It has to be organic. It has to happen right in front of everybody for everybody’s best interest.”
All joking aside, moments later Helfrich tentatively gave an ideal date for naming his starter.
“Ideally, it’s going to be about a week and a half out (from the season). It’s slated out how we game plan for the first game, which is ideal. (But) Ideal isn’t always best, if that makes any sense,” the Oregon coach reiterated.
Mark Helfrich also touched on spring practices and what goes on during that period.
“During spring ball, you’re doing the combination of cramming down their throat the combination of what you want them to do. That is an attitude, a culture,” said Helfrich. “From a schematic standpoint, you’re going to experiment. You’re going to find out what each guy can do, what they can’t do, maybe discover some things you didn’t know.”
Spring practice should easily segue into fall practice. Helfrich explained the difference between the two practice situations during the evaluation process.
“In the fall, you’re starting new. Then we do that again for about two weeks. You’re going to find out what the new guys can and can’t do. What the veterans have added to their repertoire. Then you pick and choose what’s best for you out of that. You’re doing that in every phase. You’re going to be in experiment mode for another couple weeks,” Helfrich stated.
The fourth-year man got a chuckle from one member of the media, intent on asking if Oregon planned to calm down the offensive tempo and their high-speed attack to meet the defense halfway during practice.
“It’s always funny, every defensive coordinator says that and when they practice, they have two offensive scout teams to go against the defense. We just have one,” said Helfrich calmly. “We try to play at that tempo. Our tempo of practice hasn't changed at all. The gist of what we’re doing from a tempo standpoint, that’s all systems go.”
The media began preparing for the next Oregon personality due at the podium in the form of Doak Walker candidate Royce Freeman, and concluded Helfrich’s press conference with a question about Dakota Prukop.
“It’s advantageous for him to be here for a spring, a summer. And just today, absolutely more comfortable doing things. His thing has always been, ‘don’t overthink things.’ Just make layups,” stated Helfrich.
Helfrich finished up his press conference with a wonderful analogy that he teaches his quarterbacks with great simplicity.
“We talk about that all the time with the quarterback. Make a layup. Make 100 layups in a row and you’ll be the greatest player of all-time. Don't try to do a 360, don’t try to do a reverse layup, just make a layup. Handing the ball to Royce Freeman. Getting the ball to Charles Nelson in space. Doing all those little things, that is making a layup for those guys.”
Following his 2016 Media Day Press Conference, head coach Mark Helfrich seems very optimistic but extremely even keel about his Oregon team. He knows he has been blessed with some dynamic playmakers, but he also understands there is going to be a giant learning curve and some must learn by making crucial mistakes. It is all part of the program.
The Ducks swim back to practice on Tuesday for another saga of “Who is our QB?” and ATQ will be there every webfoot step of the way!