Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 8/18/13
Two weeks into fall camp, label Oregon Ducks new head football coach Mark Helfrich "cautiously confident." He likes what he sees from his team, particularly the competition at linebacker and backup quarterback, but hopes to see some separation from some individual players at those positions in the final two weeks before the opening game against Nicholls, Saturday August 31 at 1:00 p.m. in Autzen Stadium. The game will be carried regionally on the new national sports station, Fox Sports 1. Mystery man: no word yet on Thomas Tyner, shown here in practice early last week. He left practice Tuesday on crutches and his status hasn't been updated by the team. Before the injury, he'd shown soft hands and impressive speed but has much to learn in his adjustment to the college game. In his absence,  the Ducks will rely on De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and the reserves (Eric Evans, Statesman Journal photo).     About the linebackers, Helfrich told the press after Saturday's practice,  "That is another place where there is a ton of great competition. It is a different guy every day. Derrick Malone showed up a bunch today running great. Rodney Hardrick has been really good. Joe Walker has been really good at times. Rahim Cassell has been really good at times. Tyson Coleman inside and outside is practicing really well. There are not a lot of season, proven crusty veterans but a bunch of guys that are running fast and playing hard."  The lack of "proven, crusty veterans" is less of a concern than it might be, for a couple of reasons. One, the Ducks have a deep, stout defensive line this season, and a fast, physical secondary with all four starters back, plus key backups. Two, as Helfrich noted, there is a wealth of talent at the linebacker position, including several players, Malone, Coleman, Hardrick and Cassell, who have served an apprenticeship on special teams and playing third and four quarters. Last season the Ducks won 12 games, all of the wins by two scores or more: USC by 11 including a last-second Trojan td, the Fiesta Bowl by 17, Fresno State by 17, the rest by three touchdowns or more. They played in one close game all season, the 17-14 ovetime loss to Stanford. The lopsided wins provided a ton of playing time for key reserves.  At Arizona State the team led 43-7 in the second quarter.  The Washington game was 35-7 at the half. Arizona, 28-0 after three. The Ducks typically play a deep rotation; there were 6-7 games last season where they could have named their score. The blowouts pay huge dividends preparing a new generation of players to take over. The linebackers may not be crusty, but they are salty, and they have a five-game window to gel before the schedule gets dangerous. Talking about the backup quarterbacks, Helfrich observed that Rodrigues, Lockie and Damion Hobbs have all shown progress and flashes of excellence, but the competition continues. The Ducks have a live scrimmage on Thursday before they move into game preparation next week, and that scrimmage will be the final determiner of practice order during game week. Competition is good. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has a story today on the kickers, as beleaguered incumbent Alejandro Maldonado attempts to stave off a challenge from highly-touted freshman Matt Wogan. Quick writes: Alejandro Maldonado, the man who missed those kicks, knows all about that rage. He has heard the death threats. Read the insults. And he has felt the disappointment, within himself and outside the football program. “I don’t know how I got through it - it was a totally different experience - but I have no choice than to keep going on, keep kicking,’’ the soft-spoken senior said. Wogan made a 58-yard kick in the playoffs last season for his high school team, and he's been good from as far out as 51-yards in fall camp. But so far he's struggled with consistency and adjusting to the different conditions at the college level, no tee, the timing of the snap and the hold. Maldonado, Quick learned from special teams coach Tom Osborne, has been more consistent, although his range doesn't extend beyond 40 yards. At this point, the Ducks may platoon the kickers. The kicking game isn't settled, and that's a frustration for fans who expected Wogan to win the job definitively and shore up a weakness in the Ducks attack over the last three seasons. There's still time for one of the two to find the rhythm and confidence to make kicks in games, and meanwhile, it's likely that the offense will continue to go for it on fourth down in some situations where many teams would reflexively attempt a three-pointer. It's something to watch closely in the coming weeks. At some point during the season, like most seasons, the Ducks will need a field goal to win. Whether it's through Maldonado's redemption or Wogan's emergence, fans are eager for the kicking nightmare to end at Autzen Stadium. Today the Webfoots take another recovery day, coupled with some team building exercises. Helfrich said yesterday the squad got a couple of players back from injury, without specifying who they were. Post-practice video with the coach, from the Oregon Daily Emerald:   Ryan Thorburn of the Register-Guard reported that Coach Helfrich paid a visit Friday to running backs coach Gary Campbell and his family after the death of their son Bryan, and he was the one who came away uplifted and encouraged by the visit. “That’s such a strong family and such a great group of people. You go in their house and you visit with them and you come out better. How does that work? When we showed up, (Gary) had just a huge smile on his face. "He said, ‘Hey, tell the team I love them,’” Helfrich said. “Pretty cool.”
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