Next Man Up
Four years ago the Oregon Ducks football program promoted Chip Kelly, their innovative offensive coordinator who had never held a head coaching position, to Head Coach in a move that surprised many people around the nation. While his offense was quickly becoming one of the most talked about units in football, many questioned whether or not he had the ability to take the Oregon Ducks to the next level.
Two wins in four BCS Bowl appearances later and Chip Kelly is off to the NFL looking to make his mark at an even higher level, leaving the Ducks in a very interesting position.
There is no doubt that Oregon has the talent to contend for a BCS National Championship next year. Marcus Mariota is coming off an unbelievable first-year at quarterback, De’Anthony Thomas will step into a bigger role on offense, and Oregon’s secondary looks like it will continue to be one of the best in the Pac-12. Besides that talent, a plethora of young players looking to make their impact at the college level will have the opportunity to help the Ducks contend for yet another Pac-12 Title and BCS National Championship.
Leading this talented team for the first time in his life will be native Oregonian Mark Helfrich. Helfrich, who came to Oregon during Chip’s first year as head coach, takes over the heralded position after solidifying himself as one of the best college coaches in the business.
During his time with the program he has won the National Quarterbacks Coach of the Year twice and has been nominated for the Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award numerous times as well. Despite all of these accolades, however, the national media, just as they were when Chip was hired, have a lingering doubt about Helfrich’s ability to succeed in 2013.
Here is what Helfrich needs to do to improve the program further and prove to all the doubters that he is the right choice to be a long-term head coach at Oregon.
One of the things that the Ducks have lacked in recent years is a true dominant receiver. While Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, and Keanon Lowe did their part in making Oregon’s offense one of the best in the nation, none of them really emerged as a true threat throughout the year.
And though this does have something to do with the way Oregon’s offense operates, to take things to the next level the Ducks need to find a receiver that they can consistently rely on to help spread the field out even more so their agile players have even more space to work with.
A likely candidate for this position is Huff, who has always had the potential to be one of the best in the Pac-12. And, when healthy, he has been relatively dominant. His further development and health will play huge dividends in helping the Ducks in yet another BCS National Championship chase.
Find your Backup QB
With Mariota establishing himself as one of the best quarterbacks in college football it was not too surprising to hear that Byan Bennett will be transferring to an FCS school where he will be able to showcase his talents as well as earn much more playing time.
The move leaves Oregon with four QBs on their roster: Mariota, RS Freshman Jake Rodrigues, Freshman Jeff Lockie, and Junior Dustin Haines. Though Rodrigues will likely step into the role of the second-stringer, it will be important for Helfrich to groom all of these quarterbacks as if they will see playing time, just in case Mariota should experience any unanticipated ailments in 2013.
Fix the Lines
Two of the units that the Ducks will be losing the most pieces will be on both the offensive and defensive lines. Though both units do return key pieces, significant losses also come with the need for revamped units to lead the Ducks forward in their next college football season.
Most significant of the departures is not a player but a coach. After helping to change Oregon’s defensive attack (especially on the line), Jerry Azzinaro will be heading to the NFL with Chip Kelly. His departure signals the need for Helfrich to find a coach with the same drive and passion that Azzinaro brought to the field each and every day. Not only that, Helfrich will also need to find a guy who can help to develop the young players along the line while helping Nick Aliotti forward Oregon’s defensive momentum from 2012.
With Chip Kelly’s departure coming so close to the end of recruiting season, many have worried that Oregon’s haul of recruits in 2013 will not be as impressive as it has been in past years. Helfrich can change all that, however, by showing the nation that he and his assistants can close the jobs they set out to do and making his first recruits believe that he is the next great head coach of the Ducks.
Though Oregon is still widely considered a young team, there are certain positions (WR, LB, DL, OL) that the Ducks will need to address in the next year or two, thus needing to bring in some top recruits if the program wants to continue to consistently be one of the best programs in the nation.
A big recruiting class will help Helfrich prove to the nation that he has the right attitude and staff to continue to bring in top-level recruits and keep the Oregon machine rolling.
Stick With What you Know
One of the easiest things that Helfrich can do to further improve the Ducks in his first year as head coach is to stick with what the Ducks have been doing in recent years. As Kelly’s offensive coordinator there is no doubting the fact that Helfrich has learned a great deal under his mentor while developing a few schemes himself.
Sticking with the same offense and allowing Aliotti to continue building his defense should have the Ducks right in the thick of things when it comes to the Pac-12 and BCS National Championship.
Oh, and he should probably try to stay away from any sanctions as well.