Spring football can best be described as a tune-up for the Oregon football team. It’s a 15-practice period where players and coaches gear up for the slowly approaching start of the upcoming season. Regardless of stature and experience, this time frame is also used as a chance to learn and improve for everyone associated with the team.
“I think you’re learning as you go every year, regardless of your position,” head coach Mark Helfrich said following the team’s first spring practice. “We have some standards and mottos that we go by, but everything else, in some way, is in flux. That’s how you innovate and improve and that’s something we want to continue to do.”
Part of learning involves reflecting on past experiences. While last year’s team fell short of its BCS aspirations, this year’s squad is learning from it and seeking ways to perform at that level. That learning mentality begins with starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“My mentality is still the same,” Mariota said. “I have to continue to get better. It’s still a competition out here. These guys are going to continue to push me and hopefully I’ll push these guys. As we continue to grow, as a unit, hopefully we can continue to make each other better.”
While this was the first time Oregon practiced as a team in preparation for next year, the offseason was also filled with workouts — something that showed in the first practice.
“The offseason was outstanding, certainly from a bigger faster stronger standpoint,” Helfrich said. “All the things we did in the weight room, from a conditioning standpoint, was outstanding.”
For Helfrich, who’s entering his second year as the head coach of the Ducks, nailing down the fundamentals and the little things that go into making a successful football player, is very important.
“The number one goal for everybody is to be a functional football player,” Helfrich said. “We want to compete, we want to get better and we want to play better as a team. Those are all things we can continue to do.”
Last year, Helfrich was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach. This season, former linebacker coach Don Pellum is entering his first season as defensive coordinator, replacing long time coach Nick Aliotti. While there are sure to be some challenges in his first year, the defensive side of the ball looks fast and ready to accept Pellum’s coaching in the first practice, according to Mariota.
“They dominated us for a couple periods today,” Mariota said excitedly. “They did well today in practice. They responded well to Coach Pellum. I think those guys were excited to come out there and show what they’ve learned throughout the few months Coach Pellum has been defensive coordinator. They were flying around.”
Follow Joseph Hoyt on Twitter @jhoyt42