EUGENE — If the coaching staff had decided to light up the scoreboard at Autzen Stadium, Oregon’s offense would have won the day over the Ducks’ defense during Thursday’s scrimmage.
But the 120-play session had little to do with established stars like Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff. Coaches used the scrimmage to evaluate young talent for backup roles or redshirts while also focusing on position battles at guard, inside linebacker and in the kicking game.
No. 3 Oregon will take today off before installation of the season’s first game plan begins on Saturday. The Ducks open the season on Aug. 31 against Nicholls State at Autzen Stadium.
“If we would have kept score, the offense would have won,” Helfrich said. “That doesn’t matter. We’re breaking the camp as one and excited about where we’re headed.”
The Ducks return three outstanding starters on the offensive line in center Hroniss Grasu, left tackle Tyler Johnstone and right tackle Jake Fisher. It appears there are three strong candidates to start at the two guard positions with Mana Greig, Everett Benyard and Hamani Stevens making their final on-field arguments.
“The guard situation has been talked about, but all of those kids in contention have seen extensive playing time,” offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. “Mana Greig was a starter for us before he got injured, Hamani Stevens has seen a ton of time, and there is Everett Benyard right there. So those candidates are very viable. I’m comfortable with any and all of them going into a game. Now it’s just establishing our depth.”
Depth is not an issue at inside linebacker. The question is whether the lengthy list of candidates vying for playing time will be able to match the production Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone are the projected starters with plenty of young challengers behind them.
“On the inside we’re just not as deep because Derrick and Rodney have to replace Kiko and Clay. Those guys were good and they were three-year starters,” defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “It’s not an excuse and it’s not to say we’re not going to be up to par as we grow. But those are two really good football players that are hard to replace. They will be replaced eventually.”
There is a chance the Ducks could use two placekickers this season with veteran Alejandro Maldonado handling routine field goals and freshman Matt Wogan trotting out for long attempts. Maldonado is also competing with Dylan Ausherman for the punting duties.
Helfrich said wide receiver Devon Allen, running back Kani Benoit and linebacker Tyrell Robinson were among the true freshman who caught his eye. Defensive back Tyree Robinson, tight end Johnny Mundt and running back Thomas Tyner all have the physical tools to have an immediate impact.
The staff will meet with all of the players today to discuss roles and possible redshirts.
“We want to look those guys in the eye and make sure they know exactly where they stand,” Helfrich said. “These guys have been working their tails off and they are owed that.”
Helfrich said the competition days between the offense and defense had “great back and forth” throughout two-a-days. The deep, experienced and talented Ducks believe they are ready to live up to the great expectations in 2013.
“With the amount of reps some of these young guys got, I think it helped build their confidence,” said Mariota, who only played one series during the final preseason scrimmage. “As a collective group, I think we’re excited to play and I think we’re ready.”
Oregon’s projected two-deep roster
QB: Marcus Mariota; Jake Rodrigues or Jeff Lockie
RB: De’Anthony Thomas or Byron Marshall
WR: Josh Huff; B.J. Kelley
WR: Daryle Hawkins; Bralon Addison
WR: Keanon Lowe; Chance Allen
TE: Colt Lyerla; Pharaoh Brown or Koa Ka’ai
LT: Tyler Johnstone; James Euscher
LG: Mana Greig; Hamani Stevens
C: Hroniss Grasu; Karrington Armstrong
RG: Everett Benyard; Hamani Stevens
RT: Jake Fisher; Everett Benyard
DE: Taylor Hart; DeForest Buckner
NG: Wade Keliikipi; Alex Balducci
DT: Ricky Havili-Heimuli or Arik Armstead
DE/OLB: Tony Washington; Christian French
ILB: Rodney Hardrick; Joe Walker
ILB: Derrick Malone; Rahim Cassell
OLB: Boseko Lokombo; Tyson Coleman
CB: Terrance Mitchell; Dior Mathis
CB: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu; Troy Hill
SS: Brian Jackson; Isaac Dixon
FS: Avery Patterson; Erick Dargan
PK: Alejandro Maldonado or Matt Wogan
P: Dylan Ausherman; Alejandro Maldonado
KO: Matt Wogan or Alejandro Maldonado
LS: Drew Howell; Tyler Johnstone
H: Dustin Haines; Jake Rodrigues
KR: De’Anthony Thomas; Josh Huff
PR: De’Anthony Thomas; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu