1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
Takimoto: Clearly the major storyline of spring was how the program would look without Chip Kelly at the helm. The short answer is: not that different. Mark Helfrich hasn't changed much in the way of practice routine and philosophy in his first major chunk as head coach, and the offense still looks dynamic with Marcus Mariota running the show. Injuries turned the spring game into something of an open practice, and with the rest of practices closed to the public, Duck fans don't have a lot to go on. But Helfrich has the trust of the players, and that comfort has made the transition smooth, so far.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Takimoto: As far as new offensive wrinkles, it's tough to tell. Oregon threw the ball a ton in the spring game, but that has more to do with an injured De'Anthony Thomas sitting the game out than any style changes. I also think the offensive gameplan was based on wanting to see as much of Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie as possible as the two battle it out for the backup QB job. That said, I think the Oregon offense will always be shaped by its personnel, and right now the showcase piece is Marcus Mariota. And without a true feature back on the roster at the moment, Oregon could be looking to throw even more than they did in 2012.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
Takimoto: On offense, sophomore wide receiver Bralon Addison continued to grow after a promising freshman season, and was called out by Coach Helfrich as having an outstanding spring. On defense, Christian French established himself as the front-runner to replace the hole left by #3 overall draft pick Dion Jordan. French, a converted tight end just like Jordan, had nine tackles and a sack in the spring game.
Bralon Addison 2012 Highlights (via madmike1951)
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Takimoto: Running back, for sure. Can the diminutive De'Anthony Thomas handle 20 carries a game? And if not, can Byron Marshall become an impact player after a fairly unimpressive true freshman season in 2012? Beyond those two, next in line would be former walk-on Ayele Forde, or incoming true freshmen Thomas Tyner and Kani Benoit, who have yet to don the Duck uniform.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
Takimoto: With Mariota leading the offense, and a favorable schedule, Oregon could win the national title.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Takimoto: Thomas Tyner. His combination of size (6'0", 205 as a HS senior), and speed (10.35 seconds in the 100m dash) doesn't come along often. If he can pick up the playbook quickly, he could be a significant contributor.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
Takimoto: Kenjon Barner doesn't get enough credit. He was overshadowed by LaMichael James for almost all of his career, and a run of bad stats games cost him a shot at the 2012 Heisman, but he rushed for almost 1800 yards in 2012, moving into second all-time on Oregon's rushing list, and that kind of production is not easily replaced. This is an incredibly important year for De'Anthony Thomas. Everybody knows about the pure speed, the otherworldly elusiveness, and the big play ability. But can he be the focal point of the offense, rather than merely an X-factor? The player DAT is compared to a lot is Reggie Bush. Let's compare stats, shall we?
Freshman: Bush (521 yards, 3 TDs, 5.8 ypc), Thomas (595 yards, 7 TDs 10.8 ypc),
Sophomore: Bush (908 yards, 6 TDs, 6.3 ypc), Thomas (701 yards, 11 TDs, 7.6 ypc)
Junior: Bush (1740 yards, 16 TDs, 8.7 ypc, 1 invisible Heisman)
Junior year is where Reggie Bush made the leap from complementary back to superstar. De'Anthony Thomas will get his shot this year to do the same.
Just for run, here are Bush and Thomas' receiving numbers.
Freshman: Bush (15 catches, 314 yards, 4 TDs), Thomas (46 catches, 605 yards, 9 TDs)
Sophomore: Bush (43 catches, 509 yards, 7 TDs), Thomas (45 catches, 445 yards, 5 TDs)
Junior: Bush (37 catches, 478 yards, 2 TDs)
De'Anthony Thomas 2012 Highlights (via madmike1951)
8. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
Takimoto: The injury woes along the offensive line is what necessitated the change in format of the spring game, as Oregon couldn't field two healthy offensive lines at once! Tyler Johnstone, James Euscher, and Mana Greig, all expected contributors on the line, were held out of the spring game with injuries.
9. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Takimoto: Bralon Addison and Josh Huff are two receivers ready for a breakout year. Huff, a senior, is the healthiest he's been since his true freshman season, and Addison had the best spring of anyone on the roster. I think linebacker Boseko Lokombo is ready to step up as a defensive leader for Oregon.
10. How have things changed under Helfrich's regime? Is he making any changes to Kelly's offense?
Takimoto: Program continuity was one of the main reasons why Mark Helfrich was promoted, and spring practice has showed that to be true. Helfrich may be less quotable than Chip Kelly, but the program looks relatively the same. He's said the offense will be "99.3% the same". I can only assume the .7% change is his preference of a hat over a visor.
11. How do possible NCAA sanctions color your perception of the Chip Kelly era?
Takimoto: For me, they don't. Chip Kelly will always be a coach that pushes the envelope, and this mindset and philosophy coupled with his relative inexperience as a major college football recruiter, led him to make a poor decision regarding his use of WIllie Lyles, and at the time, Oregon's compliance department didn't take the necessary steps to ensure that what Coach Kelly was doing was by-the-book. I think Kelly, and Oregon, still genuinely believe that their actions fell into a gray area of the rulebook, rather than being intentionally malicious.
Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich Opens Spring Camp (via Ducknews360)
12. What does Mark Helfrich bring to the table? Is he making any changes uniquely his own, or is he trying to be Kelly 2.0?
Takimoto: Helfrich's personality is much more relatable to the average fan than Kelly's directness and mystery. I don't think the program will be as brash and quoteworthy off the field, because Coach Helfrich is just a more subdued leader. But on the field, it'll still be a whirlwind of confusion, speed, and points.
13. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Takimoto: Right now? Nobody! Football looks promising, men's hoops made the Sweet Sixteen, and baseball and softball are both ranked in the top 10 in the country. It's a pretty good time to be a Duck. You should try it sometime, I've got extra T-shirts you can wear.