Ducks Open Spring With First 10 for Media

EUGNENE, ORE. -- The Oregon Ducks opened spring workouts on Tuesday and for the first time in over four years, the first 10-minutes of the practice session was opened to media for photos and observation. After that the Ducks went on to practice in earnest, as they prepare to defend their conference championship and hoping to get back to the National Championship game.

(PHOTO) Travis Jonsen (formerly Travis Waller) hands off to No. 24 Thomas Tyner during a mesh-drill, during the first practice of spring football for Oregon on March 31, 2015 at Autzen Stadium Complex in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Summers)

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said following the workout that the gesture of letting in the media for the first day was not a change of policy but rather because it was the first day of a new season.

“It’s the start of the spring type deal," said Helfrich. "Hopefully you got some good shots.”

What was able to be observed in those short few minutes though, may tell the story of just exactly where the Oregon Ducks may fit into the scheme of things for both in being a contender not only for the conference championship but the national championship as well.

While 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is now preparing for the NFL draft, the Ducks have five players competing to take Mariota’s spot as the natural leader. Actually, there are six, but Vernon Adams, the highly-touted signal caller who is on schedule to enroll in a graduate program this summer at Oregon is finishing up the necessary requirements for his Bachelor’s Degree at Eastern Washington University, where he was a record setter at the FCS level of competition.

Though Adams was not present, his presence was felt, at least by the assembled media when asking Helfrich who he thought the leaders on the team for this season would be.

DeForest Buckner has been great; Jeff Lockie has been great; I noticed a bunch of receivers talking and doing some good things,” responded Helfrich to the question of who will be the leaders. “We have another situation where we have a lot great guys who are quiet by nature. Royce Freeman is a great example.”

For the five players in spring ball competing for the starting quarterback spot, junior Jeff Lockie, red-shirt freshman Morgan Mahalak, sophomore Taylor Alie, sophomore Ty Griffin and freshman Travis Jonsen, the competition is keen, but according the Griffin the players are each other’s biggest supporters.

“It’s a competition, but it’s a friendly competition,” remarked Griffin. “All the guys out there are helping each other out, especially the young guys.”

Jonsen, for those who’ve not yet heard, had been known coming out of high school as Travis Waller. Jonsen changed his last name when he enrolled at Oregon.

The Ducks graduated three players off the offensive line, two of which, center Hroniss Grasu and tackle Jake Fisher, may find themselves on NFL rosters next fall, but for offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, the news is better than expected because his best player over the last few season, Tyler Johnstone, an All-American after his freshman on sophomore years, is back to give this year’s version of the Ducks front wall the needed experience and that all-important factor of leadership.

“He’s my most experienced player,” Oregon line coach Steve Greatwood said of Johnstone. “If you want to categorize it, he’s my best returning player.”

Some more good news on the offense is that the team’s most versatile offensive threat, wide receiver Bralon Addison is also mended from injuries that kept him sidelined last year. Addison was running routes smoothly and looked like the old Bralon Addison that Ducks fans had come to expect.

“It is a blessing to be a part of this program, even being on the sideline last year,” commented Addison about being back working with his teammates. “So being back in practice is something I’m enjoying.”

The player who filled in for Addison last year, Charles Nelson is now a defensive back for the Ducks, a position that might be a bit thin, but Nelson has taken the move to the defensive side of the ball in stride. Nelson adds the element of competition and leadership to the defensive backfield. In fact, Helfrich mentioned that if it were up to Nelson, he would play every snap on offense, defense and special teams.

“Charles is a guy, intellectually and football-wise is a very smart kid,” said Helfrich of Charles Nelson. “He could move back (to the offense) and not miss too many beats, which is not normal. His skill set and attitude is tremendous.”

The status of wide receiver Darren Carrington has not been decided, but Carrington was in the workouts, looking the part of the team’s best receiver. His position coach Matt Lubeck indicated that Carrington has demonstrated a great attitude this off-season after being disqualified for the National Championship game because of a failed drug screening test.

“He’s had a great attitude today and a great attitude this whole off-season,” remarked Lubeck of Carrington’s play after the first day. “He’s worked hard and I loved the way he competed today, but today is just one day.

Interestingly, the first 10-minutes of practice, the weather was clear and sunny. However, once the 10-minutes ran its course and the media were ushered off the practice field, a squall moved in and the rain came back to the Willamette Valley. That is normal for this time of year, as it was for the Ducks. Oregon will hunker down and go about its business in the usual way it has over the last four or five years – winning football games and keeping the local media out of practice.

Oregon will be back on the field Wednesday and Friday this week. For the next five weeks the Ducks will put in three sessions per week culminating with the annual spring game on May 4, 2015.

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