John Neal and the Ducks started camp on Monday.

It’s apparent that John Neal is refreshed and ready to go in his 14th season at Oregon and 34th season coaching overall. Despite last year’s dismal defensive performance in which the Ducks were virtually last in most of the significant Pac-12 Conference statistics, this year is a new start.

The 2016 season got underway on Monday when the Ducks opened fall camp and following the first day of practice, Neal emerged and was noticeably upbeat about his squad and was a bit reflective about what happened last year. 

There are several reasons that can explain Neal’s mood. First his players have a year of experience under their belt and he still believes that this group may well be the most talented he’s ever coached but it’s more than just the talent. Secondly, the changes made in the off-season when head coach Mark Helfrich hired Brady Hoke as the defensive coordinator has made an impact on the team as well as the coaching staff.

Neal isn’t paying much attention to all the bad statistics from last year as he’s more concerned about the group of players he has this year and getting them ready for the season; he’s also driven to coach by not only what his players do on the field but what they do off the field and later on in life.

The strong culture at Oregon is something Neal cites as why the Ducks have won so many games over the last 23 years; a strong culture at Oregon dating back to the Rich Brooks days.

Rich Brooks had a strong culture when he was the head coach,” Neal said. “Then it passed on to Mike (Bellotti), (then) passed onto Chip (Kelly) and then to Mark (Helfrich).”

Neal went on to say he is more focused on teaching players about the Oregon culture and believing in it and that success will come as they learn that.

Last season for Neal and the coaching staff was a long time ago because of all the work they have to do in preparing for the upcoming season, and this year in addition is the element of a new defensive system.

“Our base defense is pretty detailed from day one,” Neal said of Hoke’s 4-3 defensive scheme. “I’m not trying to re-install something.

“I learned a hard lesson last year; I played guys that weren’t quite ready to play.” Neal related to some of last year’s problems. “I thought that was my fault.”

Neal felt there was some chaos for a while when the Ducks even went so far as moving Charles Nelson to the defensive side of the ball. Much of the reason for the chaos was a lack of understanding of the system by the younger players.

A year makes a big difference though.

The confidence of the players this season has Neal believing in what a year of experience can do for very talented individuals.

The other reason for the rejuvenated Neal is an old friend of his – Brady Hoke. Neal and Hoke coached together at Oregon State in 1989. Neal has a lot of admiration for Hoke as a coach who came to Oregon with no preconceived notions about what went wrong. Hoke is tough and fair minded and going into this season Neal wants to see things go the way Hoke directs it.

Still though, an old coach like Neal is not going to fall into the traps that fans do. Preseason hype about teams good or bad is something for the fans to worry and concern themselves with. For Neal it is a matter of teaching the details of the game and working to improve his charges one day at a time.

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