Clark: The arrival of spring football puts to rest another eventful offseason

The month of April is always an interesting one in Oregon football.

As hard as it is for me to believe, even as I type this, we’re almost into the spring football season. Four weeks of practice inside the Moshofsky Center primarily serve to shake off whatever rust might be left over from the winter months, capped with a 60-minute scrimmage that seems to get bigger with each passing year.

In just a few short weeks, winning the day gets an added dose of football for the three-time defending conference champions, who are coming off a short-lived three-month “off” season. Of course, player-coach contact is heavily guarded during this period, but you know Chip Kelly and his staff maintain a watchful eye over offseason workouts.

Over the past few years, the arrival of the spring football season has been a godsend for the program as whole. When April hits, the laundry list of off-the-field issues that have become common always seems to be find its place on the back burner.

This year will be no different.

The Ducks appeared to handle themselves much better after the Rose Bowl victory. Despite a few hiccups along the way, Oregon managed to stay out of the headlines almost entirely — at least from a player-misconduct standpoint.

No one will forget that Oregon nearly lost Kelly, Darron Thomas and LaMichael James to the NFL in just a three-week period or that the NCAA continues its investigation into the program’s shady recruiting practices.

If things go smoothly over these next couple of weeks, Oregon should hit the ground running when spring drills begin next month. The coaching staff filled several needs with this year’s recruiting class, and many of the recruits will arrive on campus for spring term to get a jump start on adjusting to life as a Division I student-athlete.

Two of the top recruits in the class — defensive lineman Arik Armstead and quarterback Jake Rodriguez — will both benefit greatly from their early arrivals on campus. @@[email protected]@

If you remember back to the 2010 spring game, true freshman cornerback Terrance Mitchell intercepted Thomas and ran it back for a touchdown early in the first half. At the time, Thomas and senior-to-be Nate Costa were in a hotly contested battle for the starting quarterback spot heading into the summer.

Mitchell went on to redshirt the following season and became Oregon’s top cover cornerback in 2011 after the dismissal of All-American Cliff Harris. Fellow defensive backs Dior Mathis and James Scales enrolled with Mitchell that spring, though neither has made their way up the depth just yet. @@[email protected]@

With so many storylines going into the spring, it’s tough to put Armstead and Rodriguez under a microscope. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. Big-time players come with big-time expectations, and I believe they’ll grasp that concept earlier than their classmates.

No doubt there will be plenty of intriguing competitions to watch from a positional standpoint, none more important than the starting quarterback job. There are question marks at running back, too, now that Tra Carson has transferred. The current roster lists only Ayele Forde and Antwan Baker behind starters Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. @@[email protected]@

To me, the wide receiver competition will be the most interesting to watch. There are more than a handful of athletically gifted guys in the group behind Josh Huff and Justin Hoffman, and the short spring season provides the opportunity many of those players need in order to prove they’re ready for more responsibility. @@[email protected]@

The turnover on both the offensive and defensive lines is always a concern, though not as much as it may have been entering last fall. And filling up the holes left by the Eddie Pleasants and the Terrell Turners of the world will give defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti plenty of position battles to evaluate. @@[email protected]@

Yes, this is the beauty of college football. Kelly has alluded to it time and again: The biggest challenge of being a consistently high-performing football team is the player turnover from year to year.

The process begins in earnest in a few short weeks, and I know you’re all ready for it.

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Lucas Clark

Lucas Clark