Like any season, the 2013 Oregon Football season comes complete with its own set of challenges. There’s no quarterback competition this year, but the Ducks lost their star running back and multiple key defensive players to graduation and the draft and, of course, Oregon’s eccentric head coach left for the NFL too.
The Ducks are a team made with interchangeable parts in mind, and the program mantra of “next man up” will soften the blow of having to replace a 1,000 yard rusher in Kenjon Barner.
Oregon though lost more than just rushing yards with Barner’s graduation–they lost a vocal leader. Some have expressed concern over the Ducks lack of leadership, but none of those have been inside the Oregon program.
Head coach Mark Helfrich was asked about the Ducks leadership at media day and rattled off about ten names that had stepped forward as vocal leaders, and he wasn’t just mentioning names to be nice.
“Last year’s class we had individual leaders,” Bralon Addison said–himself called a “coach on the field” by De’Anthony Thomas. “This year the thing is everybody pitches in their own two cents.”
And it doesn’t matter if that means a freshman is calling out an upper class men.
“It’s awesome,” Hroniss Grasu said. “There’s leadership everywhere you go. We call it horizontal leadership. We’re not afraid to call people out. If I get called out by a freshman, that’d be awesome.”
The lack of a so-called “rah-rah guy” is different, but it wouldn’t be Oregon if it didn’t push against the grain a little.
“It’s so different here from when I was in high school or when I took visits to other places,” Addison said. “Everybody’s just ‘one’ and I like that so much about this team. From the first day I got here as a freshman last year I could just tell that everyone is close knit.”
That leadership structure makes it easier to go through big changes–say, a coaching change.
“This coaching change that we had this offseason wasn’t an issue at all,” Grassu said. “During practice or in the classroom or off the field, everyone’s been doing a great job.”
Even at the top, the team will be led by committee. Helfrich may be the coach, but the playcalling duties will lie with offensive coordinator Scott Frost, and with Frost calling the shots Helfrich will be afforded the one-on-one time with his student athletes during the game to act as an additional vocal leader.
“I want to be able to look a defensive player in the eye, an offensive player in the eye, a special teams player in the eye, whatever the case may be in any given moment,” Helfrich said. “That’s the only way that I would really be able to do that…I’m still going to be intimately involved in in-game planning, and I’ll take the fall for all the bad ones.”