By Rob Moseley
Anticipation for the 2014 football season is about to get a major boost when Pac-12 Media Day – er, “Days” – begin Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich will be joined by senior linebacker Derrick Malone and junior quarterback Marcus Mariota for a press conference Wednesday that will be available on Pac-12 Networks and streaming online. As we found out over the last two weeks, Malone and Mariota were two of the more regularly mentioned names on all the preseason awards watch lists released in July.
As part of the two-day festivities, a preseason poll of conference media will be released. Judging by early individual projections, Oregon will be the favorite to win not only the Pac-12 North but also the conference title game. Everyone from Bay Area stalwart Jon Wilner to all four Pac-12 bloggers from ESPN picked the Ducks to win both in 2014.
Two members of the UO athletics communications staff, Dave Williford and Andy McNamara, will be on hand in Los Angeles. They’ll bring with them materials to be distributed to media, including an updated roster that features a few items that media will no doubt note, and ask Helfrich about.
Primary among those will probably be the omission of , who recently departed the program. Cassell, a regular in the inside linebacker rotation the last couple years, ran into trouble off the field this spring; Helfrich no doubt will have a chance Wednesday to clarify the exact nature of Cassell’s departure.
The roster being distributed tomorrow differentiates between inside and outside linebackers, and so we know that the remaining inside guys – following the offseason departures over the course of this year of Rodney Hardrick and Malone, junior backup Joe Walker, redshirt freshman Danny Mattingly, true freshman Jimmie Swain and long-time reserves Isaac Ava and Grant Thompson, the latter having recently been awarded a scholarship., and now Cassell – include returning starters
If the UO defense relied on a three-man rotation at the two inside positions, at least to start the season, it wouldn’t be the first time. Michael Clay rotated behind Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger on the 2010 BCS championship participant, for example. And so, a rotation of Hardrick, Malone and Walker could work in 2014, at least early on.
But there’s a lot of hope for Mattingly after an impressive redshirt season, and Helfrich referred to Swain on signing day as a guy who could help as a true freshman. So the door would appear open for the young guys to make an impact, too.
Sticking with linebackers, the updated roster now lists the position group headed by Tony Washington as outside linebackers, rather than defensive ends. The position previously manned by the likes of Kenny Rowe and Dion Jordan since 2009 has essentially been an outside linebacker all along, in a 3-4 base defense. But the Ducks chose to call the position “drop end,” making it appear on the surface as if they used four down linemen. That caused a bit of confusion for fans and media, which now should be cleared up.
Thus, there are now two outside linebacker positions. One, which the Ducks referred to as drop end, has been manned by the likes of Washington, Christian French and Cody Carriger on the current roster. The other, which the team has referred to as the SAM linebacker, is played by Tyson Coleman, Torrodney Prevot and others. New freshman Justin Hollins is listed as an outside linebacker too.
A couple items involving new additions are of note, as well. For one, two players – Tony James and Casey Eugenio – are listed as “RB/WR.” It stands to reason the two fast little backs will get practice reps both out of the backfield and as slotbacks when preseason camp starts Aug. 4, and perhaps play roles similar to that of De’Anthony Thomas or Kenjon Barner over the last few years.
Also, the two biggest players on the roster, at least as far as weight goes, are true freshmen. Offensive lineman Braden Eggert was measured at 6-foot-6 and 328 pounds, and defensive tackle Austin Maloata is listed at 6-1, 313 pounds. If that’s quality weight, either guy could have a chance to make an early impact, though history would suggest they’ll probably drop a few now that they’re in Oregon’s strength and conditioning program.