Last season, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich held himself to a personal mantra: Year 2 would be an improvement from Year 1.
“If you do something a second time,” he said in August, “you should be better, you should be more efficient, and there’s no exception with me.”
Now defensive coordinator Don Pellum has a similar task.
On the one hand, when looking at a defense that was one of the most inconsistent groups in the conference, it doesn’t seem as though it would be too hard to take a step forward, especially because most of the players will be in their second year in the program.
On the other hand, when looking at the players that Pellum loses -- his top two tacklers, an All-American cornerback, his most athletic pass-rusher -- it’s hard to know how the Ducks will be able to take a step forward when they are replacing so many players.
But for Pellum, the answer is simple.
“We have a bunch of weapons,” he said. “This year we won’t carry as many, but we’ll be more specific. So if all of a sudden we’re playing a certain team and they’re running a certain play, last year we might’ve had two or three or four different things we could do. [This year] we’re going to dial it down to one or two and be really, really good at them.”
The process of becoming really, really good at those plans begins at the end of the month, when Oregon begins spring practice. As it gets closer, Pellum is getting more excited.
For him, he sees a lot of veterans in his meeting room, even though most of the public might not.
“I’m excited about where we are,” Pellum said. “We lost some terrific players, but I think overall in terms of depth and experience, we’re far ahead of where we were a year ago right now.”
He said in his first year he hadn’t realized how few senior starters were on the defensive side of the ball until he walked into a meeting as the defensive coordinator and began to actually count: zero on the line, two in the linebackers group (Tony Washington, Derrick Malone) and just one proven, battle-tested senior defensive back (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu).
In Year 2, Pellum rattles off a group of players at each position group that he views as veteran because they know his system and how he works.
The Ducks return defensive lineman Alex Balducci and a few experienced linebackers in Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick and Tyson Coleman. In the secondary, cornerback Chris Seisay got some playing time near the end of the season after Ekpre-Olomu’s injury and safety Reggie Daniels finished third on the team in tackles. So there’s certainly talent there, but the depth remains to be seen.
But with those players and a coach willing to scale back to better fit his team, could Oregon take a big step forward in 2015?
“[Last year] we had a big toolbox,” Pellum said. “Our toolbox will be a little smaller this year. And now, after going through the season, we know how the opposition is going to really attack or try to counter, so now it’s going to be more specific to what these defenses are for.”
Pellum will attack Year 2 with the same expectation his head coach had last year: If you do something a second time, you should be better.
“I feel real comfortable about what this group can do,” Pellum said. “I think we can carry a little less, but I think we can be a lot more efficient.”