EUGENE Middle linebacker Joe Walker made an impact in spring football for Oregon, drawing praise from coaches and teammates for his readiness and talent.
But training camp will be quite the test for the transfer from L.A. Harbor College, because linebacker lines up as the most open position on the team. Only outside backer Boseko Lokombo has been penciled in as a sure starter.
The 6-2, 220-pound Walker, from Palos Verdes, Calif., says he looks forward to the competition. May the best man win.
"There's a lot of good guys out there," he says.
Walker chose Oregon over Texas A&M, Syracuse and Duke, although he had the Ducks locked in as his favorite team the whole time. He grew up watching Pac-12 football, including the Ducks, but was not a fan of USC or UCLA for a reason he can't quite explain.
"I don't know what it was," he says.
Walker will take the most reps at "Mike" (middle linebacker), a position vacated by Kiko Alonso, although Walker could play "Will" (inside), where Michael Clay roamed in recent years for the Ducks.
Enrolling in January and being at spring ball were imperative for Walker in his quest to get on the field right away.
"I had a good time," he says. "It was different from anything I've ever done, for sure. It helped learning the defense, getting to know everyone, the routine."
He grew to like linebackers coach Don Pellum's demanding ways, too.
"He's just going to tell me straight up what I need to do," Walker says.
School has been going well, he adds.
"We get so much help, just through tutors and all the people around us being very helpful," says Walker, who lives with walk-on quarterback Dustin Haines. "They make it as easy as it can be. It's still a lot more difficult (than high school, JC). The classes are a lot harder."
Lake Oswego's Tyson Coleman, another linebacker candidate, entered camp healthy, after breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot in spring ball. He rehabilitated for two months and went through some summer workouts.
"Coach (Nick) Aliotti and Pellum both told me there was no point in being in shape if you're still injured," he says. "That really made sense. I was focused on getting my foot better before getting into shape. I did a fair amount (of summer workouts)."
Count Coleman among the veterans impressed with Torrodney Prevot, the 6-3, 215-pound true freshman from Houston who could get playing time behind Lokombo.
"He's a great character guy. A great kid, works hard. He's fast. A great athlete," Coleman says. "Sky's the limit for him."
Helfrich has given offensive coordinator Scott Frost the play-calling duties. Helfrich says he wants to manage the sideline more.
"I want to look in a player's eyes, whether on offense or defense, at any given time," the head man says.
His predecessor, Chip Kelly, called plays.
With Frost, who called plays in spring ball, it was a matter of "let him go, to a certain degree," Helfrich says. But, "I'll take credit for the bad ones."
Lots of gushing reviews for Oregon's state-of-the-art football center, including from Helfrich, who found himself "crying" along with boosters in joy upon seeing it.
"That place has a soul," he says. "It's a tribute to the past."
Helfrich, a native of Coos Bay, says that if he would have bet years back that Oregon would have its big building, Texas wouldn't go to a bowl game (2010, 5-7 record) and Washington would go 0-12 (2008), "I would have lost that bet," he says.
It almost sounded like a pat answer when a reporter asked Helfrich what kind of "stamp" he wanted to put on the team.
"I do not own a stamp, don't even have a pen on me," he says. "Doesn't exist. That's not on my radar. If I could be known as the guy who followed Chip Kelly and continued the winning, I'm good with that."
Quarterback Marcus Mariota says he wants to be a more vocal leader, "being that presence for the guys."
And he'll concentrate on decision-making in training camp. Better decisions, he says, will put "this offense in a good situation."
Receiver Josh Huff says receivers joke about De'Anthony Thomas' infamous missed block against Stanford last year, in which he ran near Mariota toward the goal line. A Stanford defender caught Mariota from behind, and the Ducks failed to score on the possession en route to losing the game.
"We run next to each other in practice, and he really likes doing that," Huff says. "He won't do that (in a game) again."