Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota talked with former Oregon QB Bryan Bennett at the recent Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La.

Oregon center Hroniss Grasu frequently texts and talks with Bennett, his "best friend" from their Crespi High (Encino, Calif.) days.

Bennett transferred to Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, La., and is on a team that tplays in the Football Championship Subdivision, or formerly Division I-AA. He'll compete to play right away, but Bennett already has made himself at home by appearing in a ticket promotional commercial (see YouTube).

"He says they love him," Grasu says. "He's just happy, that's all I care about."

New Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, appearing at the Pac-12 media day last week, proclaimed Mariota "the best quarterback in the country."

He also said that all-purpose back De'Anthony Thomas' role won't change, even though the Ducks must determine their No. 1 running back (Byron Marshall is the leading candidate).

"We have had that anchor for a long time," Helfrich said, referencing former UO running backs such as Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James. "We need to find more numbers than just that one guy. ... De'Anthony likes his role of wide-out, motion guy, movement guy, and we like that, too, to keep him versatile ..."

It's open season for linebacker spots, except on the outside, where senior Boseko Lokombo returns. The likes of Tyson Coleman, Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker will compete for the nod at the other two positions.

"It's all equal," Malone says. "Who performs in fall camp will get the starting job."

Players have been gearing up to compete at different positions.

Says Hardrick: "We're all interchangeable. It's all the same thing, to be honest."

Counting drop-end/linebacker Dion Jordan, the Ducks lost three stellar linebackers in Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

"The common thread was they all worked really hard together," Hardrick says. "We're taking that from them, using that on our own selves."

Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, when asked, says the one player who stood out to him in summer workouts was ... sophomore tight end Pharaoh Brown.

"He's matured so much in one year," he says. "The biggest jump any player made."

Adds tight end Colt Lyerla: "The transformation from when you first get here to your sophomore year is huge. Pharaoh, everything for him has been positive. He's a big body (old listing 6-6, 235), huge frame, he can run. He's really putting in the work, getting stronger in the weight room."

The Ducks are well-stocked in the defensive backfield, with safeties Brian Jackson, Avery Patterson and Erick Dargan and cornerbacks Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill returning. Doesn't leave much room for anybody else to play.

"We have to compete every day like we're trying to take each other's jobs," Ekpre-Olomu says. "We don't want to just settle in. You always have somebody coming from behind. You've got to be (competing) every week. That's what separates the guys who really want to be starters and the guys who want to be behind."

Oregon big guys don't have the luxury of falling out of shape, given the fast pace and conditioning that the Ducks rely on. Grasu says the Oregon school structure — quarter system — allows little time for breaks.

"The rest of the schools go home for a month," he says, "and who knows what they're doing at home. They come back, they have to get back into shape. We're always here (in Eugene). We get a week off at the most. That week off helps with recovery, and we come back even fresher, ready to go."

Players lift weights virtually every day. Grasu says he holds his own in the weight room, but defensive linemen Wade Keliikipi and Taylor Hart (all 6-6 of him) sit atop the list of strongest guys.

"I'm always asking how much did Taylor Hart do and Wade Keliikipi do," Grasu says.

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