Oregon will pony up for insurance after all

EUGENE — Despite losing his starting left tackle this week, it’s safe to say Marcus Mariota is feeling better about his protection in 2014.

At the Pac-12 media day event last month in Los Angeles, Oregon’s Heisman Trophy candidate said his family had purchased an insurance policy after his decision to return to school instead of entering the draft and signing a lucrative NFL contact.

After learning that it would not be an NCAA violation, Oregon announced on Friday that the athletic department will reimburse the families of Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and defensive end Arik Armstead for out-of-pocket expenses related to the purchase of policies for loss of future earnings in the event of an injury.

The NCAA allows players to have the policies purchased for them under its “exceptional student-athlete disability insurance” rule. Texas A&M and Florida State were the first schools to take this step in the new era of autonomy for the Big 5 conferences.

According to Oregon, the money provided to the athletic department’s student assistance fund by the NCAA must be used to cover those costs, and the athletic department will have to find other funds in the budget to cover a “myriad” of other expenses related to student-athlete welfare.

Mariota understood the risks of returning for another season of college football after playing on a torn MCL last November.

He was reminded of the inherent dangers of the sport when his top returning receiver, Bralon Addison, suffered a torn ACL in the spring and left tackle Tyler Johnstone was lost for the season after re-tearing his ACL last week.

Meritocracy means UO’s accepting of all

A year has passed since Missouri players stood up to introduce themselves to the collective group during the team’s 2013 fall camp.

Michael Sam decided it was the right time to introduce himself as a gay man.

The Tigers supported the defensive end during a memorable season in which the team made a run to the SEC championship game and Sam was named conference co-defensive players of the year.

Now Sam is attempting to become the first openly gay player in the NFL by making the St. Louis Rams’ roster.

Earlier this week, Arizona State offensive lineman Edward “Chip” Sarafin announced that he is gay, becoming the first active Division I college football player to come out publicly. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound senior received strong support from the Sun Devils.

“We are a brotherhood that is not defined by cultural and personal differences, but rather an individual’s commitment to the Sun Devil way,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said in a statement. “Diversity and acceptance are two of the pillars of our program, and he has full support from his teammates and the coaching staff.”

Mark Helfrich is confident that the men of Oregon football would react the same way if one of the Ducks came out.

“That’s one of the great things about football is I think it’s the ultimate meritocracy,” Helfrich said during an interview in February when Sam was making headlines at the NFL Combine. “If you’re a good person and a good teammate, nothing else matters. I think that’s one of the neat parts about this is you’ve got guys from every possible anything — background, race, faith, whatever it is — and those guys all come together.

“It’s hard, but I have full faith and confidence that our guys care about their team and they care about their teammates a lot. They’re different people, but they’re all teammates fighting for the same thing. That’s all they care about.”

An up-or-down decision for Pellum

First-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum is still pondering whether to work in the press box or on the sideline on game days this season.

It all depends where defensive line coach Ron Aiken, secondary coach John Neal and outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander are most comfortable and effective.

And maybe how good their eyesight is.

“If you have great guys in the box with great eyes to get you information, then you can be on the sideline making adjustments and on the field with the kids looking them in the eye and diagramming things,” Pellum said. “If you don’t have great eyes in the box, then you need to be in the box to see it yourself and have someone else diagramming and making corrections on the field.”

The experiment will continue during Oregon’s second scrimmage next week. Pellum said a lot of young guys “flashed” with their aggressiveness during the first scrimmage, but that’s only part of the equation.

“The first scrimmage you want to see who’s going to run around and hit people,” Pellum said. “In the second scrimmage you’re looking for who has a real command of what you’re doing, who can really help us in a game. So it is viewed a little differently and evaluated a little differently.”

Mariota offers high marks for newcomers

Marcus Mariota, now a Heisman Trophy candidate and first-round NFL prospect, remembers what it’s like to awkwardly stumble and bumble through fall camp as a true freshman.

“It was a lot of trying to survive basically, just trying to pick up what I could in order to get through practice and make the right reads,” Mariota said last week. “It’s funny because you can kind of see that out of Morgan (Mahalak) and Ty (Griffin). They’re trying to ingest as much as they can.”

The Ducks just wrapped up the second week of on-field work. It sounds as though Mahalak, a touted member of the 2014 class, and Griffin, a freshman who transferred from Georgia Tech and will sit out this season, are making strides.

“Especially for the quarterback in our offense, it’s hard to learn every single position and learn everything they need to,” Mariota said after Friday’s second practice. “But at the same time they’ve done a good job. I think Morgan has come a long way in the sense that he’s starting to learn the progressions and the run-game calls. I can see both of them gaining a lot of confidence.”

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