Mark Helfrich might want to buy stock in Advil.
The 2016 Oregon football season has been one headache after another with a bad defense, changing quarterbacks and a five-game losing streak. His job security has been under fire and only let up some with last week’s win and will quickly heat back up if or when USC defeats the Ducks on Saturday.
Now news comes out that linebacker Eddie Heard has been arrested on Wednesday evening on misdemeanor charges of fourth-degree assault and harassment that was a result of an incident at an off-campus bar. Heard was immediately suspended for Oregon’s upcoming game, but more importantly, the incident is just another unwanted issue that Helfrich needs to explain to the media.
Heard’s absence will hurt the depth of a defense that was already reeling and looking for bodies. Linebackers have been difficult to find on the Oregon campus and some could say they’ve been MIA the entire season.
With the suspension of Heard, the Ducks now boast just two linebackers from the classes of 2012-2015 that are now on the roster. The recruiting gaps of several positions have been a huge cause to why Oregon is struggling right now and missing yet one more defensive player doesn’t help matters. It just magnifies the recruiting issues Helfrich has had since taking the head coaching job.
To Helfrich’s credit, however, he seems to be on top of the situation. Chip Kelly didn’t have many weaknesses in his time at Oregon, but dealing with off-the-field problems wasn’t his strong suit. He was often slow to recognize those issues and tended to “get all of the information” before acting. Helfrich suspended Heard the very next day after Heard’s arrest.
Now Heard himself isn’t a huge cog in what is the Duck defensive machine. He’s barely a cog at all. The redshirt junior has played in all eight games; however, his stat sheet has nothing but zeros on it except for one quarterback hurry against Virginia.
Heard’s stats, or the lack of them, probably made it easier for Helfrich to suspend him. He’s mainly a special teams player and can be replaced rather easily. If it had been a more prominent player, Helfrich’s response may have been different. Who knows?
But the timing of the arrest couldn’t have been worse. Oregon’s win over Arizona State this past weekend got Oregon’s outlook more on the brighter of sides. The Ducks were celebrating that they have the quarterback position locked down for the next several seasons with Justin Herbert and the much-maligned defense looked halfway serviceable at times.
Everyone was assuming Oregon might not win four games this season before the ASU win. Now the Ducks could be looking towards playing in any kind of bowl game, a game that was unimaginable just a week before. Even a Phil Knight sighting at a San Francisco 49er game was leading to conclusions of Kelly possibly returning to Eugene. That’s how bad it was in Eugene.
While everything wasn’t rosy on campus, things were beginning to take a turn and a win over USC on the road might complete that turn with the thoughts of the Ducks might be contenders once again next season.
That still may be the narrative around 8 pm Saturday night. Oregon is a double-digit underdog and an upset would be huge.
Heard’s arrest, however, puts a temporary halt to the good feelings that were just starting to become apparent at Oregon. Herbert saved Helfrich last week for the time being. The true freshman quarterback may have to do it again.