Oregon Ducks 2011 Season Preview
Kevin Baird, EDN
After an amazing 2010 season that culminated with an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, the Ducks head into the 2011 season with national title hopes and a No. 3 pre-season ranking in the Coaches Poll, which is the highest preseason rank they’ve ever had. They’ve also been picked to win the recently expanded Pac-12.
Yesterday the Ducks opened their fall camp in preparation for the 2011 season. A skilled and talented senior crop has been harvested by the NFL leaving a very young team with a lot of questions that need answered. “But that is what camp is about,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “We’ve always believed that preparation is the key to our success.” Spirits are high and the players are excited to get back to work and play football.
The biggest questions that need answered are on the offensive line. With only two returning starters in Carson York and Mark Asper and Darrion Weems a non-starter having plenty of experience, the Offensive Line should have its hands full on September 3rd. The offensive line is the key to Oregon’s success so they will have to learn quickly “Whenever we’ve been successful offensively it’s because of those guys,” Chip Kelly said. Last year we led the country in scoring and total offense, but all eight of our offensive linemen were returners. There were no new guys we had to break in. They’re athletic enough they’re physical enough, they don’t have game experience and there’s no way to manufacture that.” No pressure.
Oregon’s dynamic duo, Lamichael James and Kenjon Barner, will return for the 2011 season. Both of them will be training hard to be better then they were last year, which is hard to fathom. “The sky is the limit,” James said. Lamichael will be making another run for the Heisman whether he wants to or not, “I don’t even care about the Doak Walker or Heisman trophy. I’m here for the team,” he told the media on Monday. Last year he won the Doak Walker Trophy. Chip Kelly wants both Barner and James to last the whole season so he will be looking for a No. 3 Running Back during camp. Lache Seastrunk is a favorite but it won’t be clear until the end of camp.
Darron Thomas returns as the starting Quarterback, but with a different jersey number. He switched to No. 5, which was his high school jersey number. He’s determined to be a better leader and player. He’s been working on everything from his mechanics to his accuracy to his leadership skills. Unlike last year, the Ducks don’t have the luxury of an experienced backup quarterback like Nate Costa. This year Bryan Bennett, who has never taken a snap in college football, will back Darron Thomas up. Coach Kelly is confident in Bennett’s abilities at Quarterback and that he can take over if DT is taken out of a game.
The receiving corps will look different this year with Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis having movedon to the NFL as undrafted free agents. Senior Lavasier Tuinei said, “A few Freshman are going to have to step up so we’ve been helping them out. We’ve been working together, working with DT throughout the whole summer trying to get the timing down.” According to coach Kelly all the starting jobs in the wide receiver corps are open for the taking. Veterans Josh Huff and Lavasier Tuinei will also have to step up and be leaders within the receiving corps.
At Tight End, David Paulson returns after a big year in 2010 with big plays. The Senior Tight End averaged 32.2 yards a game and will be an important asset to the offense alongside a young receiving corps. Expect Paulson to make headlines.
The Gang Green only returns one Linebacker, Josh Kaddu, and one Defensive End in Terrell Turner. Both Defensive Tackles graduated along with Talmadge Jackson III. The defensive backfield will be stacked with returning starters Anthony Gildon, Eddie Pleasant, and John Boyett. The colorful Cliff Harris has been suspended for at least one game and will hopefully return after opening weekend. Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti’s system of rotating 25-men through the defensive positions in a single game has given up-and-coming starters critical experience on the field. One of the things they’ll be working on a lot is, “Align and assign,” Free Safety John Boyett Said. “We need to line up right and know our assignment.” This will be critical given all the new starters on defense. Morale is high on the defensive side despite the losses, “Were going to give you guys a show and try and shut everybody down,” Terrell Turner said. “Then let our offense get on the field and give you guys another show.”
Oregon’s non-conference schedule includes LSU, a home opener vs. Nevada, and FCS Missouri State. The Ducks begin conference play in the Zona Zoo versus the Wildcats on the 24th of September. Oregon’s schedule also includes a game in Boulder, Colorado against their new Pac-12 foe, the Colorado Buffaloes. The Ducks will also have an opportunity to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game if they win their division, which includes Oregon State, Stanford, Cal, Washington, and Washington State.
4 Big Games
LSU September 3rd At Cowboys Stadium in Dallas 5PM PT on ABC
The Ducks open the season playing against the Bayou Bengals on national television. The Ducks will have to fill a hole left by defensive standout Cliff Harris. Darron Thomas was committed to LSU before coming to Oregon but the coaching staff didn’t see DT as quarterback material. DT will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. LSU Head Coach Les Miles penchant for trick plays could make things interesting; however, Oregon Defensive End Terrell Turner said, “We’ll be ready for whatever. There’s no such thing as trickery against Oregon’s defense.”
Arizona State October 15 At Autzen Stadium
Quarterback Brock Osweiler and the Sun Devils bring the heat to Autzen for what could be Oregon’s most challenging home game. Osweiler, the 6’8”, 240 pound juggernaut, played in six games last year and did not throw an interception. Large quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Terrelle Pryor have been tough for the Ducks to stop in the past. ASU’s large defense could prove troublesome for Oregon’s inexperienced O-line. Oregon’s speed was too much for the Sun Devil’s last year and it will be an huge advantage. The Sun Devils are favored to win the Pac-12 South so this game could possibly be a prelude to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Stanford November 12 At Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Cali.
Stanford will also be making a run for the BCS Championship in 2011, and with Andrew Luck who is quite possibly the best quarterback in the nation The Cardinal could prove to be a major stumbling block for the Ducks. Last year the Ducks used their speed and strength to wear down Stanford’s physically larger team down and solidify their place at the top of the Pac. That could be a difficult task without the homefield advantage.The Cardinal have replaced Head Coach Jim Harbaugh with David Shaw, which will be beneficial to the Ducks.
Oregon State November 26 At Autzen Stadium
This will be the first Civil War Game without that pesky Jacquizz Rodgers since 2007. QB Ryan Katz and his big arm will return and should be greatly improved. Standout Wide Reciever James Rodgers will be returning for the Beavers as their go-to-guy. Over the last two seasons the Civil War game has propelled the Ducks to Rose Bowl and BCS National Championship births. This years Civil War will be just as critical for the Ducks as they aim to return to the national title game. The Ducks have won three in a row against their arch-nemesis and they will try and make it four. Oregon leads the series 58-46-10