Darron Thomas - Page 7

DUCK FOOTBALL: Getting a handle on the problems

//

By Sam Finley, EDN

Let’s get it on the table.  Oregon clearly missed Jeff Maehl and DJ Davis during the 40-27 loss against LSU.  As the game played out, it seemed that the current batch of the Ducks’ receiving corps seemed a trifle out of synch with quarterback Darron Thomas.  But they say they are trying to get a handle on the problems.

Lavasier Tuinei caught seven passes against LSU. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

“We’ve been focused on cleaning up some of the stuff we did last week,” said junior wide receiver Justin Hoffman. “Obviously, we’re practicing harder so we’re ready for Nevada.”

But exactly why did things go as badly as they did early on?  Through the first three quarters of play, there were several dropped passes and mistimed routes, resulting in Thomas throwing 23 incompletions.

“I saw a lot of mistakes last Saturday,” explained Oregon wide receivers coach Scott Frost.  “We need to get better and more detailed.  I think that’s kind of across the board on our entire team and we’re focusing on eliminating these mistakes so we don’t beat ourselves.”

One person who is expected to help eliminate the mistakes is Lavasier Tuinei.  Now looked at as the leader of the wideouts, the 6’5, 216 pound senior did his part last weekend with seven receptions for 47 yards.  Still, he believes he could’ve played better and along with the rest of the squad.

“We need to communicate more,” said Tuinei. “We also need to be more consistent.”

At the same time, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said it was good for some of the younger guys to get into the fire.

“They went in and competed in a real good environment to get tested,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. “They got their feet wet a little bit and it will be interesting to see how that transitions from game one to game two for them.  But, aside from Will Murphy, most of the guys who played have been in games before like Josh Huff and Hoffman.”

Justin Hoffman says he needs to work on the little things. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

Without question, the 5’11 Huff had seen plenty of action last season by catching three touchdowns.  Hoffman had also seen some playing time last year, albeit a litte more sparingly. The 6’1, 206 pound Eugene native caught two passes for 22 yards in Dallas, and the 6’2 Murphy managed to catch one pass before the game was over.  Tuinei believes it is crucial that these two guys step up, especially since the two receivers from 2010 are no longer around.

“Guys like Murphy and Hoffman are going to be big for us this year,” stated Tuinei. “We lost DJ and Jeff, and that leaves me as the lone starter from last season.  But I thought Hoffman really stepped up and made some plays during the game.”

As for Hoffman, he gave himself an average grade against LSU, citing there is plenty of room for improvement.

“I did alright overall,” claimed Hoffman. “But I made a couple mental errors that can definitely be fixed for this game. They were small things that may not be noticeable to others, but to the others on our team. I just need to learn from the mistakes that I made and get better from them.”

They’ll get their first chance to redeem themselves on Saturday, when the Ducks take on the Nevada Wolf Pack at Autzen Stadium.  Having put in a full week of practice, they say they’re ready to put a sloppy game behind them and will be ready for the home opener.

“I feel like we’ve been working together this week,” explained Tuinei. “We’ve been getting in the playbook, in the meeting room, and trying to help each other out.

“We just need to keep playing our game,” said Hoffman. “There aren’t any real large keys for us, but Nevada is a solid team and we look forward to playing them.”

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011. E-mail any feedback to him at [email protected]

 

Malee: As season moves on, LSU loss will stick with Oregon

I hate to be that guy.

You know, the one who sees a single cloud in the sky and immediately assumes rain. The pessimist, the naysayer, that guy at the party whose bluesy outlook manages to bring everyone else down.

I hate that guy, particularly when it comes to sports. Chances are, you do too. No one wants to hear that his or her team isn’t good enough, that a long-coveted championship ring will have to wait another year.

Well, I don’t like to write about it either. But here’s the truth: Oregon’s performance against LSU last Saturday will loom like an ever-expanding storm cloud over Eugene for the rest of the 2011 season. The Ducks could go 11-0 the rest of way and win the Pac-10 Championship Game, and it wouldn’t matter. The scars would remain.

Such a statement may seem unfair and overly dramatic. After all, even the BCS-controlled college football season isn’t decided by one week’s performance. Chip Kelly and his Ducks will have plenty of chances to redeem themselves, beginning tomorrow at home against Nevada, and there’s a good chance they’ll do just that. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Oregon went undefeated the rest of the way.

That’s not the point. Statistically, the LSU game was just one of 12 games, a single loss and nothing more. But mentally and emotionally, it meant so much more.

It’s not 2009 anymore. No longer can we chalk these losses on the big stage up to first-game jitters (Boise State), inexperience in BCS games (Ohio State) or the singular talent of an opposing player (Auburn’s Cam Newton). After watching last Saturday’s game, I came away with the conclusion that something is missing with this program. Even Kelly admitted that the team has yet to break into the top tier of college football teams.

If you watched the game, you likely saw exactly what I did. Other top programs, particularly those in the SEC, are simply bigger and stronger than Oregon has ever been. The common denominator in each of Oregon’s recent losses was a sizable disadvantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball. An undersized offensive line could not keep opposing defenders out of the backfield, while a similarly diminutive defensive unit could not wrap up the Terrelle Pryors and Michael Dyers of the world.

Oregon, quite simply, is built to compete against Pac-12 opponents. Last season proved that, if healthy, the Ducks will be the favorites to win the conference for many years to come. When the competition is shrunk down to its size, Oregon has few peers.

To be clear, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this. Kelly was hired to coach a team in the Pac-12 Conference, and he has come up with a formula that is perfectly conducive to prolonged success.

But at this point, the Oregon job demands a bit more. Kelly earned himself a lucrative new contract last season, and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game brought the Ducks a national prominence that extends far beyond the borders of the Pac-12.

Success for Oregon is no longer measured by conference records or Civil War victories. The big-time games; the match ups against SEC powers, the ones that are billed as “classics” or “the game of the year” — those are what will define triumph in 2011 and beyond.

As it is currently constructed, I’m just not sure that this Oregon team is ready to make the next step. This is not a knock against Darron Thomas or LaMichael James and certainly not against Kelly. I don’t think Oregon has been outcoached or outclassed in any of these games. It’s simply a case of personnel and what types of players Oregon attracts.

The behemoth, country-strong linemen that have given Oregon fits are unlikely to board a plane to Eugene any time soon. Schools like LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma and Alabama will forever hold the advantage of sitting on fertile recruiting ground. College athletics are, in many ways, a never-ending turf war. You could say that Kelly is simply at a tactical disadvantage.

In spite of all this, there’s little reason to believe Oregon won’t succeed this year. The Ducks will defeat Nevada tomorrow, and they might even go undefeated the rest of the way.

But the LSU game will always lurk as a dark cloud in the rearview mirror, a reminder of how far this program still has to go.

Ducks Drop Opener 40-27 to Lousiana State

//

The #3 Oregon Ducks fell to the 4th ranked Louisiana State Tigers 40-27 Saturday evening in their season opener at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington Texas.

Too much size and at least an equal amount of speed on the perimeter thwarted Oregon’s ability to spread the field laterally and the LSU defensive line derailed the Ducks running game all night.

Four Oregon turnovers certainly didn’t help matters in the least. Back to back fumbles by freshman De’Anthony Thomas gave the Tigers the opportunity to seize control of the game in the third quarter and felines do have a knack for the jugular.

Darron Thomas rallied Oregon with a pair of fourth quarter scores but they were little more than window dressing.

It was a horrific third quarter for the Ducks; 15 net yards – 15 yards rushing, zero yards passing – while the Tigers held possession for 12:05 of the 15 minutes.

LSU drew first blood at 11:14 of the first with a 44-yard Drew Alleman field goal. The Ducks followed up with a pair of threes, Rob Beard hitting from the 29 (3:55) and 30 (0:42) and the first quarter ended with Oregon leading 6-3.

The lead was short lived.

On the opening play of the second quarter Kenjon Barner’s fumbled punt return led to the first touchdown of the game. Backpedaling as he caught the ball on about his own 5-yard line, Barner reversed field directly into the coverage and coughed up the ball.

Tyrann Mathieu picked it up on one bounce and two steps later the Tigers had the lead 9-6. The extra point attempt was wide.

With the running game bottled up, Darron Thomas went to the air – a lot. Throwing 54 passes the second year quarterback completed 31 for 240 yards, a score and a pick.

Statistically it was one of LaMicheal James’ (18 carries, 54 yards) worst night as a Duck, although he did set the career yards mark, passing Derek Loville’s 3,296 yards. His three yard burst gave the Ducks a 13-9 advantage after Barnes fumble, capping a 19-play, 79-yard drive.

But the Tigers drove the ball right back with Jarret Lee – who more than capably filled in for the suspended Jordan Jefferson – hooking up with Rueben Randle for a 10-yard touchdown completion that gave LSU the lead for good 16-13.

Then came that third quarter, seven minutes in the Tigers pounced.

James, and Kenjon Barner (4 carries, 7 yards) were both unavailable after Oregon’s first possession of the half yielded nothing.

The Duck defense forced a quick three and out and after the punt was downed on the Oregon six, Thomas lined up at running back for the first time, having been used exclusively as a receiver in the first half.

After Two carries netted a third down and three, Thomas slashed through LSU defense but lost control of the ball when Sam Montgomery punched the ball loose from behind. LSU’s Eric Reid recovered on the Oregon 24-yard line.

Five times the Tigers pounded the ball between the tackles with Michael Ford punching it in from five yards out at the 6:23 mark.

On the ensuing kick-off, Thomas broke through the initial coverage but lost possession as he was spun down on the Oregon 41. Five plays later Spencer Ware’s 1-yard run sealed Oregon’s fate.

It was the second straight setback to the SEC for the Ducks on the main stage but this one shouldn’t sting as much as the last. The Tigers were the more experienced group, particularly on the offensive line and that is where a lot of football games are won.

Unlike January’s BCS loss to the blue and orange Tigers of Auburn, there aren’t the “should, woulda, coulda’s” that game left in the air.

Midway through the third quarter LSU – after converting that fourth turnover for the 30-13 lead – the Ducks were done and they mostly knew it.

Darron Thomas and Josh Huff connected for an 8-yard scoring reception and De’ Anthony Thomas posted his first collegiate touchdown with a 4-yard burst to close the final margin to a semi-respectable 40-27.

The loss to the Tigers greatly increases the difficulty for Oregon to return to the BCS Championship game next January. A third straight conference crown remains within reach, if the Ducks can eliminate the turnovers and penalties – “self-inflicted wounds” as head coach Chip Kelly calls them.

Home dates ahead with Nevada (Sep 10, 12:30 pm), then Missouri State (Sep 17, 12:30 pm) will give the offense time to get untracked before the Ducks face Arizona to open conference play on September 24th.

 

Rick Morgan for EDN

 

 

 

Darron Thomas leads new Oregon starters into LSU contest

He may be wearing a different number on his jersey this season, but there’s no question Darron Thomas is still the No. 1 man at the head of the Oregon offense.

After switching to No. 5 this offseason and giving his old No. 1 to sophomore wide receiver Josh Huff, Thomas is set to be the first returning starting quarterback since Chip Kelly joined the Oregon program in 2007.

Thomas certainly made a name for himself as a second-team All-Pacific-10 Conference performer last season, and proved his toughness in a very physical BCS National Championship Game last January. He spent the spring and summer keeping Oregon primed and ready for its first season in the Pac-12 North Division and will be rewarded with a trip to his home state of Texas to play the No. 4 LSU Tigers on Saturday.

Thomas and Huff are both Houston natives, while junior LaMichael James (Texarkana), freshmen Anthony Wallace (Dallas), Brennan Doty (Port Neches), Tra Carson (Texarkana) and sophomore Blake Cantu (Southlake) will each be making their first, and likely last, appearances in Texas during their Oregon careers.

It’s an opportunity that Thomas and Huff both said they’ve been looking forward to for some time, considering many of their friends and family will be spectators for the first time since moving to the Pacific Northwest.

“Oh, trying to keep the pressure off, but it is a little pressure that their coming out,” Thomas said. “Getting their first time to watch me, it’s a lot of their first times watching a lot of us play. So it’s a little bit of pressure, but we’re not really too worried about it.”

Thomas spearheads the nation’s leading offense from a year ago with three new starters surrounding him. Walk-on wide receiver Justin Hoffman, a 2008 Churchill High School graduate, will make his first start after working his way into a scholarship last spring.

Up front, redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu is expected to make his collegiate debut at center, filling a major void left by the graduation of two-year starter Jordan Holmes. By his side will be first-time starter Ramsen Golpashin at right guard, also a walk-on from Saugus, Calif.

The Ducks have experience up front, but the losses of C.E. Keiser and Bo Thran, in addition to Holmes, are sure to be felt in the early going. With junior Carson York and senior Mark Asper helping the younger guys along through fall camp, communication has been a major focus.

“Once you narrow down the playbook, then it narrows down the amount of calls that you have to be able to make,” said Asper, the 6-foot-7, 325-pound right tackle. “During fall camp, you have to prepare for every play, every formation and anything can happen at practice. But when you start game planning for somebody, that gets cut down to about a quarter.”

It’s been two years since Oregon has truly had questions to answer along the offensive line, which resulted in a sloppy season-opening loss at Boise State in 2009. York, a 6-5, 292-pound guard out of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, made his first collegiate start in Boise and went on to start in 12 of Oregon’s 13 games that season opposite Asper.

“It starts up front,” Kelly said. “Whenever we’ve been very successfully offensively its because of those guys.”

Fortunately for the Ducks, LSU features a similar youthfulness to its defensive front. With only two seniors — defensive end Kendrick Adams and defensive tackle Dennis Johnson — on the roster, the Tigers have six sophomores and six freshmen in the mix up front with three juniors also expected to contribute.

As a team, LSU allowed more than 307 yards of total offense per game (137.3 on the ground and another 169.8 through the air) last season, while posting just over 341 yards of offense per contest.

On the other hand, Oregon rushed for more than 286 yards per game and gained another 244 through the air in leading the nation with 530.7 yards of total offense that led to a 47-point scoring average.

And when Asper was asked what the particular focuses would be for Oregon during its final week of practice would be?

“Nothing extravagant,” he said. “The focus has been on good technique. They’re big and athletic and when you play big, athletic people, it comes down to technique and the little things: hand placement, leverage, speed, knowledge of the game.”

#3 Ducks Set To Open 2011 Campaign

//
image courtesy ducknews.com

Best estimates are that two thirds to three quarters of the more than 80,000 who will be attending Saturday’s Cowboy’s Classic will be wearing the purple & gold of the Louisiana State Bayou Tigers.

As was the case in Oregon’s last high profile outing against an SEC opponent – January’s BCS championship game, the Tigers – though of Auburn and wearing orange and blue –outnumbered Oregon’s traveling contingent by a significant margin.

A decisive factor in either contest? Probably not although this will be the first time Oregon will face LSU somewhere other than in Baton Rouge were the ratio would have been closer to 18-1.

Overall, Oregon is 2-1 against LSU, with the Ducks drawing first blood with a 12-0 win in 1932, then dropping the next two; 14-13 two years later and 56-17 in 1977.

Both sides will be without key players due to off-field incidents.

On paper, the Tigers are taking the biggest hit, losing starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson to suspension after he was charged with assault by the Baton Rouge police after a bar fight. Reserve linebacker Josh Johns was also arrested and suspended indefinitely by head coach Les Miles.

For the Ducks, corner back Cliff Harris is sidelined indefinitely in the wake of his now notorious I-5 traffic stop. Also missing for at least the opener is linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Other question marks exist beyond the banished for both teams.

“We’re going to be young,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “We’ve known that since January 10th.”

Offensively the Ducks will be replacing key members of the offensive line and at wide receiver. Hroniss Grasu has won the starting nod at center and will have Darrian Weems and Carson York on his left and Ramsen Golpashin and Mark Asper on the right when the Ducks take the field. But Nick Cody, Karrington Armstrong and Ryan Clanton remain variables in the mix.

As is who will line up where after Lavaier Tuinei, David Paulson and Josh Huff fill three of the outside spots. Justin Hoffman opens at the top of the week one depth chart but a number of others will be given an opportunity to earn playing time.

Harris’ absence in the secondary not withstanding, Oregon’s defensive concerns lie not in the secondary where John Boyett, Eddie Pleasant and Anthony Guildon return, but at linebacker and on the defensive line.

For game one at least it is red-shirt freshman Terrance Mitchell who will take Harris’ spot in the secondary, so expect LSU’s Jarret Lee – who has been tabbed for the start while Jefferson is suspended – to look to that side of the field early and often.

During fall camp linebacker Michael Clay was frequently singled out for his grasp of coordinator Nick Aliotti’s defensive schemes and his leadership skills. The 5’-11”, 225 pounder will start on the weak side with Dewitt Stuckey in the middle and Josh Kaddu on the strong side. And as was the case last year, Boseko Lokombo see plenty of snaps and that mix will get deeper when Alonso suspension ends.

The front line defense will see Terrell Turner, Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli, Brandon Jordan and Dion Jordan continue the revolving door substitution pattern seen last year.

Oregon’s clear advantage over the Tigers then is returning stars Darron Thomas at quarterback and running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. That’s a LOT of offensive firepower no matter how vigorously SEC partisans may point to the difficulty the Ducks had running the ball against Auburn.

While Louisiana State won’t have a Nick Fairly to throw at the Oregon running game, they will have plenty of athleticism chasing a Duck with the ball.

Both James and Barner added 15 pounds of muscle over the off season to give Oregon’s running game a more physical dimension and another year of experience is wearing well for quarterback Darron Thomas.

Oregon’s #3 pre-season ranking is mostly due to that talented trio and another shot at an SEC team on a national stage to open the season is a powerful motivation for each. Thomas spoke of a “Christmas morning” quality to the opening of fall camp – an excitement and anticipation to the opening of a new season. He was right, and now it is here.

— Rick Morgan for EDN

 

 

The Big Week Has Arrived…Here’s My Prediction

///

By Sam Finley, EDN

It’s a big week around here.  Ever since the last seconds ticked down in the BCS championship game, many Duck fans have been eagerly awaiting the matchup in Dallas, Texas.  That’s where third-ranked Oregon will face fourth-ranked LSU in the Cowboys’ Classic.

Well, the wait is almost over, because the game is this Saturday.  Some of you might be asking:  What’s the big deal?  Nothing really.  Just two very good teams going at it, and the winner will look like an early favorite to play for the national title.

Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says everyone on LSU's roster is dangerous. (Photo Credit:John Giustina).

Now that the obiligatory sarcastic line is out of the way.  This really is a big game, and it’s not so much because who wins.  Both teams are ranked highly enough that a loss in this one, won’t necessarily be out of the running.  (They’ll just have to run the table the rest of the way).  Rather, it’s a chance to see just how good Oregon and LSU really are in the early point of the season.

That being said, how good is LSU?  Just ask Oregon’s defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

“All of their players pose problems,” said Aliotti. “They’re LSU.  They’re big, fast, and strong. They won 11 games last season and they’re in the SEC.  A very good team.”

There is no question, even with the recent suspension of LSU’s quarterback Jordan Jefferson, that the Tigers’ offense will pose a challenge to the Ducks’ defense.  In fact, how Oregon’s defense plays (without suspended cornerback Cliff Harris) is going to be a big factor in this matchup.

I’ll go more in depth on the defense in a piece later this week, when I have reactions from another key member of Oregon’s secondary.  Who is he?  It’s a surprise, so you’ll have to check in on Friday afternoon.

In the meantime, here is how I see the other variables stacking up for Oregon in this game as well as throughout the season.

If you think the Duck defense is going to have their hands full on Saturday, then the Oregon offense isn’t going to enjoy a picnic either.  Remember the way Auburn’s large defensive line manhandled the Ducks’ running attack in the BCS game?  Make no mistake that LSU has watched the film of their SEC rival and is probably chomping at the bits over that prospect.  The fact that Oregon has some experience questions on the offensive probably has them even more confident this weekend.

Having said that, I think Oregon learned something  from their narrow defeat in January. They probably realized that if LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are bottled up, then they can rely on Darron Thomas to carry them in a game. Somehow, after receiving multiple punishing hits, Thomas somehow threw for over 300 yards and still had the Ducks right there at the end.

Darron Thomas' poise and Chip Kelly decision making will be critical on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans).

Now, if the running game doesn’t work this time, I see head coach Chip Kelly adjusting to more passing plays, because he knows that Darron can make things happen when needed.

At the same time, I also see the Ducks’ running attack performing a little better than in January.  LaMichael and Kenjon are in better shape now. For that matter, the offensive line, while they have lost some key players, still has guys with plenty of game experience.  They’ll open some holes, and the backs will get their yards.

There’s also one other variable that hasn’t been discussed much, and that is coaching decisions late in the game.  Let me say that Les Miles is a very good coach, and he has a national championship ring to prove it.  But, there have been many games in recent years, where Miles has called plays that are a tad questionable. 

Sometimes LSU has been good enough to overcome the calls that have resulted in costly fumbles or interceptions.  But other times, not so much.

On the other hand, Chip Kelly has been pretty solid with his decisions as the game goes along.  Very rarely, when I observe a Duck game, will I see a play develop and say it was the wrong call.

That’s enough for me to go ahead and make my prediction.  Oregon will have to battle, but they’ll defeat LSU.  Oh, I have to give a score? Fine, here it is:  Ducks 35, Tigers 31.

As for the rest of the season, whether or not I’m right about this first game, there is nothing that tells me that Oregon won’t win the Pac-12 North as well as take the Pac-12 Championship title.  The only thing that is hazy for me right now is whether they’ll run the table and get another shot at the BCS crown or if they’ll have to “settle” for a Rose Bowl trip in Pasadena.  (Arizona State, USC, and particularly Stanford could all beat the Ducks this season.  But my feeling is this team is good enough that if they lose once in conference, they won’t lose again).

Either way, this should be an amazing season to follow. I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback.

 

DUCKS SAY THE LINE WILL BE FINE

///

By Sam Finley, EDN

Ever since the end of spring football practices to the middle of fall camp, it has been asked early and often:  How will Oregon’s offensive line hold up after losing Bo Thran, C.E. Kaiser, and Bo Thran to graduation?  A valid question to be sure, since they were a big key in opening holes for LaMichael James, as well as giving Darron Thomas time to throw during last year’s BCS title run.  But offensive line coach Steve Greatwood says there are changes on the front five every season.

Oregon junior lineman Carson York said he learned a lesson two years ago. (Photo Courtesy: Eric Evans).

“This is nothing new,” Greatwood explained.  “We just have to try to plug in the best five guys and find the ones who will back them up and rotate them in. It’s all about shaking it up every day.”

At least one returning starter of last year’s line is tired of hearing the question about who isn’t around.  Carson York says the line will be fine.

“I think we’re all pretty confident and that’s how we have to approach it,” said the 6’5, 292 pound junior tackle from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “Yes, we lost some key starters, but Mark Asper and I have 50 starts between us, and Darrion Weems has like 10 starts under his belt.”

York also states that while some of the younger guys haven’t started as many games, they have plenty of potential.

“Hroniss Grasu and (Junior) Ryan Clanton are two of the strongest guys on the offensive line,” he claimed.  “They are ready physically, it’s just about making sure they are mentally ready.”

Carson has been especially impressed with Grasu, who is currently the favorite to take over Jordan Holmes’ spot at center.

“I honestly thought there’d be a drop off from the center position from a mental perspective,” said York about the 6’3, 292 pound redshirt freshman. “But since he’s been in camp, I haven’t seen any decline or at least not as much as I expected.  So Hroniss did a really good job in the offseason of getting his head in the books and film.”

One of the more interesting prospects this year could be Hamani Stevens.  A redshirt freshman was initially recruited in 2008, but decided to go on his two-year mormon mission in 2009.  Having completed his spiritual journey, Stevens has returned and his coach believes there is major potential for him once he gets readjusted to the usual football.

Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood says change is nothing new to him. (Photo Courtesy: Eric Evans).

“Hamani is getting the rust off so to speak,” Greatwood stated about the 6’3, 305 pounder from Hemet, California. “He’s been away from it for two seasons, but he’s getting better every day and he’s starting to get his football legs back under him, as are all the young guys.”

But the doubters will still point to the fact that the last time Oregon lost so many starters on the line was two years ago. That squad got off to a shaky start by losing to Boise State.  True, the offensive line did gel after that game, and helped the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1994.

Nonetheless, Oregon opens their season against LSU in a game that could very well decide which one of these teams plays for the BCS title.  With national championship aspirations in mind, the Ducks cannot afford a slow start at any position, especially from up front. That being said, York says he learned a lesson from the Boise debacle, and he’s determined to not have the same mistake happen again.

“I was one of the younger guys when we played in Boise,” York explained. “I think it’s possible that we took fall camp for granted, and thought of it more as a ‘let’s get through it’ type thing. What I took from it is, when you come into camp you’ve got to get better every day, even if it is finding one thing to get better at.  That’s what we’ve got to get the younger guys to understand, and if they do, we’ll have a pretty good chance.”

How can each lineman find ways to get better?  Perhaps by following what Greatwood has been telling them everyday.

“I’ve told them I want to see concentration,” said Greatwood. “I also want to see communication, and then I obviously want to see a physical style of play.”

As for the nagging question that keeps coming up about the loss of his key guys, Greatwood thinks that his current group of guys could become better than their predecessors.

“We not only have to match what they did,” he claimed.  “We have to exceed that. I think we always have to play better as a unit. But I see signs of that with guys becoming more physical, and guys who made great strides in the weight room over the summer.  So I like where we’re at right now.”

York agrees and says it’ll all come down to how well they bond as a unit.

“It’s sort of a trust thing,” he said. “I think we have some young talented guys here, and if we can all learn to trust each other as we did with Bo, C.E., and Jordan, then I think we’ll come together.  That takes time and hopefully, during these next three weeks of fall camp, it’ll get done.”

 

Oregon Ducks 2011 Season Preview

///

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.

Darron Thomas Will Have to Increase His Role As A Leader On The Team With So Many Veterans Leaving

Offense

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.

Senior Wide Receiver Lavasier Tuinei Needs To Fill The Holes Left By Jeff Maehl

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.

Defense

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.”

The Schedule 

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

 

A FEW SPORTING OBSERVATIONS…

//

It was a crazy week in the world of sports.  On the national scene, The NFL lockout ended and that means there will indeed be a pro football season.  It also means that we’re going to hear even more ridiculous rumors about Brett Favre making another comeback attempt.  Brett, if you’re reading this column, please stay retired this time.  You’ve become an embarrassment, and If I want melodrama, I’ll watch Dr. Phil.

Darron Thomas and Chip Kelly will be starting their season soon. (Photo Courtesy: Eric Evans, Oregon Media Services).

On a more serious note, the end of the lockout also means teams can sign their draft picks as well as undrafted free agents.  Plenty of former Ducks have found new teams, but since time and space are limited, let’s focus on two of them:  One who wasn’t a surprise, and one that might’ve shocked you.

First off, in the not-surprised category, Jeff Maehl is now hoping to showcase his receiving skills with the Houston Texans.  From my perspective, Houston may have just signed the best undrafted player for the 2011 season.  With his reliable hands and deceptive speed, he should be able to do in the pros what he did at Oregon: Make the plays when they are needed the most.

Aside from his obvious athleticism, the Houston sports media pool is going to find out what we already know in Eugene:  This is a classy kid who always made time for an interview.  As a sports journalist, you can’t ask for more than that.

Now to the shocker:  Jeremiah Masoli has signed a contract to play running back for the San Francisco 49ers.  Considering the way he left Oregon (no reason to rehash the drama) and the way he floundered at Ole Miss, did you see this one coming?  Really, I didn’t.

That being said, here’s hoping that Masoli understands the opportunity in front of him.  He has a chance to change the public perception from all the wounds he’s inflicted on himself the past couple of years.  Hey, if Michael Vick can be forgiven, maybe one day Masoli can be remembered as the gifted quarterback that led Oregon to a Rose Bowl.  But he’s going to have to keep his mouth shut and stay out of trouble.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, the current Ducks have less than two weeks until fall camp and no one has to be happier about that than head coach Chip Kelly.  He spent this past Tuesday in Los Angeles at Pac-12 media day politely declining to answer numerous questions about the NCAA investigation.  It might mean he’ll get to talk about football for a change.

Now, for those who didn’t read last week’s column, whether or not you think Chip is guilty, people have to understand that he’s been gagged by his bosses at the U of O not to say anything on this subject.  If your employer instructed you to be quiet about a sensitive subject wouldn’t you heed his or her wishes?  Or would you open your mouth and risk getting fired?

Thus, it must be asked to one sports columnist in Portland (who shall remain nameless):  Do you like going out of your way to waste everyone’s time with your loud-mouthed commentaries disguised as questions or do you simply like to hear yourself talk?  Trying to ask questions in a bombastic manner aren’t going to extract information from your desired subject,  gag order or not.

Whatever happens with Chip, there is one thing that is clear to me:  If Darron Thomas can match last year’s performance this season, he will surpass Joey Harrington as the greatest quarterback in Oregon history.  

Darron Thomas might wind up the best quarterback in Oregon history when it's all said and done. (Photo Courtesy: John Giustina, Oregon Media Services).

In my inaugural EDN column, I picked Joey Harrington as the best signal caller that Oregon has ever had.  I based it on his overall record (only three losses as a starter), and the fact that he did lead the Ducks to two Pac-10 championships.  The overall steady body of work over two-and-a-half years simply cannot be topped until someone has a similar string of success.

Well, Darron Thomas has only lost one game in one full season in the starting role (and it came in the BCS championship), and as a junior, he’s got two years to pull off that feat. He’s also shown he can turn it on at anytime to lead his team to victory.  Remember how quiet you were at Autzen when Stanford had the Ducks down 21-3 last year?  Did you notice how unfazed Thomas was as he led Oregon drive-after-drive to secure the amazing 52-31 smashing of the Cardnial after that point?  The guy has proven to be a cool customer, and as long as he stays healthy, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be known as the greatest when it’s all said and done.

Of course, it’ll also help DT’s case if the Ducks can go back to the BCS game this season.  Will they?  That’s the subject for another column.  In the meantime, enjoy the games and I’ll see you in the bleachers.

 

Pleased To Meet You…

///

Pleased To Meet You…
– Sam Finley, EDN

EDN Sports Editor

Greetings!  You may have read a handfull of my pieces I’ve done for EDN or other publications in town.  Or you may want to know one question: Who the heck is this guy?

So with the latter in mind, let me formally introduce myself.  My name is Sam Finley and I am now your humble sports editor for the Eugene Daily News.  I’ve covered U of O athletics on and off since 2000, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of developing the EDN sports page into something no one else has seen in this area.

But rather than blather on with a lengthy introduction, why don’t I give you a few random thoughts about the sporting scene (both local and not-so-local) at the moment?

First off, somebody asked me what I thought about the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday.  Here’s the answer?  I didn’t watch it.  My feeling was, with all the big name players like Derek Jeter that didn’t care enough to show up for it, that it just isn’t the big deal it was 10-20 years ago.  Apparently, many across the country felt the same way, as this one drew the worst TV ratings in the All-Star Game’s history.  Thus, why waste my time?

Cory Spangenberg has swung his last bat for the Emeralds.

Staying on baseball, if you haven’t been following the Eugene Emeralds this season, you’re missing out.  Currently, the Ems have a 21-6 record, and these young Padres’ prospects have been fun to watch so far.  It’ll be interesting to see how they do now without Cory Spangenberg (who was promoted up to San Diego’s Fort Wayne affiliate two days ago), but that’s the beauty of the Class A level:  You really never know what, aside from funny mascots like Sluggo, you’re going to get.

Switching gears a bit, with all of the great quarterbacks that Oregon has had over the years, it can be hard to pick just who is the greatest in the Ducks’ history.  Norm Van Brocklin comes to mind, as does Dan Fouts.  An honorable nod must also be made to guys like Bill Musgrave, Akilli Smith, Kellen Clemens, and Dennis Dixon, who could’ve brought the U of O to much greater heights if injuries (to themselves or others) hadn’t got in the way.

But here’s my pick for the best ever: Joey Harrington.  The guy only lost three games as a starter during his two-and-a-half years.  He also led the Ducks to two Pac-10 championships, as well as their highest overall national ranking (at number two) in 2001.  No, he didn’t rewrite the Oregon record books like Musgrave or Smith, and he certainly didn’t have the greatest arm in the world.

Joey simply knew how to do one thing: win.  To this day, I still believe that he should’ve finished higher than fourth in the 2001 Heisman Trophy vote.  Having said all that, if Darron Thomas has another couple of outstanding seasons as the main signal caller, I may have to reconsider my position.

Speaking of current Oregon football players, I’m sure a lot of you are excited for the upcoming season.  Coming off a BCS game appearance last year, and opening this one against a loaded team like LSU will certainly do that.  However, I also know a lot of you are troubled by some of the alleged recruiting violations being investigated by the NCAA right now.

It doesn’t help matters when a few people in the local media have quickly rushed to judgement that head coach Chip Kelly is hiding something.

Sluggo is hoping the Ems' winning ways can continue.

How can they know about his guilt?  No one should assume any innocence or guilt until all the facts are in.  We don’t know what Chip said to the NCAA, and won’t until this information is released.  

In light of this, some have suggested that Oregon should release all the documents now to prove they’ve done nothing wrong .  But as Lee Corso likes to say: Not so fast, my friend.

Contrary to the pontifications of some out there, the best thing that the U of O can do at the moment is remain silent until the investigations cover an actual grey area. Why?  Well, I’m running out of word space, so a more definitive explanation will be provided in next week’s column.  In the meantime, support your local athletics programs and we’ll see you in the bleachers.

1 5 6 7