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Top 10 Spring Questions for 2012 Oregon Ducks Football
The 2011 Oregon Ducks won the PAC-12 and Rose Bowl championships. Their leading running back (LaMichael James), quarterback (Darron Thomas), wide receiver (Lavasier Tuinei), and tight end (David Paulson) are all gone in 2012.
For most programs, this would signal a rebuilding season ahead. One of the benefits of Chip Kelly's system, however, is that a lot of players get significant playing time.
Here are the top 10 questions for the 2012 Oregon Ducks as spring practice begins:
1. Quarterback: Bryan Bennet looked sharp as Darron Thomas' backup in 2011, completing 54 percent of his passes and rushing for more than 8 yards per carry. If he struggles at all, redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota may take over. Look for a spirited head-to-head battle in the spring game on April 28.
2. Running Back: Kenyon Barner ran for more than 900 yards in 2011 and will now step out of the shadow of LaMichael James. Fans will want to know if Ayele Ford and/or Byron Marshall can back up Barner, or if De'Anthony Thomas will need to be in the backfield (I'd rather see him primarily as a receiver).
3. Wide Receiver: De'Anthony Thomas has world-class speed, as evidenced when he ran away from the Wisconsin defenders in the 2011 Rose Bowl. Returning receivers Josh Huff and Rahsaan Vaughn will be challenged by three redshirt freshmen, Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelly, and Tacoi Sumler. With a total of 15 wide receivers on the roster, this is one position where there may be a surprise waiting to happen.
4. Tight End: The Ducks lost a lot with the graduation of David Paulson. The number two tight end in 2011, true freshman Colt Lyerla, only caught 7 passes. However, 5 of Lyerla's catches were for touchdowns. Other leading contenders include Curtis White and Christian French.
5. Offensive Line: Hroniss Grasu returns at the all important center position. Carson York and Nick Cody are also back from last year's starters. Andre Yruretagoyena and Tyler Johnstone, two four-star recruits in 2011, are among the players who will battle to protect the quarterback and open holes to run through.
6. Defensive Line: Once again, Oregon's depth should provide replacements for Terrell Turner and Brandon Hanna, who are gone. Perhaps the most anticipated recruit in years, at 6 feet 8 inches and 290 pounds, fans will want to see Arik Armstead in person. Whether or not he immediately joins the starting lineup, Armstead will certainly push the rest of the linemen to be the best they can be.
7. Linebackers: One of the greatest stories of 2011 was Kiko Alonso's transition from troubled youngster to Rose Bowl MVP. With Michael Clay and Boseko Lokombo also returning, Oregon looks to be in good shape at linebacker. Anthony Wallace may be the top candidate among the rest.
8. Defensive Backs: Most of the 2011 starters are back, with another year of experience, and ready to shut things down. Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson are among a host of talented players who will compete for playing time, either as starters or backups.
9. Kickoff/Punt Returning: De'Anthony Thomas emerged as one of the top returners in the nation last season, returning three kickoffs for touchdowns. Spring will be a time to look at speedy wide receivers Tacoi Sumler and Devon Blackmon, among others, as possible return men.
10. The Elephant: The final question, the elephant in the room, is whether or not the NCAA will put sanctions on the Oregon Ducks football program. Either way, I feel certain that Chip Kelly will get the Ducks ready to have another fine season on the field.
Harold Andrews has been an avid Duck fan for nearly 50 years, and is looking forward to another exciting season in 2012.
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