Oregon lost a lot of talent on offense, but several Ducks are ready to step up this spring
Oregon has been all about offense during Chip Kelly’s three seasons as coach, but there are some questions on that side of the ball this spring.
Kelly’s spread offense has been extremely productive. The Ducks are 34-6 under his watch, won three Pac-12 titles and played in the 2010 national title game. But the early departures of QB Darron Thomas and TB LaMichael James, as well as the graduation of two starting linemen, the go-to receiver and a productive tight end mean this should be an interesting spring in Eugene.
The Ducks look to have solid players ready to inherit starting – and starring – roles, among them QB Bryan Bennett, TB Kenjon Barner and WR De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas should be one of the nation’s most explosive players, and it will be interesting to see how Kelly and his staff employ Thomas this fall. Developing depth is going to be critical this spring, especially along the line and at tailback.
Coach: Chip Kelly (4th season)
Last season: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12
Spring practice dates: April 3-April 28
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (4): T Nick Cody, C Hroniss Grasu, WR Josh Huff, G Carson York
Defense (6): FS John Boyett, LB Michael Clay, T Taylor Hart, E Dion Jordan, T Wade Keliipiki, CB Terrance Mitchell
Special teams (2): K Alejandro Maldonado, P Jackson Rice
The defense looks solid. The unit was quite good in 2010, but took a step backward last season (allowing 390.7 yards per game). It should be closer to the 2010 version this fall.
The front seven should be one of the best in the Pac-12. LBs Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, assuming he can stay out of the doghouse, have all-league potential. And while the secondary needs to replace two full-time starters, depth there was good last season and the defensive backs as a whole have a chance at being better this season than they were in 2011. Three freshman played ample minutes at corner last season, and should be the better for it this season. FS John Boyett is the standout, and he will contend for all-league honors.
Though the Ducks didn’t attempt all that many field goals last season, kicker was a relative weak spot. That position needs to be stronger this season because of the uncertainty at the skill positions.
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The biggest problem: Quarterback. In a conference full of good quarterbacks, the Ducks head into spring looking for theirs. The departure of Darron Thomas to the NFL after his junior season leaves the Ducks with several talented youngsters to evaluate. Sophomore Bryan Bennett is the likely choice after seeing action in 2011 and playing quite well. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota and true freshman Jake Rodrigues, who enrolled in January, will be given opportunities. Rodrigues is recovering an injury suffered late in his senior season and may not be full speed until a few days into spring drills.
On the spot: TB Kenjon Barner. After providing solid backup to LaMichael James in 2011, Barner gets his chance to be the feature back following James’ early leap to the NFL. Adding more pressure on Barner is the release of sophomore Tra Carson from his scholarship, leaving the Ducks with a limited depth chart for spring drills.
On the verge: QB Bryan Bennett. With track speed and a live arm, he has the potential to be Oregon’s next great quarterback. In 2011, Bennett played in six games and started once. He threw for 369 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 200 yards on 23 carries.
General overview: Oregon has been known for productive skill-position players during Kelly’s reign. This spring, the Ducks will be looking for players to fill those positions. The starting job at quarterback, tailback and tight end are up for grabs, and the Ducks also are looking for a go-to receiver. The offense that emerges from their closed spring practice sessions may not resemble the one the Ducks fielded in 2011.
For in-depth coverage of Oregon athletics, go to DuckSportsAuthority.com
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