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Spring Practice Underway for Ducks
Posted By Rob Parness On Mar 30 2011 @ 1:45 am In Oregon | No Comments
Football is back in Eugene! Sort of!
Okay not a lot of hype surrounded the Oregon Ducks as they stepped back onto a football field Tuesday for the first time since falling to the Auburn Tigers at the BCS National Championship Game. Football in March is not going to make or break the Ducks season next fall, but that does not mean it is not important to the men in green and yellow. If you ask Head Coach Chip Kelly he’d probably say the way his team ties their cleats is important.
Spring ball is the first opportunity for players to demonstrate their growth since last season, whether it be conditioning, strength, knowledge of the offense or simply a change in attitude. Some players show they are ready to make an impact, while others let the opportunity pass them by.
On Tuesday running back Lache Seastrunk showed he was up to the challenge in all of those areas. Seastrunk burst through holes and displayed the skills and athleticism that made him such a highly touted prospect coming out of high school.
Seastrunk is currently at the center of an NCAA investigation concerning Oregon’s recruitment of him through Will Lyles, a recruiting service provider in Texas. But Seastrunk showed no signs of distraction when he put on his helmet Tuesday.
A Texas native, Seastrunk battled homesickness as he redshirted his first year as he watched the Ducks magical ride to the title game from either the sideline or the couch. He clearly wanted to be on the field and felt he deserved an opportunity, but when you have arguably the best tandem backfield in the nation it’s hard to crack the score sheet.
This year he will be battling returning Heisman finalist LaMichael James, talented and experienced backup Kenjon Barner, and two incoming freshman who are both highly regarded in DeAnthony Thomas and Tra Carson. Thomas was a last minute commitment steal from USC and was ranked as the #1 athlete in his class by most scouting services, so expect to see him make an impact in one way or another. We all know Chip already has his brain working under that trademark visor and steely cold stare that leaves media members disappointed and a little scared at times.
However, with another year of maturity and time to learn the system, Seastrunk should see the field in some packages this year, especially if he continues to impress in practice.
While Chip Kelly’s playmakers may get the headlines and glory, the success for any team hinges on the big uglies in the trenches. Right now the depth chart is looking like just that. Ugly.
The offensive line graduated 3 starters from a year ago, including center Jordan Holmes. However, the Ducks do have 3 offensive linemen with significant starting experience returning and several others that have seen considerable time on the field. The main concern is at center, which is the most important position and is emphasized by Kelly’s offense.
On the defensive line it’s the same story, different chapter. There are a bunch of athletic but undersized bodies that will use speed to try and stop running attacks. Returning starter Terrell Turner was joined by Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart and Dion Jordan in the first group. I expect Jordan to have a breakout year; he has the perfect build and skill set to be an elite pass rusher with a little experience.
Some of the players Duck fans want to hear most about aren’t even in spring practices. Most of the big name recruits are not participating, with the exception being Colt Lyerla, who has huge potential with his size and speed on both sides of the ball. Also one of the downsides to having a team centered around some of the fastest players in the country is that several are competing with Oregon’s Track and Field team, including James, Barner, receiver Josh Huff and redshirt freshman Dior Mathis. While James, Barner and Huff have solid grips on playing time, Mathis is expected to compete for a starting cornerback position opposite cocky quote machine Cliff Harris.
There are a few other holes to be filled and those battles will not largely be won or lost in March and April, they don’t even have pads on for a lot of it. But it is a decent preview of who we can expect to hear from in the coming months leading up to kickoff in Arlington, Texas against LSU.
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