Ladies and gentlemen, college football has begun!
The Oregon Ducks have begun their fall camp in preparation for the 2011 season, which begins September 3rd in Cowboys Stadium against #4 LSU.
The Ducks enter camp holding the #3 ranking in the USA Today Coaches poll, their highest ever preseason ranking but face a stiff test to start the season against the “Bayou Bengals” in Arlington, TX.
Oregon returns playmakers on both sides of the ball, including running back LaMichael James, quarterback Darron Thomas and cornerback/punt returner/speed demon Cliff Harris.
However, the focus heading into camp is not who will be returning, but rather who is going to replace those who are now in the NFL.
The main three areas of concern for the Ducks are offensive line, wide receiver and Will Lyles. Oops, I mean defensive line.
The media likes to make a big deal out of the departed starters for Oregon without realizing that due to the rapid pace of the Ducks style, players that did not necessarily start last season are waiting in the wings with a lot of playing time under their belts.
Due to that fact, the defensive line in particular should be fine. Kenny Rowe, Brandon Bair and Zac Clark are all starters from last year that are gone, but there are plenty of players with experience to fill those slots. Dion Jordan, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli figure to slide into starting roles and be just as good, if not better than, the unit that finished in the top 15 in total defense last season.
Wide receivers need to replace Jeff Maehl and DJ Davis, two players that were the definition of consistency from that position. Josh Huff and Lavasier Tuinei return from last year with starting experience, but one or two spots remain vacant because Oregon plays so fast they need to rotate receivers in constantly.
To solve this problem Oregon plans to use it’s highly talented recruiting class. Freshmen Devon Blackmon, BJ Kelley and Tacoi Sumler all figure to have opportunities to get those spots, but expect one or two of them to be redshirted if they do not catch on quickly.
Junior college transfer Rahsaan Vaughn may have the best shot at winning the starting receiver job, but look for 5 star athlete De’Anthony Thomas to find his way onto the field early and get involved in the run and pass game.
Thus far in camp Thomas may be the most impressive player on the field, but that can often be the case without pads on. Regardless, when Oregon fly’s south to Arlington expect Thomas to be on the flight and ready to play.
The biggest, and in my opinion the only, issue heading into the showdown with LSU is the offensive line. Last season the Ducks had a veteran line that lived up to expectations. The only issue they ran into was an SEC defensive line in the title game.
The problem? The Ducks graduated 3 starters from that line, and LSU’s defense is better than Auburns was last year.
Last season Oregon averaged nearly 290 rushing yards per game, but Auburn held the Ducks to only 75 rushing yards. If the Ducks cannot control the game of offense and allow LSU’s offense to stay on the field, Oregon is going to be in trouble.
This year the Ducks line essentially return 3 players with significant starting experience, but the main search continues at the pivotal center position. With the Oregon offense never stopping, the center needs to direct the line from over the ball quickly.
Right now there is no clear front runner, but the favorite if one had to be identified would likely be Hroniss Grasu, but Karrington Armstrong and Hamani Stevens are involved in the battle as well.
One other battle waging is for the starting cornerback job for the LSU game.
Cliff Harris is the normal starter, but he is suspended due to his 118 mph speeding ticket in a car I can only assume had the engine from the millennium falcon. Chip Kelly is rather peeved, but if football doesn’t work out Harris probably has the attention of NASCAR now.
The battle appears to be between two redshirt freshmen, Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill. Mitchell has been impressive since spring camp and should have the job if he continues to play well through camp. No matter who takes the field September 3rd they can expect to see action early and often, as they are sure to be attacked as the inexperienced member of an otherwise veteran secondary.
The Ducks have just started their fall practices so many changes are ahead, but the start of the season agonizingly close now and Oregon will need to solve these issues soon if they want to head into the Cowboy Classic at “Jerry-world” and compete with an athletic and motivated LSU team.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.