Scouting Report: A quick look at Oregon

The Oregonian writer Bob Rickets gives his preseason outlook on Mike Bellotti's Ducks.

This is third is a series of previews of OU's non-conference opponents. Today we look at the Oregon Ducks through the eyes of Bob Rickert, author of DucksBlog for The Oregonian Online Edition.

Oregon's strengths/weaknesses...

Offense:
The Ducks bring back their entire offensive line. The same offensive line that had a very hard time creating holes in the Sooner defense in last year's Holiday Bowl. Still, since they're all back and everyone from Oklahoma isn't, it's a possible strength of the Ducks. Four of those offensive linemen were banged up and playing injured, including Senior center Enoka Lucas who's on the Outland Trophy watch list this year.

Oregon's spread offense means traditional tight ends are gone. Instead, Dante Rosario assumes the role of H-back. He run it a little, catch it a little, and block a lot. He's a huge, athletic guy who was recruited to play running back, tight end, and linebacker by almost every Pac 10 team.

The quarterback issues seems resolved with Dennis Dixon having seemingly won the job outright in the Spring. The coaches are saying it's still an open competition but expect one quarterback, Dixon, when the season opens and when Oklahoma gets to Eugene.

The backfield is stacked with returning talent. Five-star Jonathon Stewart assumes the role of the Ducks feature back this year. Last year, in his first college game, agiainst the Houston Cougars he dragged 5 tacklers over 25 yards at Reliant Stadium. He also ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns. He led the team in touchdowns all while missing a few games and huge chunks of games due to nagging leg injuries (hamstring and an ankle) Stewart has been given the unforgiving assigment of being the heir apparent to Adrian Peterson in terms of being a huge, fast, quick back. Behind him is Jeramiah Johnson, more of a scatback

The wideouts might be Oregon's biggest strength. James Finley returns as the key posession receiver unafraid to go across the middle or lay a huge block. Cameron Colvin is a five star recruit who turned down USC and Michigan that returns for his junior year, and Jordan Kent brings NCAA 100 meter speed with a 6' 5" frame but he's only been playing football a couple years. Derrick Jones was a four star wideout in high school who left USC and came to Oregon and will begin his freshman year although he's two years removed from high school.

This unit overall:

Should be able to put a ton of points on the board against most teams, and more than enough against even good teams. Keys: Can Dixon stay hot enough and make the transition to being the fulltime quarterback. Can Stewart avoid injuries enough to become one of the nation's best backs as he's proven he's got the talent to do. Does the offensive line rise up and play well against high quality teams like Oklahoma, instead of just against above average teams like UCLA as it's done in the past. The talent is there on offense, this year there should be no excuses for not being at or near the top of the nation in scoring.

Defense:

Line: Gone is Haloti Ngata to the NFL in the first round to the Ravens. The defensive line returns a stout defensive tackle in Samoan Matt Toeina, and two speed rushers in Nick Reed and Darius Sanders (Sanders was the second option, and played on three California state basketball title teams with Chicago Bull Tyson Chandler.) He has the quickness and skill to be dominant at times, and the tendency to disappear at times as well. Oregon's also added Dexter Manley III. Yes, the son of the former Redskin Dexter Manley. A JC transfer from Santa Monica, Manley's 4.5 speed makes it enticing for them to possibly move him to linebacker, but the Ducks are stacked there and his instincts on the field seem to be to go get the quarterback. He'll stay as an end for now and might be pushing for a starting spot by as early as the Oklahoma game if Sanders disappears more than he shines. Reed is a flat out gamer from Mission Viejo who's looked good from day one and returns for his sophomore year.

Linebacker:

At linebacker the Ducks return all but one starter. Mississippi native Blair Phillips leads the way as a big hitting inside guy. AJ Tuitele is another starter who was injured and couldn't go during the Holiday bowl last year, Brent Haberly has started in the past and returns, as do 4 other linebackers who've played significant minutes. Only Phillips has shown he's got NFL potential at this point so it's not a strength, but the depth means there's a ton of very good players at these spots.

Secondary: This is clearly Oregon's biggest question mark. Both starting corners graduated and left huge holes to fill. Aaron Gipson led the nation in interceptions last year and he'll be replaced by Jackie Bates. A junior with half a season of starting under his belt, and plenty of experience. On the other side, 3 players are vying for the starting spot. Two of them, Terrell Ward and Willie Glasper, were teammates of Bates' at the famed De Lasalle High in Concord, CA and part of the team that won 54 straight high school games. Both can fly, Glasper was the 6th rated DB in high school his senior year according to scout.com.

The safeties are probably as good as anyones in the nation as a pair outside of South Central in LA. Senior JD Nelson (son of NFL'er Darin Nelson) will start for the third season in a row and has been named a pre-season all=american by some magazines. Patrick Chung returns for his sophoore year and was named to scout.com's All Freshman First team.

Notes on the defense: Oregon's had an awful time getting a consistent pass rush without blitzing since the '01 year when they stuffed Colorado at will. They have the talent to get a consistent pass rush, and it'll be key. Because the inexperience of the corners will be tested from the start when they face Stanford and it's senior quarterback Trent Edwards and All Pac-10 wideout Mark Bradford.

Special teams: With 7 senior linebackers, the coverage teams should be a strength for the Ducks. Again, they'll have to prove it but the talent is there. The punting is held down by Aaron Knowles and Matt Dragich. Two seniors who both struggled early last year but both punted well late in the year. Paul Martinez returns at kicker, he was the conference player of the week 3 times last year and led the nation in total field goals. Kickoffs are generally handled by sophomore to be Matt Evansenwho has the stronger leg fo the two.

Notes on these units: Punting's a weakness. It shouldn't be with the talent they have but it always is anyway, so why would it be different this year. The Ducks use the 'Shield' formation for punting which led to several blocked kicks last year because it wasn't executed correctly. The coaches say they're sticking with it again this year, much to the dismay of the fans. Why? I have no idea either. One missed block, and a kick is blocked. If they use it again this year, I'm sure coaches will definitely put the block on more often than they normall would.

The kickers should be a definite strength. Both kickers have very strong, accurate legs and get it out very quickly. Evensen was also the conferences player of the week during one week when Martinez couldn't go.

Overall, the offensive line, and wideouts are a strength on offense, the kickers are a strength as are the safeties and the depth and talent of the linebackers as a group.

Weaknesses: The inexperience of the cornerbacks, the need to find a legitimate replacement for Haloti Ngata, the punting game in general because of the 'Shield' formation chosen by the coaches, and the lack of a second proven pass rusher (I'll combine Reed and Sanders and call that one proven pass rusher because of Reed's inexperience and Sander's ability to be great or invisible.) Where will the rest of the rush come from?


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