Notes From Spring Practice: Day 1

New faces, position battles, and a rejuvenated focus marked the beginning of spring drills for the Oregon football team Tuesday morning inside the Moshofsky Center. With the first of 15 practices already in the books, a handful of players have already begun the process of staking their claim to potential playing time this fall.

Coming off a season for the ages last fall, the Oregon football team returned to the practice field Tuesday morning for the first of 15 spring practices allowed by the NCAA. Though a number of key components remain from last year's run to the BCS National Championship, some new faces have already begun to emerge throughout the depth chart as the Ducks aim to replace 11 starters (five on offense, six on defense) from the 2010 squad.

The most hotly contested position battles going in to 2011 take place in the trenches, where both the offensive and defensive lines look to replace three starters a piece. On Tuesday, returning starters Mark Asper and Carson York were joined by Nick Cody, Ramsen Golpashin, and Darrion Weems as the starting "1's" on the offensive line. On the other side, senior Terrell Turner was joined by defensive tackles Ricky Heimuli and Taylor Hart, who look to help fill the voids left by departing seniors Brandon Bair and Zac Clark. Junior Dion Jordan bookended Turner at the other defensive end position. Though a number of the aforementioned athletes along the offensive and defensive line have experience, getting adjusted to new roles will likely take some time according to Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.

"We'll go in and watch some tape and see where we are," Kelly said. "It's a great advantage to them cause they'll get 15 practices, so when fall and preseason camp rolls around, they won't be a young guy anymore."

While nailing down a starter at any position isn't exactly critical at this point, Kelly said that "a ton" of evaluation takes place during the spring. With more allowable time this time of year to focus on player development and film study, Kelly and his staff are constantly processing everything they see.

"The biggest thing for us is the tape," Kelly said of his and his staff's evaluation. "We want our kids to practice at a certain tempo and a certain manner. The great things about the spring is that we never practice two days in a row, so we have a lot of time as a staff to go in and really dissect and watch everything."

Despite sporting a new number (5 instead of 1), few things seem to have changed for junior quarterback Darron Thomas transitioning from national championship game to spring practice. While he wasn't as sharp overall this morning as redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett, Thomas is the obvious and undeniable leader of this offensive group with a firm grip on the starting position. Through Kelly's eyes, Thomas is seemingly more comfortable and confident entering his second full season as the Ducks' starting quarterback.

"He's got a better command and a better understanding," said Kelly of Thomas,

"It's a different spring for him."

With regard to third-string signal-caller Daryle Hawkins, Kelly said that he and the staff are very comfortable with Thomas and Bennett sitting one and two, respectively, atop the quarterback depth chart, thus the search to find Hawkins a more permanent residence continues.

"The one thing about Daryle is that he's a great practice player," Kelly said. "We're trying to find a spot for him...but we need guys to step in at receiver and Daryle may be one of those guys, so you're gonna see him all over the place."

Kelly even hinted at Hawkins seeing time behind LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner at running back, although if this morning's practice was any indication of the future, Lache Seastrunk may have the edge in that department. Seastrunk -- the highly touted but embattled redshirt freshman running back who has found himself at the center of the NCAA's investigation in to Oregon's dealings with his supposed mentor, Will Lyles -- had as impressive a first day of spring practice of anyone; tearing off a number of long runs that flashed both his breathtaking open-field speed and unparalleled agility.

Even though he appears to be more at ease in the offense, Kelly was slow to offer up much praise for his talented tailback.

"He was okay," Kelly begrudged. "He's gotta learn to play full speed all the time. It's a hard day to evaluate because we don't touch the running back when we're (only) in helmets. We'll find out a little bit more about the running back position on Saturday when we put the pads on."

The Ducks will reconvene inside the Moshofsky Center on Thursday. The two-hour session gets underway at 8:45 am and is open to the public.

Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney

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