Ducks offense looking sluggish as spring ends

Saturday's spring game for the Oregon Ducks brought a new look offense for a team that went 12-1 and appeared in the BCS National Championship Game.

After losing five starters from the most successful team in program history, both the Green and White teams looked sluggish offensively with the Green taking the game 16-0 at Autzen Stadium.

But, head coach Chip Kelly, known for his stoic and cool demeanor, was certainly optimistic afterwards.

"I feel confident," Kelly said. "This is what this whole process is all about. It's Apr. 30th, we still have a long ways to go. The thing I'm confident in is the kids' I'm turning it over to right now. The Darron Thomas' and the LaMichael James' and the Kenjon Barner's and the LT Tuinei's and those leaders that have to really take this program from now until [Aug 8] until we get to see them again."

James had the biggest impact when he scored the game's lone touchdown in the first quarter when he busted through a gaping hole on the right side and scampered 67 yards to the end zone, putting his team up 10-0.

However, the junior Heisman Trophy finalist was limited in action, getting only three carries and amassing 78 yards.

"We just needed to come out and compete," James said. "The defense had been kicking our butts in spring drills and competition period so we needed to really come out here and show up and give the fans something to look forward to."

Thomas was the most consistent player on either side offensively, playing the entire first half in a red no-contact jersey. The junior was 15-for-21 throwing for 129 yards and an interception to end the half.

Thomas is emerging as an offensive leader at quarterback, something he's had to grow accustomed to with the departure of last year's captain Nate Costa. He's also had to get acquainted with new receivers and a new center with the departure of Jordan Holmes. Right now the position is up for grabs between freshman Hroniss Grasu and sophomore Karrington Armstrong.

"Working now with my new center has really been helping me out because Jordan was a step ahead of me at first, now I'm a step ahead on my center so now I help him out more," he said.

Thomas' favorite target was Tuinei who had six catches for 46 yards. The senior wide receiver is the most experienced starter returning to a core that lost two standouts from last season in Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis.

"He had a great game in the championship for us and he's trying to build upon that and he's got to bring those younger guys along with him," Kelly said.

Kelly mentioned that heading into fall camp the big question mark lied in the wide receiver position. Freshmen like Eric Dungy and Blake Stanton made brief splashes, but outside of Tuinei, nobody separated from the pack on Saturday and asserted themselves as game day ready.

Redshirt-freshman running back Lache Seastrunk had an up-and-down day in the backfield for the Green, taking 11 carries for 40 yards. He was able to find daylight on a few handoffs but five of his carries went for a loss.

"I definitely feel like I'm getting better," Seastrunk said. "I'm going to keep pushing and keep working on everything. Every week I'm going to be up here just trying to make sure I get everything together, everything in groove and everything emotionally so I can keep pushing and help my teammates."

Despite losing three starters on the offensive line, the new line played fairly well, especially on the Green side. The Green racked up 164 yards rushing to the White's 63. The Green line also deterred plenty of pressure towards Thomas, allowing him with enough time to connect with his receivers downfield. Junior lineman Carson York noted that though both sides were able to matriculate the ball, there's plenty of work to be done during the summer.

"We'll spend a lot of time getting film, you know, getting it so it becomes quick with recognition, set up formations out on the field so they can kind of see what it looks like, do lots of little drills that develop muscle memory for a lot of people and, you know, come together as a group." York said.

Redshirt-freshman quarterback Bryan Bennett struggled leading the White squad. He was 10-for-18 for 98 yards and an interception and at times showed a tendency to miss wide-open receivers with bad passes.

His best passes came on a 12 play drive in the second quarter when he connected with junior wide receiver Justin Hoffman for 17 yards on third down, and then hit senior tight end David Paulson for a 25 yard gain that put the White team on the Green four yard line. A subsequent fumble by sophomore running back Anthony Blake prevented the White team from a possible score.

Paulson was the most consistent member of the White team, hauling in four catches for 42 yards and made his 25 yard catch the play of the day when he threw junior cornerback Cliff Harris to the ground with a swim move and rumbled on.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came from freshman Colt Lyerla. Despite the fact that he left high school four weeks ago to join the team for spring practice, he was assertive in his role hauling in three catches for 37 yards.

"He's got a skill set that's certainly unique," Kelly said. "He's 6-5, he can run he's physical and all those other things but you're just scratching the surface. You can do a lot of things with him but you can't throw it all at him right away because it's a matter of just getting lined up and learning our verbiage."

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