Notes From Fall Camp: Day 1

Under cloudy skies and from a distant vantage point for journalists, the Oregon football team kicked off preparation for the 2011 season with their first fall camp practice. With many college football pundits expecting the Ducks to field a top ten team this season, the practice field buzzed with anticipation and interest.

Football is finally here.

After nearly four months of off-season trials and tribulations surrounding Oregon's involvement with supposed scouting service maven/mentor Will Lyles, as well as the off-field transgressions of juniors Cliff Harris and Kiko Alonso, the focus was back to football, where the Ducks embark on their pursuit of a third straight conference championship.

For Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, the return to the practice field was welcome respite.

"It's good for every coach," Kelly quipped. "Every coach wants to be back out on the field and get a chance to coach with your players. For us, we haven't really gotten a chance to interact with them since April 30, from a football'll never get a coach that'll say that they don't enjoy the first day of practice."

Coming off a berth in the BCS National Championship in 2010, the first day of fall camp introduced new players to fans and members of the media. In February, the Ducks hauled in arguably their best recruiting class in school history; headlined by Compton (Calif.) super prospect, De'Anthony Thomas. Though scores of opportunities didn't come his way early in practice, Thomas flexed his supreme talents later in the day, exploding for nearly three, back-to-back-to-back runs that picked up considerable yardage during the Ducks' 11-on-11 period. Because of his versatility, many have wondered whether or not Thomas would see action at both running back and wide receiver in fall camp. However, Kelly put that speculation to rest after practice Monday, decidedly stating that Thomas is most needed at running back.

"He's exclusively playing running back and working with (running backs) coach (Gary) Campbell," said Kelly.

"(Thomas at running back) has to be set, we don't have enough running backs right now. We only have LaMichael (James) and Kenjon (Barner) and we've gotta figure out who the third is gonna be. Whether it's Tra Carson, Ayele Forde, Lache Seastrunk, Anthony Blake or De'Anthony, we gotta figure that out."

Another position in the process of sorting itself out on the Oregon depth chart is wide receiver. This afternoon, sophomore Josh Huff made the biggest impact of any receiver, catching virtually every pass that was thrown his direction. Whether it was short, intermediate or deep, Huff was asserting himself as a weapon in the passing game. Along with Huff, senior Lavasier Tuinei is the only wideout on the roster with significant experience and after practice, Kelly echoed those sentiments, stating that depth at wide receiver must develop.

"The only guys who have proven that they can play out there are Tuinei and Huff," said Kelly. "The rest of them are gonna be newcomers, so to speak."

Helping curb the dearth of experience at wide receiver is sophomore Daryle Hawkins, who Kelly has permanently moved from quarterback to wide receiver. Additionally, the inclusion of JUCO transfer Rahsaan Vaughn to the roster could help the Ducks' fill the void left by the departures of graduates Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis. At 6'2'' 192 lbs, Vaughn used his larger frame today to make a number of catches in traffic, flashing the kind of ability that could allow him to be counted upon this upcoming season.

Defensively, redshirt freshmen defensive backs Terrance Mitchell and James Scales stood out today as both nabbed interceptions during team drills. If this afternoon's practice was any indication, it appears that Mitchell could be the front-runner to replace indefinitely suspended junior cornerback Cliff Harris, who practiced today, but will sit against LSU in Dallas due to an excessive speeding ticket he received in June. A la Harris, Kiko Alonso is also in the midst of an indefinite suspension, though the immediate future appears to be a little brighter for the hopeful starter at middle linebacker. Alonso took the majority of the reps with the first team defense today and has the look of a player that could be ready to play in the season opener after being arrested and charged with burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass on May 1.

The Ducks will once again hit the practice field in earnest at 1:15 pm on Tuesday afternoon. All outdoor practices are open to the general public.

Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney

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