This year, Oregon may have the ability to do both - run the ball consistently and strike quickly with the big play. "With the experience we have on the offensive line, we do have the potential to be a ball control team," says Bellotti, "but we will also continue to mix in what I call our shots, you know, one out of every four to eight plays utilizing the big play ability we have with our receivers, our tight ends and even our running backs."
Maurice Morris has completely recovered from last year's overload of almost 300 carries. He looks stronger and faster and Bellotti plans to keep him that way, saying "We need to keep him fresh because a fresh Maurice Morris is a great running back." Look for the Ducks to make good use of junior Alan Amundson and sophomore Onterrio Smith. According to Coach Bellotti, "Allen is lightning fast while Ontario is deceptively fast but he's also strong." All three are threats to break any play for a long gain. Sophomores Kenny Washington and Ryan Shaw had good fall camps but Washington broke his ankle in the last scrimmage and will redshirt.
Senior Josh Line will start at fullback, backed by sophomore Matt Floberg if Floberg can stay healthy. Sophomore Josh Rogers started camp at fullback but switched to tight end where his 4.6 speed and good hands make him a legitimate receiving threat. Veteran tight end Justin Peelle missed a few practices with minor injuries this fall but seems set for an all Pac 10 senior season. Backups include big George Wrighster, a 245 lb. sophomore, and even bigger Wille Walden, a 6'7" redshirt freshman. Wrighster is solid and Walden continues to improve.
Inside, there's good reason why Offensive Line Coach Neal Zoumboukos has been seen smiling at practice. Just two years ago, the Ducks had barely enough scholarship linemen to fill the starting lineup. This fall, there's a legitimate three deep including a great looking crop of redshirt freshman backups. As usual, "Zoomer" likes to "mix and match" in camp so later in the season he can move guys around to compensate for injuries or take advantage of opposing match-ups. For example, senior Jim Adams and juniors Corey Chambers and Mike Belisle have all practiced at left tackle.
Senior Ryan Schmid is a team leader and should start every game at either guard or center. Sophomore Dan Weaver has handled most of the snaps at center. Juniors Phil Finzer, Josh Jones and Pat Fields should play as will sophomore Joey Forster. Among the redshirts, Nick Steitz and Robin Knebel might play early. No real problems here but it would be nice to see a left tackle emerge who can really protect Joey's blind side.
As usual, the Ducks are talented and deep at receiver. Keenan Howry was held out a few days here and there to rest a sore shoulder but was "all world" when he did practice. Jason Willis, another "walk on makes good" story, will start and catch almost as many balls as Howry. At 6' 3", Cy Aleman had a great fall camp and should see lots of action along with sophomore speed burner Samie Parker. Howry, Willis and Aleman are all juniors. Redshirt freshmen Keith Allen and Paris Warren and sophomore Gary Daniels have all improved and will press for playing time. Look for the Ducks to use more three and four wide out packages to take advantage of their strength here. True frosh Demetrius Williams and Mike Willis have great talent but are almost certain redshirts.
Last spring, we asked Coach Bellotti if the Ducks would put some marketing muscle behind a Harrington "Heisman" campaign. Coach said "maybe" but he'd rather see Joey win it on the field. Since then Joey's been everywhere from Madison Square Garden to the cover of Sports Illustrated. So the marketing part is covered; now all Joey has to do is play well and help his team win. Joey worked hard on technique and conditioning in the off-season. He's tightened his throwing motion but still fires one bullet after another right on the numbers. He took some good hits in one spirited practice toward the end of double days and looks ready to lead the quest.
Sophomore Jason Fife is a solid backup. He was wild early in the fall but on target as the season got closer. From here, there looks to be a big drop from Fife to the other backups including redshirt freshman Scott Vossmeyer and true frosh Chris Lombardo and Kellen Clemens. Vossmeyer is big and strong but needs work on his delivery; Clemens looks polished but should benefit from his year as a redshirt.
One more thing, don't underestimate the importance of Offensive Coordinator Jeff Tedford. There's a reason why Akili Smith improved so much during his short stay at Oregon; if Tedford had coached him all four years, he'd be doing better in the NFL. Tedford is a great quarterback coach and deserves some of the credit for developing Joey, Jason and A.J. Feeley. If Oregon runs the table, someone will make him an offer he probably can't refuse.
Robin Ross returns to Oregon as Special Teams Coordinator after two years with the Oakland Raiders and the Ducks worked on special team drills every day in fall camp. Bellotti thinks they've made progress but there's more work to do. Kick offs and place-kicking might actually improve. Freshman Jared Siegel seems consistent and accurate inside 40 yards; junior transfers David Rosenberg and Jose Arroyo may have more range; all three have reached the end zone at times in kick off drills.
Arroyo is also the leading candidate at punter right now although Bellotti says true freshman Eric Evans has the strongest leg. Another transfer, Jason Guerrero is also in the hunt. Deep Snapping was a problem all through fall camp but Bellotti is confident either Dan Weaver or Ryan Loftin will take care of business.
Keenan Howry is a good bet to continue the Duck tradition of "no fair catches" on punts; Alan Amundson and Stevie Moore also got lots of reps in camp. Howry has great hands and the ability to make the first guy miss. Look for Oregon to field a devastating duo on kickoff return. The obvious choices are open field threats Amundson or Onterrio Smith but Bellotti says he's not afraid to use Maurice as well. Take any two and call poison control right away. Stevie Moore and freshman Justin Phinisee could also get a chance.
Oregon has a favorable schedule this year; they skip a trip to Seattle and host several key games at Autzen. Coach Bellotti refuses to red line any of the games; cliché or not, he and the Ducks will take them one at a time.
Wisconsin looms as the most important game right now. With the Ducks riding enough hot air to fly a balloon, they can't afford to stumble out of the gate at home. A decisive win over the Badgers will make it all real and establish the momentum that could carry through two more home games with Utah and USC. Get past the Trojans and Ducks go on the road for three winnable games at Utah State, Arizona and California. Do the "road warrior" thing and homecoming would be Stanford. Tyrone Willingham is 3-1 against the Ducks and derailed the Ducks' 1995 Rose Bowl bid at Autzen. Still rolling after Stanford; another difficult road trip to the Palouse; this time in late October with, maybe, a little better weather. Survive that snake pit and they come home to host a revamped ASU team spoiling for revenge.
ASU could be a tough game, even in Autzen, as ASU's new Coach Dirk Koetter has installed a new wide open offense. Koetter was Oregon's Offensive Coordinator before Tedford and his top assistant is long time Oregon coach Tom Osborne. Between them, there's not much they don't know about the Ducks. This is a game where the fans can really make a difference disrupting the Sun Devil's play calling. Win this one and Oregon gets a dress rehearsal at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. The last three Oregon-UCLA games in Pasadena have been all time classics; this one could have major implications for the BCS.
Bury the Bruins and the Ducks get three weeks to get ready for the Beavers at home. The SI cover said it well – Oregon will be a "State of War" in November. Yes, there could be a Heisman trophy and national title slot at stake but first things first. Joey Harrington is an Oregonian; all the hype, all the accolades won't mean much if he can't finish with a win over Oregon State. This time the defense will make the difference. Last year, OSU's third receiver burned our rover deep; this year, that won't happen as Rashad & Co. cut Jonathan Smith down to size.
Note. Bob Zagorin is currently the president of Diamond & Zagorin Creative Strategies in Eugene and an avid Duck fan who follows the team throughout practice and on the road.