Spring Finds the Making of Playmakers

Oregon's head coach Mike Bellotti vowed last November to seek out playmakers for his team and judging by the spring game held on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, he may have found some. The Ducks concluded the 16 sessions of spring football with a game that split up the team into green and white, with normal offensive and defensive starters on both squads. The Green won 20-15.

"I thought the offenses moved the ball," observed Bellotti of the game. "The defense prevailed on the day."

Senior quarterback Kellen Clemens led the White squad, but the Whites had the unenviable task of dealing with big Green defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Ngata quickly established the tone of the defensive effort with his relentless rush and even though he was used sparingly, he still managed to be apart of an early Clemens sack. Perhaps it was merciful, but Ngata was used only on a handful of plays and for the fans in the stands it also meant that the Green offense had a chance to score.

"Haloti Ngata is a disruptive force," said Bellotti in what might be the biggest understatement of the day.

Ngata though is not the only player on the Oregon defense that has stood out this spring. The Oregon defensive line has been impressive all spring long and on Saturday even playing without seniors Devan Long and Darius Sanders. While the defensive line has shown speed, power and flexibility the linebackers and secondary have also shown a spark that seemed to missing over the last few seasons. Players such as redshirt freshmen Patrick Chung, Ryan Phipps and Sharrod Davis also made an impression with their hard hitting and field awareness. Phipps, a linebacker was the leading tackler for the contest with nine tackles playing on the Green squad. Chung and Davis both were involved in pass break ups (Chung had two and Davis had one).

"I was trying to make an impact on the team so I played hard to help the team out," said Chung of his play during the spring. "(But) it's coaching and other players (that) make me better, it's about coaching and my teammates."

The Green squad managed to record seven tackles for loss and that effort was started by Ngata, but Ra'Shon "Sonny" Harris carried on the pressure and was responsible for three tackles behind the line of scrimmage for the Green.

Clemens finished the day with a sprained foot but while he was in he did manage to finish 8-for-13, 118 yards, one touchdown and rushed for 54 yards netting 27 after the sacks. His counterparts on the Green, Dennis Dixon was 4-of-9 for 78 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 35 yards on six carries netting 20 yards. Brady Leaf played for both the White and Green and was 12-of-16 for 138 yards, 5-for-9, 75 yards and one touchdown as a White for a total of 213 yards. (Note: edited to reflect correct stats) Kyle Weatherspoon was the leading receiver with 10 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. "Spoon" was on the Whites with Demetrius Williams had the second most White receiving yardage with 55 on two catches. Jaison Williams led the Green with five catches for 79 yards and James Finley also had five catches for 54 yards. Garren Strong had one catch and that was a big 65-yard reception on a broken play. Dixon scrambled out of the way of a rushing linebacker and found Strong standing alone for the easy score. The last receiving touchdown was made by converted punter-to-quarterback-to-receiver Drew Larson for 17 yards for the White.

"The receiving position has made a statement that they like this new offense first of all," said Bellotti. "This ability to spread the ball around the field. They've got more field to work and they're making the most advantage of it."

Bellotti thinks the new offense, which was introduced this spring, will give more chances to make plays and lessen the chances of sacks that can stall a drive. The offense is spread and uses the shotgun, with the quarterback lining up two yards behind the center on the snap.

The rushing game also is alive and well in Eugene. Terrence White head had seven runs for 48 yards including one of 34 for the White. Walk-on Niles Mittasch had six carries for the White for 16 yards. Terrell Jackson was the leading rusher for the day on the Green with nine carries for 60 yards including one run of 16 for a touchdown. Andiel Brown had three carries for 11 yards for the Green.

Field goal kicking had been a concern all spring but on Saturday a healthy Paul Martinez was good on both of his attempts (32 and 37 yards.) Matt Dragich had a 42.3 yards average on three punts with a long of 50.

Overall, Bellotti was pleased with the spring and the team's performance but observed that there was plenty of work yet to do. The team will now go back to the weight room and continue their off-season conditioning. If the spring is any indication of what fans might expect next fall, then Oregon football should be exciting on both the offense and defense. On Saturday some of those playmakers that were sorely needed last year may have started to emerge.

Injuries: Josh Tschirgi re-injured his ankle.
Other than the previously mentioned foot injury to Clemens, Bellotti did not indicate that there were any other injuries in his post-game comments.

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