Reloading For Spring

Here we go again. Just as the glow from a great basketball season begins to dim, tomorrow football returns for a month of practices that will begin to answer some of the personnel questions for the coming season. After fifteen practices, the team will head north to Portland to give fans a preview of Oregon football 2002 in the annual Spring game on April 27th at PGE Park.

Spring drills are the perfect opportunity to evaluate talent and improvement, especially to fill the positions of greatest need. Which players have been working the hardest since the Fiesta Bowl? Who will step up to replace the senior starters that led Oregon to their best football season ever? There aren't a lot of big holes to fill, but replacing a quarterback that was a Heisman trophy finalist and soon-to-be first round NFL draft pick certainly has the media talking.

Joey Harrington's heir apparent is Jason Fife, a quarterback who has been honing his skills in Eugene for three years and thoroughly understands the Duck's complicated offense. Jason recently ran a blistering 4.58 forty and has done so well in the weight room that it is rumored that the coaches asked him not to push so hard to avoid any potential injuries. Fife also has a big time arm, so if he proves strong in grasping the intangibles, the quarterback job would appear to be his to lose. He also reportedly gets along very well with new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who recruited him out of high school for Fresno State. If Jason stumbles, Oregon has two other very talented quarterbacks in Scott Vossmeyer and Kellen Clemens chomping at the bit. Technically the Ducks also need to replace starter Mo Morris at tailback, but why worry when Onterrio Smith returns after coming off the bench to rumble for over a 1000 yards last season as a backup? The word is that "O" has been very impressive during off-season workouts and is ready to emerge as Oregon's marquee player on offense. Many believe that 1500 yards rushing is well within his reach.

On offense there seems to be more answers than questions. You can pencil Matt Floberg in at starting fullback, he has muscled up to nearly 250 pounds while setting many personal bests in the weight room. Think he is too big? Matt recently ran the fastest forty of his life. Ryan Loftin also looks to be headed to the fullback depth chart. Adam Snyder and Nick Steitz appear to be the favorites to replace the two departing starters on the offensive line and both saw extensive playing time last season. George Wrighster is a lock to replace Justin Peelle as the featured tight end, but there is talk that fans will also love Tim Day, who was very impressive on the scout team during his redshirt year.

The defense returns more experience than in recent memory and if the coaches can successfully replace Wes Mallard at outside linebacker and both of the cornerbacks, this group could really be something special. David Martin and Ramone Reed look to be the leading candidates for Mallard's job, unless there is a surprise, like moving Garrett Graham over from the middle. Nearly everyone expects Steven Moore to start at one corner, with the other side appearing to be open for competition. The two names that are mentioned most are Courtney Miller and Justin Phinisee, but there are many talented defensive backs in the Oregon pipeline that could also challenge. On Tuesday football begins again and don't forget to expect some surprises.

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