Condition is good so far

The key to success this year for the Oregon Ducks in the 2006 season could be in part due to the fact that the team came back into Fall Camp healthy -- at least the first day. Oregon started the 2006 season on Monday and the team conducting split workouts for the first four days.

The Ducks have divided the team up and and runs an early session (12:15 p.m. until 2:15 p.m.) and a second group takes the field at 4:30 p.m. and finishing at 6:30 p.m. The team will be in shells (helmets but not pads) until Thursday.

Oregon will conduct the first day of practice in pads on Friday starting at 12:40 p.m. and will scrimmage sometime before the 3:25 p.m. practice conclusion.

Head Coach Mike Bellotti was pleased with the fact that the team came back into camp on Monday and for the most part was healthy and ready to participate in the workouts. The Ducks spent the summer in voluntary workouts led by Strength and Conditioning Coach Jim Radcliffe. Nearly the entire team from the Spring workouts continued on with the summer program plus a change in NCAA rules allowed incoming freshmen from the 2006 recruiting class to enroll in summer session. All but seven of the incoming freshmen of the 25-member recruiting class took advantage of the early enrollment opportunity to start classes and take part in the summer workouts.

"We've had a great summer and spring in that nobody got hurt," said Bellotti in the Media Day conference on Monday. "I knock on wood."

Having the players healthy and able to practice will be a key to success for the 2006 Ducks as Bellotti made clear that several questions including who will be the starting quarterback have been resolved. Junior Dennis Dixon is the starter and junior Brady Leaf will be the back up. Dixon showed his leadership in the summer workouts by being a visible example to his teammates during the workout sessions.

On several occasions Dixon led the way in grueling wind sprint drills by consistently finishing first. He also was an organizer when it came to running 7-on-7 passing drills. These demonstrations of leadership coupled with Bellotti's endorsement seem to leave little doubt to anyone observing that Dixon has fully taken over as the field boss for the Ducks this year.

Conditioning also will play a role in filling the void left by the loss of departing seniors such as Haloti Ngata, Anthony Trucks, Justin Phinisee and Aaron Gibson. Bellotti likened the Ducks defense to a baseball team that is "tough up the middle." Senior Matt Toeaina can play either defensive tackle or end but likely will be the starting tackle. Toeaina is another leader by example and was always present during the summer workouts. Linebackers Brent Haberly and Blair Phillips along with safety J.D. Nelson were also at the summer sessions helping in creating an atmosphere of hard work and team camaraderie for the latest version of the Oregon Ducks.

One of the players that was not present for the summer sessions was freshman wide receiver Derrick Jones, and some thought Jones was in the coach's doghouse for not staying in Eugene. Any question of Jones' condition was quickly answered on Monday when he had drew the attention of bystanders with his ability to get open and create separation after catching the ball.

Jones will be one of the talented players in what could be the best receiving corps in the history of the school. Oregon receivers have speed and size along with experience. James Finley has blossomed as the leader of the group bringing to the field a tough competitiveness.

Perhaps the two most impressive players physically are the two sophomore running backs, Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson. Both are extremely well conditioned and there is little doubt the Ducks plan to use them in an expanded running game this year. Stewart set an individual record for the bench press during the off-season by hoisting up 410 pounds in one lift.

While all the talk about potential was nice the true test of just how good of shape the Ducks are in will be judged when the team dons the pads and make contact on Friday. The public is welcome to Friday's practice and a scrimmage will be held sometime during the 12:40 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. session.

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