Ducks want to rush Edwards

Football is just about ready to start and Mike Bellotti held his normal Tuesday morning media conference to speak about the upcoming game with the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks are ranked No. 21 (AP) this week headed into the opening game. Stanford is not ranked.

The Ducks are coming off a 10-2 season last year and face Stanford in Walt Harris' second year as head coach. Stanford finished 5-6 last season, but were tied at the fourth spot in the Pac-10 race with a 4-4 record. Oregon beat Stanford 44-20 at Palo Alto on October 1st last year. This year's home opener for the Ducks also marks the first game of the Pac-10 conference and Bellotti believes his players look at this game as something particularly special.

"The players have taken a more serious approach to understanding that this game counts in the league standings," said Bellotti about the Stanford game. "It effects your post season dreams and aspirations because it is a league game."

The headman thinks the team is going through the preparation week with a great sense of detail and urgency as they run through the practice schedule. The Ducks have goals of winning the Pac-10 championship and obviously aspire to being a contender for the National Championship but first things first and that means facing a team with quarterback Trent Edwards, whom might be the best in the conference.

"Trent Edwards is a tremendously accurate passer, great athlete when healthy," commented Bellotti of Edwards' capabilities. "He hasn't been healthy in the past couple of years but he certainly is healthy now."

Edwards by all accounts is running on all cylinders and presents the Ducks with a big obstacle right off the bat to any long term goals Oregon might have. Last year he threw for 1,934 yards and 17 touchdowns while only being picked off seven times. His two primary targets this year will be Mark Bradford, who had 37 catches for 607 yards, six touchdowns and Evan Moore. Moore only saw action in one game last year before being sidelined with an injury, but the thought of a 6-6 athlete with great speed is somewhat intimidating.

Bellotti feels that Oregon will have to maintain great position on the Stanford receivers and receive support from teammates. It will require a physical brand of play by the Duck cornerbacks utilizing a smart approach to positioning and being inside the sphere of Moore's arms. A strong pass rush to keep the quarterback off balance will also be a big plus.

The Duck corners may not match up well against a 6-6 receiver but then again there aren't many 6-6 cornerbacks running around either. Although concerned, Bellotti hasn't thrown in the towel in regards to his cornerbacks, Jackie Bates and Walter Thurmond have shown the ability to make plays in practice in spring ball and in Fall Camp. Mindset, physical technique and toughness, being aware of the position of the receivers, knowing where the help is, are the keys to making the defensive plays. Oregon defensive backs are not on a pure island according the Bellotti; they do have help and knowing where that help is will make the difference.

Perhaps the key to success in dealing with Edwards is putting pressure on him. The Oregon defensive line is going to look different this year as there will not be a 6-5, 345-pound presence in the form of Haloti Ngata. Ngata, now with the Baltimore Ravens is gone and in his place is a smaller but perhaps quicker front composed of Cole Linehan, 6-4, 295 and Jeremy Gibbs, 6-2, 280 at tackles and Matt Toeaina, 6-3, 301 and Darius Sanders, 6-5, 269 at ends. Bellotti has called this group smaller but quicker than last year's front. Throw in an assortment of pass rush specialist like Nick Reed (6-3, 259), Dexter Manley (6-2, 266) and Ed Dickson (6-5, 230) the odds start evening out for Oregon against Edwards.

"We have to pressure him," observed Bellotti of Edwards. "If you let him throw the ball, he is very accurate."

Stanford is rumored to be improved in its running game and while the Cardinal has traditionally ran a 2-back set and relying on play action to confuse the defense, Bellotti is going to be prepared for anything in the opening game.

"On a first game basis who knows, they could come out running the option so we just have to be prepared for everything," remarked Bellotti in talking about Stanford ground game. "Based on what we've seen from last year and read in the papers, they're committed to the 2-back running attack and the play action that comes off of it."

Anthony Kimble is the running back. Kimble rushed for 244 yards on 66 carries and two touchdowns last year. Nick Frank is the fullback and recorded 142 yards and 42 carries and three touchdowns.

What does Harris think about the Ducks?

"I think they are an outstanding team," commented Harris about Oregon. "They got size, they got speed, they got height, they got weight. I think Mike (Bellotti) has obviously done an outstanding job of recruiting and they've got it going."

Oregon returns its entire offensive line intact and promises to have an expanded running game featuring sophomores Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson. Interestingly, in the Pac-10 media conference, no one asked Bellotti a single question about the Ducks running game.

Several questions popped up though about the wide receiver position. Bellotti indicated that Garren Strong has been very impressive in Fall Camp along with Brian Paysinger and Jordan Kent. Three starters from last year's squad now back up Strong, Paysinger and Kent. Jaison Williams is behind Strong, while James Finley is second behind Paysinger and Cameron Colvin trails Kent.

Bellotti commented though on how Williams is 6-5 and runs 10.6 seconds in an electronically timed 100-meter dash. The coach also said that Finley had been troubled with injuries in both the spring workouts and the fall camp. Bellotti went on to say that Colvin and Kent's competition was a good one and that Kent's status was more of a reflection of Kent's improvement rather than Colvin's performance.

Bellotti also mentioned that he was waiting for the receivers to take over in practice and perhaps challenge the wide receivers during responses at the Pac-10 media conference.

"I like our depth, I'm still waiting to really see those guys jump out and take the game in hand and I'm anxious to see us play somebody else," said Bellotti. "I think when you play your own defense they know certain will be interesting to see how they (the receivers) compete on national television against Stanford."

Another point Bellotti brought up is that it is day-to-day on who will be the starting receivers on Saturday.

One other point Bellotti makes regarding his offense -- there is no question in his mind about who is the quarterback. There is also no question if the Ducks plan to platoon the quarterbacks this year.

"Dennis Dixon is our starter and Dennis Dixon is going to play quarterback," Bellotti said of Oregon's signal caller. "Brady (Leaf) will play although there is no set design at this point to play him by series or by quarters or anything like that."

Oregon will open the season against Stanford on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and the game will be carried on ABC with Dan Fouts providing play-by-play with Tim Brandt as the analyst and Jack Arute on the sideline. The game will be rebroadcast on the Oregon Sports Network at 11:30 p.m. with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman. OSN radio with Jerry Allen calling the game, Mike Jorgensen providing commentary and Jay Allen roaming the sidelines.

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