First Day of Spring is About Approach

Eugene – The Oregon Ducks football team took over the spotlight from basketball and the gridiron team hopes to take something from the successful run the Oregon Men made over the last few weeks. Hoping to erase the bad taste of a disappointing 7-5 season in 2006, it may be about how to approach the game is what will count for the Duck football.

"The men's team unfortunately a year ago found ways to lose a lot of those close games and this year found ways to win with the same personnel," said Oregon Head Football Coach Mike Bellotti. "To me that's all about the approach, the team approach, the mental toughness approach and I talked to our team in our meeting yesterday about that and what we can learn from our basketball teams."

The Ducks would very much like to change things around from what it was like in December 2006 after the Las Vegas Bowl where they were dismantled by BYU 38-8 and if the first few minutes of the spring workouts was any indication it looks like change is on the way. Starting off with conditioning drills, the air was full of drill sergeant like commands from the coaching staff in hopes of grabbing people's attention and ensuring mental sharpness. It was very clear communication on the coaches' part on what they wanted from the players – sharp attention and quick responses.

"You always want to aim high and last year it started off real well," observed quarterback Dennis Dixon of last year's effort. "But a lack of communication and a lot of turnovers, it will kill you."

The first day was spent on drills as the team was in shells (without pads) and wearing their normal dark green helmets. Bellotti indicated prior to the start of practice that the starting quarterback position was not set and it was a matter of competition, which actually began just a few minutes before the team took to the practiced field.

"It started today in the meeting about an hour and a half ago," said Bellotti of the quarterback competition. "It will continue through every snap during spring ball."

All five quarterbacks (Dixon, Brady Leaf, Nathan Costa, Justin Roper and Cody Kempt) looked sharp in throwing drills with Costa and Dixon looking especially good. Both showed strong arms and threw the ball accurately.

The receivers were going through the paces and shaking out a few cobwebs. One newcomer, freshman Drew Davis had his first taste of how hard a Pac-10 pass can be thrown and he looked the part of new incoming freshman. It was easy though to tell from Davis' work during the practice why the Ducks along with many other programs coveted Davis.

Dixon appears to be about five to 10 pounds heavier this spring. The added bulk should ease the concerns some have had about Dixon. From all appearances it would be hard to image that anyone besides Dixon would be the starter next fall.

Another player looking a bit thicker, and this is really hard to imagine, is junior running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart was actually listed on the official roster as being five pounds lighter this spring, but on the eyeball test he looks a bit wider. Stewart of course was the center of attention when reporters lined up asking questions. He too reemphasized the team's desire to get back on track and he also indicated he is taking it a bit farther by becoming one of the team's leaders.

"Throughout winter term, guys were talking it up saying ‘we need leaders,' that was what we were lacking last year," said Stewart. "Everybody has a role to play on this team, I've got to play that role and a couple other guys have to play that role too"

One of the other players visibly taking a leadership role was junior wide receiver Jaison Williams. Williams stood out in the receiving drills and was also giving advice to some of the underclassmen wide receivers on technique.

There were a number of observers along the sidelines including the coaching staff from Linfield College. There were also recruits, including Ryan Roberston, from Eastlake High School in Redmond, Washington.

A quick look at the updated roster indicates that Garren Strong now wears No. 21 and Marvin Johnson wears No. 1. There is a set of brothers on the roster. Redshirt freshman tight end Chris DiVincenzo wears number 89 on offense as does his brother Michael, a defensive end on defense.

Bellotti also mentioned that cornerback Jackie Bates is no longer with the team. While not elaborating the reason for Bates' departure, Bellotti said that there would have been a place for Bates on the team and regretted things did not workout for Bates at Oregon.

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