Second Day of Spring Brings Heat & Intensity

Eugene - With an emphasis on increasing the intensity of practice, the Oregon Ducks football team took to the practice fields on Thursday on a hot and humid afternoon. More so than in years past, there is an increased sense of competition on the field and no spot is guaranteed. These changes have created a feeling of urgency, evident both in the players as well as the coaching staff.

After a disappointing 7-5 season in 2006, the Oregon Duck football team continued Spring drills on Thursday in shells looking for a new identity in the upcoming season. For both the coaching staff as well as the players, the off-season was about self-reflection and rededication. In welcoming in several new coaches, the team also ushered in a new approach to the way practice is run.

The increased intensity is apparent. Even injured players such as WR Derrick Jones and DT Cole Linehan are actively involved to some extent, filling a role on a team desperate for leadership. Veteran players are giving tips to younger players. Reserves are pushing last year's starters to perform at a higher level. Coaches are louder and more direct, stressing the team about hardwork and focus in order to reach this season's lofty goals.

In getting his feet wet, new Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly has been working diligently with the quarterbacks in passing drills. The quarterbacks could be seen using passing nets designed to improve accuracy as well. Kelly has been instrumental in the resurfacing confidence of Dennis Dixon. Dixon looks to have regained his comfort out on the field and it is showing on the field. His passes are crisper, his decisions quicker and more effective. Nathan Costa continues to impress onlookers with a rocket arm and quick feet. He could very easily step right in this year and the team would likely not miss a beat. Brady Leaf has looked sharp as well and is probably the most accurate passer of all the QB's. Cody Kempt and Justin Roper have made big strides over the off-season and look much more in rhythm, but are likely still a year or two away from any significant playing time. With all this being said, Bellotti continue to stress competition and says that the starting spot is still up for grabs.

Of the newcomers, Drew Davis has stepped right in and looked the most impressive. He has great hands, runs great routes, and is extremely polished for an incoming freshman. From observations, Davis looks like a great inside slot receiver. Defensive end Will Tukuafu has a big frame and could make an immediate impact this year on the defensive line.

If this past year wasn't already his break-out year, then look out. Jaison Williams looks bigger, stronger, and more focused this spring. Although he is still plagued by the occasional drop here and there, he seems much more focused and has much to prove. He has also established himself as a leader within the wide reciver core as well as on the team. Look for Garren Strong to break out this year as well as the always consistent Brian Paysinger.

Although young, the secondary appears deep and competitive. Jairus Byrd, Patrick Chung, and Walter Thurmond have been solid in pass coverage and are much more physical and decisive in reacting to the pass. Redshirt freshman Marvin Johnson, who now wears No. 1, is a bright young player to keep an eye on. He has good size and is a playmaker in the secondary.

The running backs are very likely the strongest unit on the team. Both Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson look to be in mid-season form and not far behind is gifted redshirt freshman Remene Alston. With Chip Kelly running the offense and emphasizing ball distribution, look for increased productivity out of this unit in the upcoming season.

As an overall observation, every play and every down has become increasingly important. The coaching staff continues to bark and yell to "finish the play!" and to never give up. The practices have become more heated and physical, a critical change for a team labeled as "soft" this past season.

Also of note, Terrell Ward is still recovering from injuries and didn't participate in practice today but was on the sidelines.

The Oregon Duck football team will take the field tomorrow at 4:15 with the first short scrimmage on the schedule.

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