Answers to Questions Start Monday

Who will start at quarterback? Will Jonathan Stewart carry the ball more? Will the defensive line hold up? Will Cameron Colvin have a big year? Most importantly, will the Ducks hold onto the ball? All of these questions have been asked on eDuck.com's message boards and starting tomorrow the answers will start taking shape. Monday marks the first day of practice for the 2007 Oregon Ducks.

Coach Mike Bellotti is entering his 13th season as head coach and holding a record of 118-73-2 overall and 97-48 as the headman at Oregon. Last year, the Ducks suffered one of the most disappointing seasons by losing four-straight games to close out the season. The four losses overshadowed the strong start of the season when the Ducks appeared to world-beaters. Somewhere along the line, the Ducks managed to turn the ball over by giving up 18 interceptions and losing 14 fumbles and having a minus 10 in the turnover-to-takeaways to the opposing foes.

Bellotti made some changes during the off-season. First, he brought in Chip Kelly to replace the departed Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator. Kelly's first mission was to shore up the security of the football and in spring practice the Ducks did not commit a turnover until the final play of the spring game. Kelly not only emphasized care with the ball, but he also increased the tempo of practice and how the Ducks go about accomplishing things plus simplifying the playbook.

"He's trying to simplify things for the quarterbacks, " said senior quarterback Brady Leaf of Kelly's influence. "He doesn't make things too complicated. He's giving us good guidance."

Leaf will battle fellow senior Dennis Dixon for the starting signal calling job during fall camp. Last season, Dixon began the season on fire by racking 1,032 yards in the first four games (258 yards per game,) six touchdowns and only two interceptions. However the Ducks were outgunned and beaten badly at Cal and Dixon's production dropped significantly for the rest of the season. While he threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears, he was also picked off three times. Dixon only broke the 150-yard passing mark once for the rest of the season and from the Cal game only threw six touchdowns and gave up 12 interceptions.

During the off-season, Dixon played baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization and returned to Eugene in time to start fall camp. While his teammates supported and understood his decision to play baseball, it remains to be seen how effective Dixon will be after missing the summer workouts that most of the team participated in.

Leaf on the other hand stayed in Eugene and was able to cement some relationships with teammates. Leaf started the final game of the season last year against Oregon State and was the starter in the Duck's loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"They (the younger players) all look up to Brady, watch what he does," observed senior wide receiver Cameron Colvin of Leaf during the summer workouts. "He learns things from them, they talk to each other about reads and different things in the offense so I think they all made good gains and made progress in the summer which is the most important part."

If Leaf or Dixon falter, sophomore Nate Costa appears poised to be ready to take the helm this fall. Costa had a good summer in 7-on-7 drills, consistently throwing a tight spiral and maintaining good control of his passing.

Colvin is also ready to have a great year. Last year, Colvin struggled with nagging injuries and some dropped passes. During the off-season he dedicated himself to becoming stronger and working harder at being a better receiver. Colvin set a personal best of 345 pounds in the bench press, which is the second best mark of any wide receiver since the Ducks have kept weightlifting records. Calling this the make-or-break year for his career, Colvin caught 600 passes each morning as part of his daily workout routine.

Colvin joins a strong receiver corps including Jaison Williams, Brian Paysinger and Garren Strong that present a group of big, strong and fast receivers that opponents must deal with. One of the fastest receivers on the Ducks' roster, Derek Jones missed the summer workouts to recuperate from surgery on his ankle. Jones could add another dimension to the Ducks' passing game if he is in shape for fall camp. However this is the second straight summer that Jones stayed away from Eugene during the summer months.

After last season, there wasn't much argument that one of the biggest failings the Ducks had in 2006 was not giving the ball enough to running back Jonathan Stewart. "Snoop" as Stewart is called on eDuck's message boards finished up with just under 1,000 yards net rushing (981 yards) and Bellotti indicated during the spring workouts that he intended on giving the ball more to Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson in 2007. Johnson had 644 yards of rushing and along with Stewart will give the Ducks arguably the best one-two punch combination in the Pac-10 running game. Both Stewart and Johnson were regulars during the summer conditioning drills and both are physical specimens. If they are the featured part of the Oregon offense in 2007, one of their biggest fans will be Colvin who says the two running backs have "earned it" with their dedication and hard work.

On the defensive side of the ball things looked glum when the news that both of the Ducks' most prized recruits of the 2007 class, Simi Fili and Myles Wade would not be enrolling this fall. The pair of U.S. Army All-Americans failed to meet entrance requirements to the university and are headed to junior college. Many fans had hoped that the two would make an immediate impact on a defensive line that suffered through an injury-plagued season last year. However, according to senior defensive lineman David Faaeteete, this year's Duck D-line is healthy and coming back strong.

"Everyone is healthy," said Faaeteete of the defensive line. "We've got the most depth we've had in years on the D-line."

Junior John Bacon looks very solid after the summer workouts to be a force at middle linebacker. Bacon along with Brandon Bair, Jerome Boyd, Jairus Byrd, Stewart and Johnson -- all could be serious contenders in a Mr. Universe contest.

The defensive secondary maybe the defense's strength this year returning a group of experienced talent led by All-American Patrick Chung. The secondary has depth and speed which should help the confidence of a defensive unit that played well enough in 2006, but was on the field too much due to turnovers on the offensive side of the ball.

Special teams this year will have its own coach in another change Bellotti made. Tom Osborne returned to Oregon after a stint with Arizona State. Osborne an energetic coach will have a strong legged punter in Josh Syria. The place kicking chores is up for grabs but incoming freshman Daniel Padilla had an outstanding high school career and should be the odds on favorite to be the field goal kicker.

It appears as previously reported on eDuck.com that only Fili, Wade and wide receiver Rishard Matthews were the only casualties of the 2007 recruiting class. As also reported on eDuck, offensive lineman Carson York will join the team in the winter to allow for recovery from shoulder surgery.

Fall practice starts tomorrow (Aug. 6th) with Media Day. The Ducks normally practice the first week in shells before putting on pads and commencing contact in the second week. Oregon will open the season against Houston at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 1st.

eDuck Sports will conduct a regularly scheduled chat session every Monday night starting at 9 p.m. throughout football and basketball season. Game chat will also be held for each game.

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