Spring Practice Kicks Off

Dennis Dixon wore a white t-shirt and shorts as he watched from the sidelines of Autzen Stadium in an all-too-familiar scene for Duck fans. Once again, he was upbeat and joked with current and former Ducks alike, including Geoff Schwartz and Jeremiah Johnson. This time, however, he was simply an onlooker for the Ducks first spring practice of the season.

The Oregon Ducks wore numbered uniforms – white for offense and green for defense – and helmets, but remained padless in the first workouts of the season.

Nathan Costa took the first team snaps at the quarterback position throughout practice, and was followed by Justin Roper. Costa threw the ball well, but Bellotti stated that Roper threw the ball better today than the other quarterbacks. Darron Thomas threw a tight spiral with pop on many of his throws and looks as though he could enter the mix on the depth chart as soon as this year. Recent Eugene arrival Chris Harper struggled in his first practice, and it looks as though he is a project player who could be headed toward a redshirt year.

Costa is not expected to take part in contact drills, nor will he be available for the spring game. Despite the disappointing news, it was certainly a welcomed sight to see him planting his foot while running the option, and dropping back to throw at near-full speeds.

Also not taking part in full-contact drills will be tailback Jeremiah Johnson (knee) and linebacker John Bacon (knee), who wore yellow and brown jerseys, respectively, indicating that neither were to be hit during practice.

LaGarrette Blount proved to be one of the main highlights of the day, as he ran the ball extremely well in his first day as an Oregon Duck.

"LaGarrette Blount was a surprise," said Head Coach Mike Bellotti. "I thought he showed some natural aptitude and understanding (of the offense)."

Despite strong showings by both Roper and Blount, Bellotti felt that the offense was certainly rusty after so much time off the field. "We know that we need a lot of work," he said. "I was pleased with our defense. They got in the right place for some turnovers and takeaways today. Although, obviously when that happens we're not pleased with the offense."

Defensively, the Ducks return many of the same faces from last year, including All-Pac 10 honoree Nick Reed.

"I am excited to come back to a team that didn't lose a lot of guys on defense," said Reed. "There aren't a lot of new faces around. I really do think that this will be the best defense we've ever had. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. Time will tell."

Despite some concerns at the defensive tackle and free safety spots, the defense remains confident that those holes will be filled quickly, and that the defense can become the strength of an Oregon Duck team that historically receives recognition for the other side of the ball.

"We have the whole defense back," said safety Patrick Chung. "We've got veterans out there. I'm anxious to see how it's going to go. As far as potential, the sky is the limit. We've got just the amount of guys we need. We just need to get ready, get strong and see how the season goes." Oft-injured, special teams standout T.J. Ward had a fantastic practice from the vacant free safety spot, drawing praise for his "outstanding" and "great" technique.

The biggest surprise of spring practice was the appearance of Franz Dorsainvil, who donned a green (defensive), number 93 jersey.

"He came to us just the other day," said Bellotti. "I was actually a little surprised. I talked to the basketball coaches and they were fine with it. It's an experiment."

Added the 6'8'', 260-pound Dorsainvil: "I want to be able to run the plays by next week, and be out there doing the drills. I'm still a basketball player. That's my first love and I'm not giving up on that. I learned about how to hit in rugby, so I'm excited to hit."

NOTES: Mike Bellotti stated that center Max Unger may be shifted around the offensive line, but is likely to stay at center for the time being. Bellotti also stated that Derrick Jones is no longer enrolled at the University of Oregon. He did not speculate as to a possible return.

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