Depth Triumphs

Eugene -- If the 2007 season taught the Oregon Ducks anything it was to be prepared with depth. On Saturday at Autzen Stadium for the annual spring football game the Ducks showed they have depth, and lots of it. The white squad prevailed 36-3 before a crowd of over 14,000.

(PHOTO) Justin Roper (11) runs into the endzone for a touchdown in the first quarter of Oregon's annual spring game, held at Autzen Stadium. (Photo by Chris Wilson)

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti was pleased with the progress of his team. He indicated that the momentum has been cyclical over the month with the offense having the better of things during the first scrimmage two weeks ago and the defense definitely more dominate a week ago. Today though the offense (on both the white and green squads) came more determined.

"Our offense was a little hungrier than our defense," said Bellotti of today's scrimmage. "I felt like our offense had more to prove."

If anyone needed evidence that this Duck offense has firepower and the playmakers to do it then they needed only to watch the first time Justin Roper took a snap. Roper picked right up where he left off at the Sun Bowl last December by launching a big strike to Ed Dickson for a 67-yard gain. Roper then showed his skills running the ball by skipping into the endzone and before the home crowd had hardly settled in on a very pleasant spring day the score was 7-0, white squad. Roper finished off the day going 3-for-7 and a touchdown, but it was clear that the experience in the Sun Bowl had paid off. Roper was a surprise star in El Paso, throwing a Sun Bowl tying record four touchdowns.

The other quarterbacks all showed positive improvement in the scrimmage. Cody Kempt managed an impressive drive of 72 yards that resulted in a field goal. Kempt also tossed a touchdown to walk-on (and track team crossover) Elvis Akpla. Cade Cooper kept a drive alive and rushed for a touchdown. Darron Thomas turned an ankle but did have a couple of nice runs and Chris Harper threw for 53 yards and rushed for another 67 yards.

With potential starter Nate Costa held out of contact this spring it causes many to wonder if there will be some controversy next fall at the quarterback position. Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly doesn't think so. In fact as far as Kelly is concerned the Ducks can "never have too many back-ups." Kelly pointed out what happened last year when Dennis Dixon, Brady Leaf and Nate Costa were all lost for the year, and how the staff had to work with the fourth and fifth string quarterbacks for the last four games of the season.

Any concern about losing Jonathan Stewart to the NFL was relieved today as LeGarrette Blount previewed for the fans at Autzen what he can do. Blount was a monster rushing for 68 yards on five carries with a long of 34 yards.

"He showed what I've been talking about all along today; his power," said Bellotti of Blount. "He has power similar to Reuben Droughns. I also feel Remene Alston has improved from (LeGarrette Blount's) presence in practice."

Alston ran hard for 56 yards. Andre Crenshaw had 25 yards, but Bellotti thought he (Crenshaw) was the most consistent back of the spring.

Jaison Williams had the most catches today with five, while Dickson had the most yards with 67. Malachi Lewis had a one-handed grab for 53 yards, and Drew Davis had one for 20.

One might wonder why the defense was so dominant last week and less so this week. Bellotti admitted that some of the veteran defenders were taken out early in the scrimmage and things were scaled back on the defensive side to protect the athletes.

Linebacker Casey Matthews was the leading tackler today with 10 (five solos) while Kenny Rowe notched seven (two solos).

"I think the defensive side can always do better," confessed senior defensive tackle Sonny Harris. "Of course we don't want to give up any points or any easy plays but we did what we could and overall we just want to be the best defense in the nation."

Bellotti mentioned after the game that he had spoken to Jonathan Stewart on the phone after he was taken as the 13th pick overall in the draft, by the Carolina Panthers. Bellotti indicated that Stewart was at home with his family in Lacy, Washington, when the draft selection was made, and that Stewart was very pleased and excited to be picked by the Panthers.

The headman also noted that Thomas' injury was the only one during the scrimmage.

"Darron Thomas rolled his ankle, but he doesn't think it will be a problem," Bellotti said of Thomas' injury. "That is our only significant injury of this spring, which is the greatest thing I take out of it."

The close of the spring workouts proved that the 2008 Ducks will be loaded at all positions, and the off-season conditioning program should only add to the health and depth of this team.


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