Can the Oregon Ducks Hold the Line in 2009?

There are five major questions facing the Oregon Ducks for the 2009 football season. If the Ducks successfully answer these questions, look out Trojans—there may actually be a new sheriff in town this year.

(Courtesy of bleacher report)

5) Who is this years "lightning?" Assuming "thunder" back LeGarrette Blount gets back on Mike Bellotti's good graces, the Ducks will only need to find someone to take over Jeremiah Johnson's role as the speed back. LaMichael James appears to have the inside track over Remene Alston and Andre Crenshaw. James redshirted last year to work on his blocking skills. Provided he shows enough strength to hold up, he definitely has the speed and moves to electrify the crowds at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks also still have a chance to win the Bryce Brown sweepstakes. Brown, the nations top running back prospect from Wichita, would be lethal in the Ducks' system—as in three straight 1,000 yard seasons, and then of to NFL riches.

4) Who will be the starting wide receivers? With Terence Scott and Jaison Williams graduation, the Ducks lose both of their outside receivers. DJ "don't call me Drew" Davis actually replaced Williams in the starting lineup midway through 2008, before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. If Davis comes back healthy, expect him and speedster Jamere Holland to have the inside track, but don't rule out Aaron Pflugrad or one of the newcomers: Diante "get your popcorn ready" Jackson, Lavasier Tuinei or Tyrece Gaines (assuming he gets accepted). Starting slot receiver, Jeff Maehl, could be the answer on the outside, if Chris Harper accepts being a slot receiver and magnifies his talents.

3) Can the Ducks still man up? Jairus Byrd may not have had the speed of Alex Molden, Rashad Bauman or Walter Thurmond III, but he had the best technique of any corner during the Bellotti era. Expect Willie Glasper, Anthony Gildon and Talmadge Jackson III to battle all spring for this position. Glasper has been in the system the longest, but Jackson has the most experience, starting a couple of games last year when Thurmond was injured. Gildon, who was highly recruited by USC coming out of high school, played sparingly in 2007 and redshirted this past season. Also, don't rule out US Army All-American, Cliff Harris, to be a factor for this position, once he arrives this summer. Whoever wins the position will need to hold up in man-to-man coverage for the Ducks gambling defensive schemes to work, especially since they won't have pass rush specialist Nick Reed at defensive end or playmaker Patrick Chung manning the rover position.

2) Who will fill the large shoes left by Max Unger and Fenuki Tupou? The Ducks have had the Pac-10's most effective offensive line in recent years (based on rushing stats and sacks allowed), but will that trend hold after losing five seniors to graduation? The Ducks do return four players with starting experience (C.E. Kaiser, Bo Thran, Jordan Holmes and Mark Asper), as well as several highly regarded recruits that they have been grooming for this off season: Carson York, Charlie Carmichael, Darrien Weems and Nick Cody. Expect a lot of mixing-and-matching this Spring, with the depth chart changing on a daily basis. Duck fans are counting on offensive line coach Steve Greatwood to once again find the right formula, and given his track record, it is a good bet that the Ducks will be solid up front.

1) Who will plug the holes at defensive tackle? Ra'Shon "Sonny" Harris may have left the largest shoes to fill for 2009. Harris is the classic two-gap d-tackle, that the Nick Aliotti system relies on to eat up blockers in order to stuff the run--a role formerly held by the likes of Haloti Ngata, Junior Siavii, Matt Toeaina and Igor Olshansky. The Ducks must also find a replacement for Cole Linehan, who had a solid career in Eugene. Tonio Celotto has the most experience, but has battled injuries the past two seasons, and is undersized for this position. Blake Ferras gained some valuable game experience last season, and will probably be a starter for the Boise State game on September 5th. Simi Toeaina has yet to play his way onto the field since arriving four years ago, and any contribution from him at this point would be a major surprise. Oregon's defensive coaches have suffered major losses in recent years when defensive tackle recruits Simi Fili, Myles Wade and Justin Thompson (all highly recruited defensive tackle prospects) failed to qualify academically. Oregon has once again gone the JC route signing prospects Terrence Montgomery and Andrew Iupati. Montgomery is already enrolled, and needs to be a factor this season . . . or the Ducks could suffer a slow, painful death in 2009.

If Coach Bellotti's crew is able to win the battle of the trenches, this could be a very special season in 2009. Many insiders predict this will be his last season as head coach, before moving across the Cas Center to take over as Athletic Director.

A lot rides on this season; another top 10 finish could be the momentum that this program needs to truly challenge the Trojan's reign as kings of the Pacific 10 conference.

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