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2011 Oregon Preview – Offense
Oregon RB LaMichael James
Oregon RB LaMichael James
Posted Jun 23, 2011 2011 Preview - Oregon Duck Offense

Oregon Ducks

Preview 2011 - Offense

- 2011 Oregon Preview | 2011 Oregon Offense
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What you need to know: Chip Kelly's spread offense reached a new level of potency and proficiency in 2010 … with a first-year starting quarterback calling the signals. Now that Darron Thomas is seasoned and All-American RB LaMichael James opted to return for another year, expectations are high for the Quack Attack to approach last season's 47 points and 530 yards a game. However, unbridled success won't come without a few new hurdles in 2011. Departed WR Jeff Maehl is an irreplaceable cog in the passing game and three starters are gone from the O-line, including an all-league center and left tackle. There could be a few early hiccups, especially in the opener with LSU, but there's still enough talent on the field and on the sidelines for Oregon to again be among the country's highest-scoring teams.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Darron Thomas
222-361, 2,881 yds, 30 TD, 9 INTs
Rushing: LaMichael James
294 carries, 1,731 yds, 21 TDs
Receiving: Lavasier Tuinei
36 catches, 396 yds, 2 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior RB LaMichael James
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore C Karrington Armstrong or redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Josh Huff
Best pro prospect: James
Top three all-star candidates: 1) James, 2) Junior QB Darron Thomas, 3) Senior TE David Paulson
Strength of the offense: The ground game, big-play backfield, left side of the line, quick-strike ability, tight end, balance
Weakness of the offense: Center, wide receivers, fumbles


State of the Unit: Unlike this time last year, when the Ducks were still adjusting to life without Jeremiah Masoli, quarterback is on far more solid footing. In place of a controversy and a protracted battle to start is stability and one of the game's prodigies behind center. The program has also had a couple of years to recruit Chip Kelly's kind of athlete at the position, which means a brighter future and no more mismatches of skills versus system requirements.

Junior Darron Thomas beat out Nate Costa for the starting nod last August and never looked back. The Second Team All-Pac-10 selection far exceeded expectations in his debut as the front man, going 222-of-361 for 2,881 yards, 30 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Blessed with a strong arm, his mechanics and decision-making on fakes improved throughout the season. A 6-3, 215-pound thoroughbred outside the pocket, he also sprinted for 486 yards and five more scores on designed runs and when the pocket narrowed. Beyond the numbers, he's also taken on more of a leadership role in the offense.

The graduation of Costa leaves the Ducks searching for a backup under center. The favorite is 6-2, 193-pound redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett , who was an injury away from playing important minutes as a rookie. He has the right skill set for a spread-option quarterback, possessing the athleticism to explosiveness to be a dual-threat weapon. Also in the picture is 6-4, 197-pound sophomore Daryle Hawkins, though he's more likely to spend the year catching passes than throwing them. Arguably the best all-around combination of speed and strength at the position, he can be of greater use to the Ducks as a member of the depleted receiving corps.

Watch Out For .... Bennett to receive occasional reps during the season. While no threat to Thomas' spot atop the depth chart, the Ducks would like to get their prized backup a little more seasoning in the event of an emergency. Thomas is rather frail and endures a decent amount of punishment, meaning Bennett better has to be at a moment's notice.
Strength: Thomas. His confidence and his feel for the system are soaring. He can hurt opposing defenses with his strong arm or his nimble legs, the prototype for this offensive scheme. The junior has also started doing the little things well, like disguising his fakes on pitches and play-action.
Weakness: Experience off the bench. Bennett has a great future in Eugene, but he's yet to take a snap in a game. And behind him are a likely wide receiver, a walk-on, and blue-chip true freshman Marcus Mariota has yet to get on campus.
Outlook: Oregon could not have regrouped any better from the Masoli mess, a credit to the entire offensive staff. Thomas was brilliant as the starter, and it was only his first year on the job. He'll continue to get more comfortable, though improving his timing with the young receivers and his communication with the rebuilt offensive line will be at the top of the summer to-do list.
Rating: 9

Running Backs

State of the Unit: If there's a more talented collection of running backs in America, it's already playing in the NFL. Oregon ranked fourth nationally in rushing and averaged almost six yards a carry for good reason—it's flush with depth and mercurial speed up and down the depth chart. The starter is a returning is a returning All-American, the backup would start for at least 90 other programs, and the freshmen had their choice of destinations coming out of high school.

As hard as it is to imagine, LaMichael James elevated from his brilliant debut by becoming an All-American and darn near winning the Heisman Trophy. Like a torpedo out of the backfield, the 5-9, 185-pound junior strafed opposing defenses for a nation's-best 1,731 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns on 294 carries. For the second straight year, he had nine 100-yard games, topping 200 yards three different times. A perfect fit for the spread-option, he has gamebreaking speed, the vision needed to locate holes, and far more toughness than his size might indicate.

Behind James, there's minimal drop-off in the form of 5-11, 180-pound junior Kenjon Barner , one of the nation's most dangerous backups. Another blazer who can get through the secondary as fast as a blink, he bolted for 551 yards and six scores on only 91 carries, adding 13 catches for 121 yards and two more touchdowns. The long ball hitter will warrant more touches this season. Even if it's for just a few chances a game, the Ducks are excited to break the seal of 5-9, 190-pound redshirt freshman Lache Seastrunk , one of the gems of the 2010 class. Another dynamo in the open field, with a solid spring camp in the bank, he still needs to become more consistent in order to lock down the No. 3 job and fend off the next wave of combustible rookies.

Watch Out For … more two-back looks, with James and Barner getting on the field at the same time. The Ducks want their best 11 on the field as much as possible, which will put Barner in the role of "tazer", a hybrid of a traditional back and a slot receiver.
Strength: Short drives. If you give James and Barner even a sliver of daylight, they'll perforate it and burst ahead for a quick touchdown. The pair can score from anywhere on the field, using their jets and keen vision to spread the field out and bring defenses to their knees.
Weakness: The offensive line. If there's any ounce of uncertainty pertaining to the running game, it has to do with a rebuilding offensive line. Save for maybe needing a little more pop in short yardage, the backs are among the best in the country, but the holes might not be as wide if the blockers take time to coalesce.
Outlook: There's no reason the Ducks won't repeat the results of the last two seasons, featuring one of the nation's most potent and electrifying running attacks. Sure, replacing three starters up front is never easy, but the ground game will compensate with James and his fellow big-play backs.
Unit Rating: 10


State of the Unit: Oregon will be forced to regroup at wide receiver in 2011 after losing top two receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis to graduation. Maehl, in particular, leaves a gaping void, a clutch receiver who had a dozen touchdown receptions in 2011. The Ducks will lean on one of the Pac-12's best tight ends and a collection of young and untested wide receivers.

The Ducks' veteran of the receiving corps and leading returning pass-catcher is senior Lavasier Tuinei . A former transfer from Golden West (Calif.) College, he caught 36 balls for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns. A rangy 6-5, 216-pounder, with a long stride and good leaping ability, he needs to improve his hands in order to become Darron Thomas' go-to guy.

The coaching staff is particularly excited about the future of 5-11, 207-pound Josh Huff , who enjoyed an auspicious debut in Eugene. A versatile weapon, he caught 19 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns and added 214 yards and two scores on a dozen carries. The sophomore has good wheels and the thickness to bounce off tacklers. Depth at wide receiver is enough of an issue that it could create opportunities for incoming freshmen. One of the few veterans Oregon will be counting on is 6-1, 206-pound junior Justin Hoffman . The former walk-on caught just three passes a year ago, but has the fundamentals and downfield blocking skills to be a factor in the rotation.

Considering the uncertainty at wide receiver, this is a good year for the Ducks to be set at tight end. Senior David Paulson is one of the best in the league, earning First Team All-Pac-10 last season. At 6-4 and 241 pounds, he has the build, quickness and soft hands of a quality H-back, making 24 grabs for 418 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.

Watch Out For … the health of Huff's knee. He suffered an injury in the spring, which ought to be fine by the summer, but prevented him from developing further as a weapon in the offense. Assuming there are no setbacks, he has the physical ability to bloom into Oregon's best all-around wideout at some point in 2011.
Strength: Tight end. Paulson has next-level potential, an athletic tight end who can leap above linebackers and pluck the ball out of the air. While much more than just a safety net, he figures to be a reliable target and one of Darron Thomas' first options through the air.
Weakness: Wide receivers. The starters have a lot to prove and the backups have almost no relevant experience outside of special teams. A certain degree of inconsistency is pretty much a given as the Ducks search for proven players on the outside for Thomas to utilize.
Outlook: The wide receivers are going to be a work-in-progress in Eugene throughout the season. A chance to see more balls will mean an increase in production for Huff and Tuinei, but both will still need to bring it with consistency on a weekly basis. Whatever deficiencies that exist at wide receiver will help boost Paulson's numbers to career-highs.
Unit Rating: 7

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: The Ducks have holes to fill up front, the result of losing three quality seniors to graduation. The offensive line was a cohesive unit in 2010, doing a terrific job of creating space for the backs and time for the quarterbacks. While the tackles figure to be fine in 2011, Oregon and line coach Steve Greatwood are most concerned about the interior of the group, specifically replacing All-Pac-10 C Jordan Holmes.

The most experienced—and biggest—member of the starting unit is 6-7, 325-pound senior Mark Asper , a fixture at right tackle. Back for a third season as the starter, he has a powerful base, yet is also athletic enough to keep the pocket clean. His long arms are particularly useful for jabbing opposing pass rushers and stalling their momentum off the snap.

The frontrunner to join Asper on the right side will be 6-4, 275-pound senior G Ramsen Golpashin whose next start will be his first. While one of the more agile athletes up front, he could get shoved around by more physical linemen. Battling Golpashin is 6-4, 294-pound junior Ryan Clanton . A touted recruit out of City College of San Francisco, who redshirted last fall, he brings a little more physicality to the position.

The anchor to the left of center is 6-5, 286-pound junior Carson York , who's on the lip of the All-Pac-12 cup at guard. The top recruit from 2007 is beginning to reach all of his potential as a starter over the past couple of seasons. He drive blocks in a no-nonsense manner and always plays to the whistle, one of the keys that unlock the prolific running game.

The return of 6-5, 292-pound senior Darrion Weems will be a boon to the situation at left tackle. Ideally suited to move into the lineup, he started seven games in 2010 and has lettered in each of the last two years. He has the footwork and upper body strength to drum up some interest from NFL scouts this fall. His caddy will be 6-5, 296-pound junior Nick Cody who has enough career experience to be a valuable addition off the bench. He won't win the job, but he also won't hurt the offense if he's pressed into action. All eyes will be on the center position, which is currently being led by 6-2, 260-pound sophomore Karrington Armstrong , a scrappy former high school wrestler. Heading into summer, he has a better grip on the system, though his lack of size could leave him vulnerable to 6-3, 278-pound redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu . Grasu possesses an intriguing combination of quickness and get-off once the ball is snapped.

Watch Out For .... Greatwood to do plenty of tinkering during the summer. Never one to be reactive, the line coach will spend the better part of August looking for the optimum two-deep and mixing and matching his eclectic set of blockers.
Strength: The left side. In York and Weems, the Ducks boast a pair of talented veterans, with the potential to continue playing on Sundays. A couple of veteran blockers, they'll protect Darron Thomas' blindside and be the preferred pathway to success on the ground for the running backs.
Weakness: Center. Of all the concerns up front, this is the biggest one. The Ducks are going to replace an all-star and team leader with one of two players with minimal experience at this level. If Armstrong or Grasu fail to get the job done, the rest of the attack is going to suffer the consequences.
Outlook: The line won't be nearly as crisp or effective as it was a year ago, but it also won't be a liability either. York, Asper, and Weems will provide the foundation, and the staff always seems to coach up the talent on hand. The front wall will be most vulnerable in September, specifically in the opener against LSU.
Rating: 8
- 2011 Oregon Preview | 2011 Oregon Offense
- 2011 Oregon Defense | 2011 Oregon Depth Chart
- Oregon Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006



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