2007 Oregon Preview - Offense
Oregon Duck Offense
Preview 2007 - Offense
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need to know:
As usual, Oregon gobbled up a ton of yards in 2006, but lacked
efficiency most of the year and imploded under the weight of its
turnovers in the second half of the season. So when offensive
coordinator Gary Crowton left for LSU, Mike Bellotti turned to
New Hampshire’s Chip Kelly to get the offense back on course. A
spread offense guru, Kelly will have a few new bells and
whistles in his toolbox, including greater use of the no-huddle
and increased reliance on superstar back Jonathan Stewart. The
key for the offense, and probably the entire team, will be the
development of senior quarterback Dennis Dixon, who became the
poster boy for the Ducks’ collapse late last year. He’ll get
adequate protection from Max Unger and the boys up front, but
needs more consistency from a receiving corps that misplayed too
many balls in 2006.
Passing: Dennis Dixon
197-322, 2,143 yds, 12 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Jonathan Stewart
183 carries, 981 yds, 10 TD
Receiving: Jaison Williams
68 catches, 984 yds, 6 TD
Star of the
Junior RB Jonathan Stewart
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior QB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Ed Dickson
Best pro prospect: Stewart
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Stewart, 2) C Max
Unger 3) WR Jaison Williams
Strength of the offense: The running backs, pass
Weakness of the offense: Consistency at quarterback,
Projected Starter: No player is more instrumental
to the fate of the 2007 Ducks than senior Dennis Dixon,
who’ll be trying to rebound from a dreadful finish to the 2006
season. In fact, it’s not even close. At the end of 2005 and
the first month of last year, Dixon looked like a poor man’s
Vince Young, improving as a passer and running circles through
opposing defenses. And then the bottom fell out. Over the last
nine games of the year, Dixon threw twice as many picks as
touchdowns, failed to score on the ground, and was benched as
Oregon skidded to a 3-6 finish. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, he’s an
amazing all-around athlete, who’s moonlighting with the Atlanta
Braves this summer despite not playing organized baseball in
five years. It’ll go untapped, however, unless Dixon starts
making better reads and can dramatically cut down on his
Projected Top Reserves: If Dixon implodes this
fall, the staff can take solace in the presence of senior
Brady Leaf, who has filled in extensively over the last two
seasons, starting the final two games of 2006. At 6-5 and 225
pounds, he’s more of a dropback passer, but is quick enough to
escape pressure when necessary. While too erratic to be an
every down guy, Leaf is an excellent insurance policy for a
program that’s needed multiple starters the last two years.
If for nothing else, the winner of the No. 3 spot between
sophomore Nate Costa and redshirt freshmen Cody Kempt
and Justin Roper gets an early edge on the starting job
Watch Out For: the quarterback controversy
involving Dixon and Leaf to never materialize. It’ll get plenty
of play in the local media, but it’s going to be Dixon or bust
in 2007. Yes, he’s maddeningly unpredictable, but he also has a
much higher ceiling and is a far better fit for Chip Kelly’s new
up-tempo, no-huddle offense.
Strength: Dixon’s legs. Quick, name a more
athletic quarterback in the Pac-10. There isn’t one. If Kelly
can harness Dixon’s multi-dimensional talents and turn them into
results, the offense will soar and the coach will field some
mid-level head coaching offers.
Weakness: Turnovers. The two quarterbacks threw a
whopping 18 interceptions in 2006, pushing Oregon to 109th
nationally in turnover margin. If that trend isn’t erased in
2007, the Ducks are destined to be a second-division Pac-10
Outlook: Will Dixon become reliable overnight?
Unlikely. He’s going to make mistakes, both physically and
mentally, but will also deliver a few more big plays this year
in a system that’s tailored to his versatile skill set.
Projected Starters: After scratching the surface
of his enormous upside in 2005 and 2006, Jonathan Stewart
is on the brink of a monster junior season. He’s shown flashes
of brilliance, taking back two kicks as a freshman and nearly
rushing for 1,000 yards last year, but has yet to really uncork
like other third-year players, such as Steve Slaton, Darren
McFadden or Ray Rice. Nagging ankle injuries have been an
obstacle, as has a scarcity of touches. The latter ought to
change in a new system that’ll lean a little more on the backs
than in recent years. When Stewart is whole, he’s one of the
most physically gifted backs in the country. At 5-11 and 230
pounds, he has breakaway speed, stop-on-a-dime quickness and the
power to plow through defenders. In June’s Oregon Classic
weightlifting competition, Stewart took gold in his weight
class, a testament to his raw strength.
Projected Top Reserves: The forgotten man in the
Duck backfield, junior Jeremiah Johnson erupted in 2006
for 644 yards and ten touchdowns on just 103 carries,
establishing himself as one of the nation’s premier No. 2
backs. He’s 5-9 and 205 pounds with a low center of gravity and
a sudden burst when he hits the hole. As a change-of-pace,
Johnson is the ideal complement to the bigger and more physical
Barring injury, there won’t be many carries available after
Stewart and Johnson, but if sophomore Andre Crenshaw is
needed, he looks ready to go. A terrific all-around athlete, he
got a taste of action as a true freshman last November, burning
a possible redshirt season in the process.
Watch Out For… Stewart and Johnson to occasionally
be on the field at the same time this year. First-year
coordinator Chip Kelly wants his 11 best players in the huddle
as much as possible, and is willing to invent new ways to make
this happen in 2007.
Strength: The one-two punch of Stewart and
Johnson. Only a handful of schools in the country can boast a
better combination of backs than these two gamebreaking juniors.
Weakness: Durability. Has Stewart been 100% since
arriving in 2005 as one of the highest-rated recruits to ever
sign with the Ducks? If he’s going to max out his NFL draft
grade and ignite the Oregon offense, 12 games and 250 carries
without interruption is a must.
Outlook: The good news? Stewart will have a
breakout season, leading Oregon to the Pac-10 rushing title for
the second consecutive year. The bad? It’ll be his last in
Projected Starters: Seven of last year’s top ten
receivers are back, including all-Pac-10 junior Jaison
Williams, who surprisingly delivered a team-high 68 catches
for 984 yards and six touchdowns in 2006. A 6-5, 240-pound load
that’s way too physical for most defensive backs, he can also
stretch a defense with his speed. For Williams to take the next
step to becoming a truly dominant receiver, he has to reduce his
number of dropped passes.
Williams will be joined in the three-wide set by a pair of
seniors, Brian Paysinger and Garren Strong. For
the first time in his career, Paysinger turned his good size and
great speed into production, catching a personal-best 34 passes
in 2006 for 451 yards and three scores. An outstanding
all-around athlete, he’ll need to become a more consistent
pass-catcher and route runner to attract some attention away
At 6-3 and 208 pounds, Strong has too much natural ability to
have just 36 career receptions over three years. The problem
for the senior has been staying healthy, such as last year when
he battled groin and ankle problems, and played in only five
games. Strong was one of the stars of spring, lending hope that
he can buck recent trends and finish his career on a positive
In sophomore Ed Dickson, Oregon believes it has its next
Tim Day, an athletic tight end that can create mismatches with
opposing linebackers. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, he has good
downfield speed and is very elusive after the catch. An
emergency replacement at defensive end last year, Dickson is now
a fixture on offense with a big ceiling.
Projected Top Reserves: A former can’t-miss
prospect that attracted offers from top-tier programs, senior Cameron
Colvin has been a huge disappointment for the Ducks. He has
54 career catches for 644 yards and five touchdowns, but has
never come close to having a breakthrough season. While that
day has likely passed, Colvin is still a valuable reserve
that’ll make the occasional jaw-dropping play this season.
Sophomore Rory Cavaille has played his way into the No. 2
spot behind Williams on the depth chart. He’s 6-3 and 210
pounds with decent speed and the hands to be a key part of the
offensive rotation in the fall.
The battle for the backup tight end job has been a heated one
between juniors Matt Larkin and Ryan Keeling
that’ll continue in the summer. While Larkin was one of the
surprises of spring on offense, Keeling is the unit’s best
blocker and an improving pass catcher.
Watch Out For… incoming freshman Drew Davis.
The receiver of the future for the Ducks, Davis took part in
spring drills and is already physically ready for this level.
At 6-1 and 202 pounds, he has the speed and playmaking ability
to challenge for serious playing time in the slot.
Strength: Size. USC aside, the Oregon receivers
are big enough to create a physical mismatch with every
secondary they face in 2007. Collectively, all of the Duck
pass-catchers are 6-1 or bigger, somewhere north of 200 pounds,
and very athletic.
Weakness: Consistency. On paper, the Ducks look
terrific. On turf, well, it’s hit or miss most weekends. As a
group, they’ve had trouble staying healthy and drop too many
passes for a quarterback that can’t afford the miscues.
Outlook: At times this fall, the Oregon receivers
will look unstoppable. At other times, however, they’ll be the
reason the passing game stumbles. Either Strong or Colvin needs
to emerge as a more dangerous and reliable No. 3 option for
Projected Starters: All-Pac-10 junior Max Unger
is Oregon’s best blocker. Where he’ll be doing his work this
fall, however, has yet to be determined. Although Unger has
spent his first two seasons at left tackle, the staff is
considering a move to center to fill the gaping void left by
Enoka Lucas’ graduation. The 6-5, 305-pounder has tooled around
at the pivot in the past, and has the quick feet and
intelligence to play any position on the line.
Unger’s eventual destination will depend on who develops faster,
junior left tackle Fenuki Tupou or junior center Jeff
Kendall. Tupou is a massive, 6-6 and 322-pound tackle that
run blocks like a pulling guard and is extremely powerful. A
signature 2006 signee out of Sierra (Calif.) Junior College, he
used a redshirt season last year.
Kendall played well in the spring as Unger healed from hernia
surgery, but he’s hardly a lock to be back on top of the depth
chart in August. An athletic and versatile lineman, his
development has been by injuries and a lack of playing time. If
Unger gets the nod at center, Kendall represents a solid option
on the second unit.
At right tackle, there’s far less uncertainty, where Geoff
Schwartz is back for his third season as a starter. A
hulking, 6-7 and 340-pound senior, he’ll open holes for the
Oregon backs, but can still be a step slow against speedy edge
Third-year starter Josh Tschirgi is becoming a reliable
fixture for Oregon at left guard. The 6-4, 300-pound senior is
a relentless run blocker and one of the toughest members of the
offensive line. While not an all-league contender, Tschirgi’s
work ethic and experience are assets to the Duck interior.
Tschirgi will likely be joined at guard by junior Jon Teague,
who’s the tenuous front-runner to replace Palauni Ma Sun on the
right side. A former walk-on that’s scrapped his way to two
letters as a reserve lineman, he’s now in a position to be a
regular for the program.
Projected Top Reserves: Teague’s competition at
right guard is coming from junior Mark Lewis, career
reserve that also throws the shot put for the track squad.
Although bigger and stronger than Teague, he’s yet to show that
he’s going to be special at this level.
Senior left guard Pat So’oalo, on the other hand, still
has some untapped upside potential. The 6-5, 332-pound former
JUCO star played sparingly in nine games a year ago, but has the
raw power and strength to challenge for a spot in the lineup
If Tupou is on the first team, junior Jacob Hucko will be
the program’s most experienced reserve tackle. He played in six
games a year ago, earning the start against Portland State. A
fluid athlete at 6-7 and 317 pounds,
Watch Out For… Unger to start and finish the
season at center. The junior can play anywhere, but the key
will be Tupou’s adjustment to handling such a huge
responsibility. If he delivers, the Ducks will achieve the goal
of getting their five best linemen in the starting lineup.
Strength: Pass protection. With three starters
back and Dennis Dixon escaping pressure, the Ducks will again be
one of the Pac-10’s better units at protecting the quarterback.
In 2006, Oregon allowed just 16 sacks, second-fewest in the
Weakness: Toughness. It’s not as if the current
group isn’t rugged, but losing Lucas and Ma Sun robs Oregon of
two of its most tenacious blockers and the linemen that gave the
offense its attitude in 2006.
Outlook: While the line was outstanding last fall,
a repeat performance is unlikely. The Ducks should be fine on
passing downs, but running lanes for the backs are going to be
harder to come by than they were last season.