2007 Oregon Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 27, 2007

Preview 2007 Oregon Duck Offense

Oregon Ducks

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Oregon Preview | 2007 Oregon Defense Preview
2007 Oregon Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Oregon Preview 

What you 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. 

Returning Leaders
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 offense: Junior RB Jonathan Stewart
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Dennis Dixon
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 protection
Weakness of the offense: Consistency at quarterback, turnovers


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 turnovers.                                        

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 in 2008.              

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 team.      
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.       
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

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 Stewart. 

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 Eugene.    
Rating: 9


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 from Williams. 

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 note.                    

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 Dennis Dixon.                                    
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

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 rushers.

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 this fall. 

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 league.            
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.
Rating: 7


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2007 Oregon Preview
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2007 Oregon Preview - Defense
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2007 Oregon Preview - Depth Chart
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