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2008 Oregon Preview - Offense
Oregon WR Jaison Williams
Oregon WR Jaison Williams
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Oregon Duck Offense

Oregon Ducks

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 Oregon Preview | 2008 Oregon Offense
- 2008 Oregon Defense | 2008 Oregon Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Oregon Preview | 2006 CFN Oregon Preview 

What you need to know: Who’ll get the ball on opening day? Dennis Dixon and his backup Brady Leaf are gone, meaning the quarterback situation will be under the microscope. Although six hurlers are on the roster, the competition will come down to Nate Costa and Justin Roper. Roper was peerless in the Ducks’ Sun Bowl rout of South Florida, but the compact, mobile Costa is the better fit for the spread. With Jonathan Stewart headed to the pros and Jeremiah Johnson recovering from a knee injury, the Ducks need to build running back depth, especially with the uncertainty under center. If Johnson is slow to recover, the vaunted Oregon ground game will become the responsibility of little-used Andre Crenshaw and LeGarrette Blount, a heralded 230-pound transfer from East Mississippi Junior College.  

Returning Leaders
Passing: Justin Roper
34-72, 342 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Andre Crenshaw
82 carries, 415 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Jaison Williams
55 catches, 844 yds, 8 TD

Star of the offense: Senior C Max Unger
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Nate Costa or sophomore Justin Roper
Unsung star on the rise: Junior RB LeGarrette Blount
Best pro prospect: Unger
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Unger  2) Senior LT Fenuki Tupou  3) Junior TE Ed Dickson
Strength of the offense: The offensive line, team speed
Weakness of the offense: Uncertainty at quarterback, inconsistency of the receivers

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: The Ducks got a dress rehearsal for life after Dennis Dixon when he injured his knee last fall. What was horrible news for the 2007 season will make the transition to a new quarterback far easier for this year. 

Although there are a half-dozen candidates on the roster, the duel pitting sophomores Nate Costa and Justin Roper should decide who gets the ball when Washington visits Aug. 30.  Costa missed spring recovering from last October’s ACL tear, but is considered the best fit for Chip Kelly’s spread option. Billed as the heir apparent before getting injured, he’s 6-1 and 211 pounds, drawing comparisons to nimbler version of Missouri’s Chase Daniel. Costa makes the most sense, but he first has to prove in August that he’s healthy and hasn’t lost a step.

Roper wasn’t even being considered in the Ducks’ long-term plans until he sparked the program to a 56-21 upset of South Florida in the Sun Bowl. It was a career-altering performance, as the fourth-stringer went 17-of-30 for 180 yards and four touchdowns against one of the country’s best pass defenses. All of a sudden, Roper could not be ignored. At 6-6 and 205 pounds, he’s more of a conventional pocket passer than Costa, raising concerns he lacks the mobility to really make this attack hum at an optimum level.       

Projected Top Reserves: While there’s an eclectic group forming behind the two front-runners, it’s highly doubtful any of them will challenge for the job in the summer. Still, as last season proved, you can never have too many quarterbacks prepared for action. Sophomore Jeremiah Masoli was a late signee, but has the most experience among the reserves now that Cody Kempt has transferred to Montana State. He comes by way of City College of San Francisco, getting looks from SEC schools and other Pac-10 programs. While only 6-0 and 205 pounds, he stands tough in the pocket, throws an accurate ball, and has the quickness the Ducks like.

True freshman Chris Harper made the most of his first spring in Eugene, getting rave reviews from the coaches and pulling ahead of fellow rookie Darron Thomas. At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he moves very well outside the pocket, prompting the staff to ponder using him as a change-of-pace, much the way Florida used Tim Tebow two years ago.

Watch Out For… Costa to be the man. Unless the injury causes unforeseen problems when he gets back on the field, why shouldn’t he get the ball? He was being groomed for this moment last fall, and he clearly fits the offensive gameplan better than Roper.
Strength: Athleticism. By design, the new breed of Oregon quarterback is a dual-threat who’s equally dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm. Costa fits the bill, as do all of the recruits from the most recent recruiting class.
Weakness: Inexperience. Yeah, it helps that Roper got game experience late in the season, but it wasn’t nearly enough to allay concerns about the position. Costa, the favorite to lead this team, has thrown just five passes for his career.
Outlook: Whether it’s Costa or Roper, the winner of this summer’s blockbuster quarterback battle will be put in a position to succeed right away. Kelly wouldn’t have it any other way. Costa, in particular, has the tools to put up solid numbers, but it’ll take some time before he gets fully acclimated to his new role.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: When Jonathan Stewart left early for the NFL, it created a void in the Oregon running game that’ll be filled by more than one player. At the top of the depth chart is 5-10, 198-pound senior Jeremiah Johnson, previously a super sub who has averaged more than six yards a carry for his career and scored 10 times in 2006. However, he tore his ACL midway through last season and did not take any contact during the spring. Before the injury, the versatile Johnson was a decisive and speedy runner who could pick up blitzes and catch passes as well as any Duck back. If the knee doesn’t cause any problems, he’s poised to make a dash for All-Pac-10 honors.          

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Andre Crenshaw picked up some of the slack after Johnson went down, rushing 82 times for 415 yards and four touchdowns. That experience will serve him well as he begins to scale the depth chart. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, he’s a cutback runner who’s capable of making people miss in the open field.

Some of the loudest buzz of the spring was generated by LeGarrette Blount, a hotly-pursued transfer from East Mississippi Community College. The 6-2, 229-pound wrecking ball, who drew comparisons to former Duck Reuben Droughns, routinely broke into the secondary and dragged tacklers for four or five yards. If April wasn’t an aberration, Blount will be the ideal power complement to Johnson and Crenshaw and someone who’ll bludgeon gassed defenses late in the second half.      

Watch Out For… Johnson to blossom into a dynamite full-time player. Everything hinges on the health of his knee, of course, but he’s the total package who does all the little things well and will be running behind a veteran offensive line. Although Johnson won’t be Stewart, he will be good enough for 1,000 yards and a bunch of seam-busting jaunts.
Strength: Diversity. With the addition of Blount to the stable, the Ducks now boast complimentary runners who can pound it between the tackles or bounce outside and sprint down the sidelines.  It’s a combination that’ll keep everyone fresh.
Weakness: Johnson’s knee. It’s the only thing that can keep the offense from sporting a dynamic running attack for the third year in a row. If Johnson is unable to be the workhorse, it could be asking too much of Crenshaw or Blount to shoulder that load.
Outlook: Forget Stewart now that he’s a Carolina Panther. With Johnson and Crenshaw working the outside and Blount doing damage on the inside, Oregon is set to regroup on the fly with a shared backfield situation that will maximize the talents of three different runners.
Rating: 8

Receivers

Projected Starters: After having to dig deep into the roster a year ago at receiver, Oregon is hoping to have better luck and fewer injuries this season. The one relative constant at the position has been senior Jaison Williams, a physical 6-5, 240-pound target who has led the Ducks in receptions the last two seasons. A year ago, he hauled in 55 passes for 844 yards and eight touchdowns, but still needs to sharpen his consistency. If Williams could ever eliminate his dropped passes, he’d be an All-America candidate.

Former USC Trojan Jamere Holland has sat out his mandatory year and is ready to begin fulfilling expectations in the Pac-10. At 6-1 and 188 pounds, the sophomore has the legitimate 4.2 speed to stretch defenses and emerge as the Ducks’ long ball threat. It’s been two years since Holland has played, but that blend of size and speed has the program drooling about his upside.

The frontrunner on the inside is sophomore Jeff Maehl, a converted safety the Ducks hope can be molded into a slot receiver. Long and lean at 6-1 and 178 pounds, he debuted with nine catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, needing to become more consistent in all facets as he adjusts to the position.

Oregon’s best receiver might not be a receiver at all. Junior TE Ed Dickson is on his way to becoming the program’s next Tim Day, a smooth downfield receiver with the speed and long stride to perforate the seam of opposing defensive backfields. The sure-handed 6-5, 240-pounder had 43 grabs for 453 yards and three touchdowns, setting the stage for a breakthrough second half of his career.   

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Maehl for a starting job in the slot is sophomore Aaron Pflugrad, who was pressed into action as a true freshman and responded with 17 catches for 168 yards and a score. While he has great hands and is one of the most polished receivers on the squad, he’s only 5-10 and 172 pounds and will take a pounding if he’s in for any significant stretch of time.

Sophomore Drew Davis is the anti-Pflugrad. Although he looks the part at 6-1 and 202 pounds and has good wheels, he has a long way to go with his fundamentals and pass-catching before becoming a threat to one of the three starters.

Coming out of spring, Williams’ backup was Terence Scott, a senior and one of the few upperclassmen occupying a spot on the two-deep. Nagging injuries limited him in his first season out of College of the Canyons, but at 5-11 and 170 pounds, he has speed and playmaking ability to make up for lost time.

At 6-3 and 206 pounds, sophomore Malachi Lewis is a basically a backup tight end in the body of an H-back. An explosive athlete with unusual speed for his size, he could be a factor provided he ups his intensity and isn’t put in a position to do too much blocking.   

Watch Out For… the number of dropped passes to increase. With a new quarterback behind center and a slew of young receivers, Oregon’s biggest concern in the passing game is likely to get a little worse before it gets better.
Strength: Tight end. Dickson helps give the Ducks one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country and a big, reliable target for the new signal-caller to lean on in the short and intermediate range.
Weakness: Consistency. Even when the Ducks are posting solid numbers, this has been an on-going problem that doesn’t seem to go away. From Williams on down, the receivers drop too many passes and lack the polish and consistency of an elite receiving corps.
Outlook: While Williams and Dickson are firm starting points, this offense, which often goes four-wide, needs a few more receivers to step forward and beginning producing regularly. If Holland is one of those players, everything should open up for the underneath receivers.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Although two starters must be replaced, the core of an offensive line that was very good in 2007 returns intact. The cornerstone of the unit will again be senior Max Unger, one of the Pac-10’s premier blockers and a starter over the last 38 games in-a-row. At 6-5 and 300 pounds, he has the feet and intelligence to literally play any position on the line, but is likely to remain at center, where he can orchestrate the rest of the unit. At the next level, he’s talented enough to excel as a left tackle.

Unger’s move to center last season was made possible by the emergence of senior LT Fenuki Tupou, who earned Second Team All-Pac-10 honors in his first year out of junior college. At 6-6 and 322 pounds, he’s a mauler as a run blocker and a rapidly improving pass protector. He had his national coming-out party in last year’s Sun Bowl, shutting down South Florida’s George Selvie, an All-American and the nation’s leader in sacks.

At right tackle will be senior Jacob Hucko, a career backup and three-time letterwinner getting his best chance yet to be a regular. He’s got the experience to handle the increased workload and the 6-7, 317-pound frame to be an effective pass blocker. Although Hucko will have to elevate his play to keep the spot in the summer, he’ll be a key part of the rotation no matter who starts the game.

At guard will be seniors Jeff Kendall and Mark Lewis on the left and right side, respectively.  The 6-3, 297-pound Kendall has been limited by injuries throughout much of his career, but will enter this season as healthy as he’s been in a long time. One of the most versatile and athletic of the Duck linemen, he’d be the starting center if Unger ever moved back to tackle.

The 6-4, 308-pound Lewis is a returning 12-game starter and one of the strongest blockers on the front wall. While not a particularly flashy player, he’s steady, reliable, and a veteran of three letters. Coming off a statement spring session, Lewis also throws the shot put on the track team, another indication of his upper body strength.

Projected Top Reserves: The graybeard of the second unit will be senior Jon Teague, a three-time letterwinner who saw his most extensive action a year ago. A 6-2, 301-pound former walk-on with a great work-ethic, he’ll again back up Lewis at right guard.   

While Teague is the vet of the second unit, LT C.E. Kaiser is its rising star. At 6-4 and 296 pounds, he blends tremendous strength with the versatility to play multiple positions, impressing the staff on the scout team and throughout the spring. Kaiser might move to the right side to challenge Hucko, but is a lock to be in the starting rotation in 2009.

For the moment, the No. 2 at right tackle is redshirt freshman Mark Asper, a 6-7, 323-pound behemoth with the long arms needed to wall off opposing pass rushers. His youth, however, was on display during the spring, and he’ll need to improve his technique and footwork in the summer in order to remain on the second unit.

Tailing Kendall at left guard is sophomore Jordan Holmes, who earned valuable playing time behind Unger at center last season. He nearly beat out Kendall in the spring, showing good burst and fundamentals for a 6-4, 295-pounder. Whether or not it happens this fall, Holmes is starting material and a key part of the line in the future.   

Watch Out For… Unger to remain at center throughout the season. There was speculation that the senior might move back to tackle to help offset the loss of Geoff Schwartz, but there’s enough talent developing for him to stay put. While Unger can play anywhere, his biggest value is as the conductor of the line.  
Strength: The left side. From Unger at the pivot out to Tupou at left tackle, the Ducks boast a dominating left side of the line that’ll be the focus of the offense’s running plays and quarterback’s rollouts. Don’t discount Kendall, who has fringe all-league potential if he can stay healthy for the entire year.
Weakness: Right tackle. Relatively speaking, Hucko is the weakest link of the line, needing to show that he can handle the starting role for the first time in his career. He’s been a solid reserve, but he has a lot of room to make up before approaching the skills of the rest of his linemates.
Outlook: The pieces are in place for Oregon to again have one of the Pac-10’s most formidable offensive lines. Unger and Tupou are legitimate anchors at their respective positions and assistant Steve Greatwood is doing a nice job of building depth and coaching up some of the younger Ducks.
Rating: 8.5