2010 Oregon Preview – Offense
Oregon RB Kenjon Barner
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Oregon Duck Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What you need to know: Does Chip Kelly's system make the quarterbacks? Oregon sure hopes so now that dynamic dual-threat Jeremiah Masoli has been booted from the squad. His dismissal leaves the program searching for a successor out of determined senior Nate Costa and surging sophomore Darron Thomas. At least Masoli had the courtesy to implode before spring so both quarterbacks could get first team reps in April. As long as RB LaMichael James and the veteran fortress he runs behind are around, the ground game will again be among the nation's most prolific. The passing game and overall production from behind center, however, could suffer. Neither Costa nor Thomas is expected to be as dangerous as Masoli the last two seasons, and beyond Jeff Maehl, the receivers are pedestrian. There's no doubt the Ducks will put up points, but leading the Pac-10 in scoring for a third straight year has a new hurdle that has to be cleared when Costa and Thomas face off for Round 2 in August.
Star of the offense: Sophomore RB LaMichael James
Passing: Nate Costa
20-33, 197 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: LaMichael James
230 carries, 1,546 yds, 14 TDs
Receiving: Jeff Maehl
53 catches, 696 yds, 6 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Nate Costa or sophomore QB Darron Thomas
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Kenjon Barner
Best pro prospect: Senior LT Bo Thran
Top three all-star candidates: 1) James, 2) Thran, 3) Senior WR Jeff Maehl
Strength of the offense: The ground game, big-play backs, the offensive line, pass protection, red zone scoring
Weakness of the offense: Receivers and tight ends, uncertainty at quarterback, turnovers, third down conversions
Projected Starter: For those who missed one of the biggest offseason stories, star QB Jeremiah Masoli has been dismissed from the program, the result of stealing a laptop from a frat house. The subsequent battle to supplant him in 2011 will be one of the biggest stories of the summer in Eugene. Senior Nate Costa rates an edge in experience … and perseverance. The 6-1, 210-pounder has had to overcome multiple knee surgeries to reach this point, showing a lot of heart and a great work ethic by refusing to pack it in. Once considered a perfect fit in this offense, he has an accurate arm and good feet, even if his mobility isn't quite what it used to be. Chip Kelly wants a game manager, who can efficiently distribute the ball like a point guard, which might be the edge Costa needs to author a storybook ending to a disappointing career.
In a dead heat with Costa coming out of spring is 6-3, 205-pound sophomore Darron Thomas, who redshirted in 2009 in order to preserve a year of eligibility. A dynamite all-around athlete, he's already begun conjuring up images of a young Dennis Dixon. In fact, he could wind up being better, possessing a strong arm and all of the physical tools to excel in the Ducks' version of the spread. If he can improve his accuracy in the passing game, he could be a three-year starter and a bona fide star before too long.
Projected Top Reserves: With Thomas and Costa locked into the top two spots, the only competition left is for the No. 3 job and a leg up on being the 2011 backup. The most experienced scholarship quarterback remaining is 6-4, 193-pound redshirt freshman Daryle Hawkins, who spent his first season on the scout team. Like Thomas, he has the requisite athleticism for the position, winning state titles in track as a high schooler. He'll have the luxury of using 2010 to better learn the system and sharpen his passing skills.
Watch Out For .... the August competition. What else? There is no shortage of storylines in a duel between two very different competitors. Costa has the edge in experience and the extra motivation of being out of second chances. Thomas has the higher ceiling and physical upside. Whoever wins will be well-protected and get an opportunity to pilot one of the nation's most potent offenses.
Strength: Mobility. This will be a given as long as Chip Kelly is on the sidelines. Oregon requires its quarterbacks to be athletic and able to make plays with their feet. To varying degrees Costa, Thomas, and Hawkins are all dual-threat, who'll do more than just buy extra time in the pocket.
Weakness: The passing game. Does anyone really know what to expect from either Costa or Thomas as a pure passer? Neither has much experience at this level, so consistency and accuracy through the air is going to be a concern. Plus, the receivers are average, further complicating the aerial attack.
Outlook: Masoli really blew an opportunity to be a rock star in Eugene for one more season. He also leaves the Ducks with one of the juiciest summer quarterback battles in the country. Oregon will have a playmaker behind center, but you don't get better by losing No. 8, and the passing game will take a step backwards. Whether it's the comeback kid or the future, Costa and Thomas, respectively, have a chance to weave interesting tales in 2010.
Projected Starters: In one of the strangest developments of 2009, 5-9, 180-pound LaMichael James turned the opening day suspension of LeGarrette Blount into his personal launching point to stardom. Who could've imagined? Thrust into the starting role, he responded with 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns on 230 carries, adding 17 catches for 168 yards. A model of consistency, he went over 100 yards nine times, shredding rival Oregon State for 166 yards and three scores. Like a missile coming out of the backfield, he hits the hole with authority, runs with great vision, and can make defenders look silly with his shake-and-bake in the open field. Oh, and don't be fooled by his size. He's tougher than he looks and won't be brought down by arm tacklers. Now a sophomore, he'll begin vying for national honors after serving a one-game suspension for a domestic violence charge.
Projected Top Reserves: When James sits out the opener, 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Kenjon Barner is going to take his place. One of the program's fastest players and a one-time cornerback, he's a threat to bust into the secondary every time he gets help from the boys up front. He earned some valuable reps as the backup in his first year, rushing for 366 yards and three touchdowns on 61 carries. When James needs a breather in the fall, the drop-off might not be as noticeable as many assume.
The remaining veteran on scholarship is 5-8, 211-pound senior Remene Alston, a veteran of three letters. The strongest of the backs, he runs with good leverage and moves down the field like a bowling ball. If not wrapped up properly, he will bounce off tacklers and pick up yards after contact. A luxury to have on the bench, he was third among the backs last year, rushing for 133 yards and two scores on 30 carries.
Watch Out For … the arrival of true freshman Lache Seastrunk. As good as James and Barner are, Seastrunk arrives with an even higher ceiling. Now, he's accomplished nothing yet, but there's a reason why LSU, USC, and Auburn fought to sign him. He has the game-breaking ability to earn reps, even in this talented backfield.
Strength: Big-play ability. It was no accident that the Ducks averaged 5.5 yards and had 38 touchdowns on the ground a year ago. James and Barner are a pair of lightning bolts, with the speed to jet through the secondary in an instant. Seastrunk has similar potential, meaning Oregon is going to tear off a bunch of long runs again this season.
Weakness: Pile-drivers. At 180 pounds apiece, James and Barner are tougher than they appear, but remain a bit undersized and a liability at the bottom of a pile. It's not as if either has shown durability issues, but since both have slight builds, you just tend to worry a little more than usual.
Outlook: As long as James is upright, Oregon will have one of the nation's premier backs and a candidate for all kinds of individual honors. And if the staff chooses to lighten his load a little bit this fall, it has plenty of viable options, from veterans Barner and Alston to rookies Seastrunk and Dontae Williams. Losing Blount early in 2009 means the program is much better prepared in the backfield in 2010.
Unit Rating: 9.5
Projected Starters: The Ducks' lack of flash at receiver is sort of typified by 6-1, 176-pound senior Jeff Maehl. Although not the type of playmaker who'll routinely bring the crowd to its feet, he's a consistent slot receiver with excellent hands and a physical demeanor. A one-time safety, he led Oregon in receiving a year ago, making 53 grabs for 696 yards and six touchdowns, and backed that up with a solid spring. In an otherwise suspect unit, he'll continue getting a ton of attention from the quarterbacks this fall, especially on money downs.
A year removed from suffering a serious knee injury, 6-1, 212-pound senior D.J. Davis gave a glimpse of his capabilities when healthy. He started eight games and finished fourth on the team with 23 receptions for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns. An ideal physical specimen as a perimeter blocker, he's among the strongest and fastest of the wide receivers, making it impossible for defenders to jam him at the line of scrimmage. With a clearer path to the ball, he should enjoy his best season as a Duck.
The staff hasn't had junior Lavasier Tuinei for very long, but it's ecstatic about his future. The second-year transfer from Golden West (Calif.) College, debuted with 24 receptions for 217 yards despite not catching a ball in the first three games. At 6-5 and 203 pounds, he represents a unique weapon for whichever quarterback can best take advantage of his size and long stride, particularly near the sideline and the goal line.
Now that Ed Dickson has graduated, 6-4-233-pound David Paulson is going to get a chance to increase his production from the tight end position. He impressed off the bench last season, catching a dozen balls for 185 yards and showcasing a soft set of hands. It's a spot the Ducks like to utilize in the passing game, and the junior has the requisite athleticism and feel for the position to hold up his end of the responsibility.
Projected Top Reserves: The future Maehl out of the slot could be 6-0, 175-pound redshirt freshman Ben Butterfield, who played his way into contention for the backup job. He gets off the line quickly and has good hands, which could put him in a position to start by this time next year. He'll be learning from a technician, a real luxury at this stage of his career.
Former walk-on Justin Hoffman is behind Davis on the outside, bucking for more reps than a year ago. He played in five games, including a season-high 12 snaps in the Wazzu blowout, but failed to make a catch. Even at 6-1 and 204 pounds, he has good quickness and the overall strength to be an effective downfield blocker.
While Paulson has the edge for now, he ought to be looking over his shoulder at 6-4, 235-pound junior Brandon Williams, a transfer from Joliet (Ill.) Junior College. More of a playmaking threat in the Dickson mold, he has the speed and athleticism to work the seam and pop an occasional long ball in the passing game. He's capable of turning a solid summer into an opening day start.
Watch Out For … Maehl to be even more of a security blanket than a year ago. Not only is the team's most reliable receiver—by far—but the new starting quarterback will be less inclined to check down for second and third options. It shouldn't surprise anyone if he again has twice as many receptions as the nearest wide receiver.
Strength: Blocking. In an offense that leans heavily on the running game, the Oregon wide receivers are well-schooled at getting downfield and getting a helmet on a potential tackler. They're the unselfish heroes of a ground attack that ranked No. 6 in the nation.
Weakness: Options after Maehl. Beyond the top option, Maehl, this receiving corps is going to be highly suspect and unpredictable. Plus, the overall depth is almost non-existent, which could force first-year players to become regular parts of the rotation. If the senior gets too much attention, someone else will need to find the soft spots in a defense.
Outlook: What do you get when you subtract an all-star tight end and a couple of backups from an average group of receivers? A sub par collection of hands for the new quarterback. Maehl is the lone exception and an all-star in his own right, but he'll need a lot more help in order to transform this mediocre unit into an asset.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: This time last year, the Oregon front was as green as its jerseys. Today, however, is a completely different story, as all five regulars return. The group that started 63 of 65 possible games in 2009 could be the nastiest in the Pac-10. Setting the tone at the pivot will be 6-5, 285-pound senior Jordan Holmes, who has started 17 games over the last two seasons. Just plain nasty at the point of attack, he led all linemen last fall with 55 pancake blocks. Add in the footwork and agility to get up the field in a hurry, and he's liable to continue his career on Sundays in 2011.
The most experienced member of the front wall is 6-4, 300-pound senior RT C.E. Kaiser, whose 22 career starts are second on the team to WR Jeff Maehl. One of the strongest members of this group, he's especially effective as a drive blocker, opening holes for the Duck running backs. He also has the versatility and know-how to seamlessly shift inside or outside, which could help his chances of playing beyond Eugene.
Over at left tackle will be 6-5, 293-pound senior Bo Thran, the only Duck lineman to even earn honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition last season. Named the team's most outstanding blocker following 2009, he has the requisite athletic skills to be a top pass protector, recording the fastest 40 time and a 28.5-inch vertical leap in the offseason. After playing through pain throughout much of his career, he's hoping to be injury-free this fall.
The veteran among the guards is 6-7, 323-pound junior Mark Asper, an anchor to the right of center. A starter in all but one game a year ago, he exceeded expectations in his first try as a full-timer, finishing second to Holmes with 54 pancake blocks. A towering and physical presence, he has a good punch and a knack for engulfing defenders, rendering them useless on the play.
Someday, 6-5, 285-pound sophomore Carson York will be the anchor of this group. Today, however, he's the baby of the bunch at left guard and an exciting prospect for the future. One of the West Coast's top linemen of 2007, he didn't disappoint in his debut, starting 12 games and earning Freshman All-American recognition. A physical drive blocker, who'll only get better with more experience, he's already learned to finish his blocks and play to the whistle.
Projected Top Reserves: The team's top tackle off the bench and Thran's backup on the left side is 6-5, 302-pound junior Darrion Weems, who played in every game and earned the start versus USC. An outstanding physical specimen at the position, he has the size, strength, and footwork to again be an asset as a reserve before taking over the spot in 2011.
The guard's version of Weems is 6-5, 285-pound sophomore Nick Cody, a 10-game backup and a starter at right tackle for the UCLA game. A terrific all-around athlete, he's gradually packed on the weight without sacrificing much in the way of lateral quickness or speed to the second level. The staff loves his upside potential, which will really emerge when he enters the lineup on a full-time basis next season.
Watch Out For .... the linemen to have to adjust to blocking for a new quarterback. It'll be subtle rather than dramatic changes now that Jeremiah Masoli is being replaced by either Nate Costa or Darron Thomas. Still, there was a comfort level with Masoli that must be achieved once a starter is named.
Strength: Stability. Chemistry is the most underrated aspect of an offensive line, and the Ducks are flush with it. Not only are all five starters back, but that group combined to miss just two starts throughout 2009. Oh, and the replacement, Weems and Cody, also return. There's a level of continuity here that few schools in America can match.
Weakness: Injuries. Although it didn't cost them last year, the offensive linemen have been a little gimpy in recent seasons, which will make the staff hold its breath from time to time. From Thran's knee problems to Kaiser's recurring ankle issues, the Ducks will just be relieved to get out of another year without suffering a serious injury to one of the blockers.
Outlook: Go ahead and continue heaping praise on assistant Steve Greatwood, who once again did a fantastic job with this crew. Oregon has rebuilt on the fly up front and now boasts one of the nation's sturdiest front walls. Even without a bona fide star, this unit proves that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
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