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Published: April 29, 2011
SPRING GAME ROSTERS:
Spring Game Preview
It was just three short months ago that the Ducks ended their season on the losing side of the national championship game but Chip Kelly and company have been hard at work for over a month in spring practice as they seek to defend their two straight Pac-10 titles in the newly formed Pac-12 conference. The fifteen practice, month long spring camp culminates tomorrow with the annual spring game from Autzen Stadium. Coming off a historic season last year and perhaps entering this year with the highest expectations in program history Oregon will show their new look team to a national audience looking to see if Oregon is worthy of their likely top-five preseason ranking. There are big shoes to fill as last years graduated class was the class with the most wins in program history, but that hasn’t stopped Eugene from buzzing about what next years football season could bring. Tomorrow gives many Duck faithful their first chance to see if this years team looks like another national title contender. With that in mind here are the five things that I’m going to be keeping an eye on as well as the rosters for the spring game.
1. The New Additions
The 2010 recruiting class was one of the highest rated recruiting classes in program history but there were only two freshmen members of that class, Josh Huff and Ricky Heimuli, that contributed in Oregon’s run to the national title. All other freshmen members redshirted which means that for many of the 2010 recruiting class tomorrow’s Spring game will be the first game appearance in front of an Autzen stadium crowd. Lache Seastrunk, Curtis White, Troy Hill, Derrick Malone, and Hroniss Grasu are some of the new faces that will make their highly anticipated debut in front of the Duck crowd. Along with being able to see many of the redshirt freshman for the first time the Spring game gives us the first time to see early freshman enrollees Colt Lyerla and Tyson Coleman in action.
2. Best Defense Ever?
Even though last year’s defensive unit lost six defensive starters this years unit has for the most part shut down Oregon’s offensive unit this spring leading to LaMichael James saying that this years unit might be the best in program history. Granted its very early right now but for one of last years Heisman finalists to say that this is the best defense that he has faced is something that is worth watching. One unit in particular that has enjoyed a surprising spring is the defensive line. Thought of as a potential weakness in 2011 the defensive line has exceeded expectations thus far led by new starters Ricky Heimuli, Dion Jordan, Taylor Hart, and Brandon Hanna.
3. Center of Attention
The offensive line in general has been one of the question marks in spring practice but the battle at center has been the one that has gotten most of the attention due to the fact that the center is usually looked at as the leader of communication on the offensive line. So far this spring both redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu and sophomore Karrington Armstrong have both started at center for the first unit but at this point its looking like its Armstrong’s job to lose. Tomorrow’s game will be an important step for both Armstrong and Grasu in terms of game experience because between them they have only one game of experience in their careers. It would ease the worries about the offensive line tomorrow if both Grasu and Armstrong can successfully lead their offensive units to successful days.
4. The Value of a Good Backup
It’s a situation that no one wants to think about but what if Darron Thomas was to get hurt? Last year Oregon had a solid backup in Nate Costa until he tore his ACL, which thrust Bryan Bennett up to backup quarterback even though he was in the midst of a redshirt season. Fortunately for Oregon Thomas stayed healthy and Bennett was able to complete his redshirt season but the backup quarterback worries continue, mainly because Bennett has yet to take a division one-football snap. Bennett enrolled early last year and has received high marks since day one but the question remains, could he guide Oregon to victory if something did happen to Thomas? As one of the starting quarterbacks in tomorrow’s game we all will get a glimpse at the answer to this question.
5. Half Full
We know that Darron Thomas has the weapons at running back in LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and the improved Lache Seastrunk but who are going to be the weapons for Thomas at receiver? Last year Jeff Maehl was the obvious top target for Thomas, who will it be this year? Will it be the lanky Lavasier Tuinei or the explosive Josh Huff? Another question is who will be the third guy to complement Tuinei and Huff out wide? Will it be a returning contributor like Justin Hoffman or Nick Cole, a redshirt freshman like Eric Dungy, or a member of the highly rated receiver class that’s not even enrolled yet? We don’t know the answers to these questions but tomorrow’s game will shed some light on receiving crew for next year.