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Ducks to begin spring practice with Fife at QB

But Scott Vossmeyer and Kellen Clemens also will get a chance

EUGENE Ñ The stakes have been raised for Oregon football.

'Certainly the expectation is that we're going to be a great football team,' Oregon coach Mike Bellotti says on the eve of spring workouts, the first of 15 scheduled for today.

'It's very important,' Bellotti says, 'that we re-educate the kids É success doesn't happen just because you put the uniform on. You've got to roll your sleeves up and jump back in and put in the hard work and reconfigure the unity and chemistry of the team.'

The Ducks have increased their win total by one during each of the last five years, reaching 11 wins and the No. 2 national ranking last season.

Can they get to 12?

Yes, if you think depth of talent (13 returning starters) translates into winning.

No, if you think Oregon can't make up for the loss of Joey Harrington.

Unquestionably, all eyes will be on the quarterback battle involving junior Jason Fife, sophomore Scott Vossmeyer and freshman Kellen Clemens.

By the end of the spring game April 27 at PGE Park, Bellotti and new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig want to know which one will be best suited to lead the Ducks in the fall.

Bellotti says Fife, who completed 6 of 9 passes for 71 yards in a reserve role last season, would have the starting job if the season started today.

Vossmeyer, perhaps most recognizable as the upback blocker in punt protection last year against Stanford, intrigues Bellotti with his ability. And Clemens has been tabbed the next Harrington because of his leadership skills, although Clemens is not as big.

'We need to not just find out who No. 1 is but who No. 2 and No. 3 are, because there will be an open competition,' Bellotti says.

Save for a couple of spots to be shored up on the offensive line, and for working in George Wrighster as the starting tight end and Matt Floberg as starting fullback, Oregon has its Ducks in order on offense.

Receiver Keenan Howry will skip spring practice because of shoulder surgery. The Ducks will have enough receivers, though. Veterans Samie Parker, Jason Willis and Keith Allen return, and Bellotti and his assistants will closely monitor the progress of redshirt freshman Michael Willis and Demetrius Williams.

It'll be interesting to see how well Allan Amundson plays now that he has recaptured the backup tailback position by default Ñ Maurice Morris having concluded his career. Starting tailback Onterrio Smith already has told teammates he wants to shoot for 2,000 yards rushing. Smith had 1,058 last year, including a school-record 285 against Washington State.

Smith 'combines the best elements of the backs we've had since I've been here,' Bellotti says. 'He'll be a marked man, and he'll be 'the guy' Ñ he won't be coming in fresh off the bench. But I don't think that is a problem or a concern.'

Redshirt freshman Ryan Shaw and sophomore Kenny Washington, still recovering from a broken leg, also will get shots at backup running back.

The Ducks have three starting offensive linemen returning. A fourth, Adam Snyder, played a lot last season. Oregon has sophomore Nick Steitz and redshirt freshman Jason Mohamed listed 1-2 on the depth chart at the one open spot, left guard.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti won't have his full complement of players for spring ball. Junior college transfers Chris Solomona and Junior Siavii and freshman Haloti Ngata are likely to vie for playing time on the line when they arrive in August.

A starter at outside linebacker might be determined in the spring. The Ducks list junior David Martin atop the depth chart Ñ to play alongside veterans David Moretti and Kevin Mitchell.

But, clearly, the best competition will be at the cornerback positions vacated by Rashad Bauman and Steve Smith. Stevie Moore saw action last year as the third corner. Another prospect, Courtney Miller, played on special teams. Other candidates are Charles Favroth, Eddie Smith and Justin Phinisee.

Think Aliotti will take his chances with Moore and Miller, or others, pitted in one-on-one coverage? Probably not. Look for the Ducks to pressure the quarterback much more this season with their stellar line and send plenty of help from the safety position, where they are stacked with starters Keith Lewis and Rasuli Webster and backups Marley Tucker and Stephen Clayton.

'With the exception of cornerback and (outside) linebacker, we have answers at every position,' Bellotti says of his defense.

Contact Jason Vondersmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .