Ducks have many jobs up for grabs
- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Sports
Mike Bellotti still hasn't decided on his starting quarterback
EUGENE Ñ Coach Mike Bellotti and his assistants have worked hard this spring to rebuild the Oregon football program. Bellotti wants better chemistry and more accountability and dedication from his players. The Ducks need to find their offense and plug the holes that sprang in last year's disastrous defense.
Mostly, they want to avoid another 7-6 season, even though, on paper, it seems one could be on the horizon.
Here's how Oregon looks going into Saturday's 1 p.m. spring game at Autzen Stadium:
Quarterback: 'It's pretty even,' Bellotti says of the duel between senior Jason Fife and sophomore Kellen Clemens. 'They started off very equal, then Kellen had a couple better practices, and the last (scrimmage), Jason was more impressive.'
Fife started all 13 games last year and threw 367 passes. Clemens threw 40 but gained on Fife in practice and played the most in the Seattle Bowl. Bellotti has evaluated them on five things this spring: leadership, running the offense, accuracy, carrying the ball without fumbling and the ability to make plays.
Fife is the better athlete. Clemens is physically tougher and a more pure passer.
'If I could get all in one package, that would be my preference,' Bellotti says, 'but I haven't seen that yet.'
Running back: The Ducks believe they have an outstanding player in Chris Vincent, an elusive, 6-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman. He had to sit out winter workouts with knee problems that required minor surgery. Bellotti believes Vincent could be much better in the preseason, when it will be determined who starts ÑÊVincent or sophomore Terrence Whitehead. Whitehead had 132 yards last year against Stanford, the Pac-10's second-worst team.
Offensive line: The Ducks are set with center Dan Weaver flanked by guards Joey Forster (out this spring after shoulder surgery) and Nick Steitz. Either Adam Snyder or Robin Knebel will start at left tackle and one of them or Mike DeLaGrange will start at right tackle. Oregon has depth, too.
Tight end: Tim Day will be the starter, barring an injury or regression. 'Tim's going to be very good,' Bellotti says. 'He's one of the best guys we have on the line of scrimmage and one of the best on the move, a 270-pound man who runs very well. I just have to make him meaner.'
Wide receiver: Samie Parker had 49 catches and 8 TDs last season. Bellotti wants the senior to be more consistent and not drop balls. Bellotti has said Kellen Taylor and Keith Allen are 'waging a battle' to start on the other side, but he also expects Demetrius Williams, incoming junior college transfer Marcus Maxwell and freshman James Finley to shake things up. Still, receiver is the major question mark on offense.
Defensive line: Igor Olshansky (injured, not participating in spring) and Haloti Ngata give the Ducks nearly 650 pounds of quality tackle talent, but the ends need to help with the pass rush. Bellotti feels the candidates have the potential, but projected starters Quinn Dorsey and Chris Solomona did not play last year, Devan Long played sparingly (and missed spring practice after an assault damaged his face). The backups could be freshmen Darius Sanders and Matt Toeaina, who switched positions last year as redshirts. 'They're all rusty and feeling their way,' Bellotti says. Only Long played last year, in seven games.Ê
Bellotti expects Dorsey to miss the first four games because of the UO-imposed penalty for the player's involvement in a rent-for-tickets scandal, a penalty that still needs NCAA approval.
Linebackers: What is it about the letter 'M' and linebackers at UO? Inside backer Kevin Mitchell, who once played alongside David Moretti and Wesley Mallard, may be joined by David Martin on the outside and Jerry Matson in the middle position. The athletic Anthony Trucks has been pushing Martin, a senior. Ramone Reed and Robert Hamilton have shown flashes. JC transfer Marcus Miller will vie for time, too.
Safeties: Marley Tucker should start alongside veteran Keith Lewis, with Stephen Clayton close behind Tucker, and Justin Phinisee getting a try at both spots.
Cornerbacks: Lost in 2002's porous performance was the fact that then-junior Steven Moore performed fairly well, other than giving up assorted big plays. Sophomores Aaron Gipson and Marques Binns, after their trials by fire, will have to fight to start, as Rodney Woods, Mark Walker, Ryan Gilliam and Kyle Weatherspoon are due to arrive this summer. Charles Favroth and Sam Hughes also have improved.
Kicking: Place-kicker Jared Siegel has All-American aspirations. Bellotti thinks incoming freshman Paul Martinez can nail down the punting job, although three redshirt freshmen also are in the mix.