Receivers Samie Parker, Demetrius Williams make positive moves
EUGENE Ñ After Oregon's spring game it is easy to envision the dynamics of the Duck offense next season.
Sophomore Kellen Clemens starts at quarterback, because he leads with more bravado, instills more confidence in teammates and throws more catchable balls than senior Jason Fife. Clemens was spectacular in Saturday's game, completing 12 of 16 passes for 189 yards and three scores; Fife went 0 for 5.
Redshirt freshman Chris Vincent starts at tailback and makes an impact with a slashing, elusive style that separates him from Terrence Whitehead and Ryan Shaw. Vincent had 60 yards on 16 carries Saturday, clearly more impressive than Whitehead, a slower runner, and Shaw, a more north-south runner.
'He makes so many yards after contact,' Clemens says of Vincent.
Senior speedster Samie Parker anchors the offense. Coming off 49 catches last season, he seems to have accepted the challenge of being the top receiver. Demetrius Williams lands the hotly contested No. 2 spot, and settles in as Clemens' trusty target.
'If I get pushed out of the pocket, I'm looking, 'Where's 6?' ' Clemens says, referring to Williams' number. 'I love throwing to Demetrius. I told him (Saturday) I'm going to take him out for ice cream.'
Sophomore tight end Tim Day makes fans forget about George Wrighster, who skipped his senior year to go pro. Day has the bulk of a lineman and the hands of a possession receiver. He only needs to develop the intensity of linebacker Kevin Mitchell to be an all-Pac-10 level performer.
'Hands like a baseball mitt,' Clemens says. 'It's ridiculous. Tim doesn't drop anything you throw to him.'
With an experienced offensive line, the Ducks plan to surprise many people next season, which starts Aug. 30 at Mississippi State. But Oregon's expected starters realize they have little reputation to build on.
'There are some question marks. Everybody knows it,' Clemens says. 'They'll be answered. We're going to be underestimated going into a lot of games next year.'
Things can change in training camp, set to open the first week of August. It's standard operating procedure for coach Mike Bellotti to say nothing has been decided on the starting lineup, and outstanding springs by Clemens and Vincent only determine who gets more practice reps.
Two primary spots will be contentious in camp:
Wide receivers Kellen Taylor and Keith Allen, both out injured Saturday, and incoming Marcus Maxwell and James Finley will take their shots at starting opposite Parker. Rodney Woods and three other incoming defensive backs will push incumbent Aaron Gipson to start opposite Steven Moore.
Most of the defensive emphasis will be on stopping the pass and developing schemes to aid the defensive backs; single coverage won't be the only option.
'There's been a lot of tension, man, a lot of people saying we're not aggressive enough,' Moore says. 'In our style of defense, where you don't get help from the safety, it's hard to be aggressive. You want to keep everything in front of you.
'We have a little more help back there, and we can play more for the ball. You have help, you play with more confidence. Get after it and force turnovers.'
Elsewhere, players are solidly in place, starting with Clemens, who simply makes more positive plays than Fife. He gained on Fife last season, played more in the Seattle Bowl and obviously outperformed him in the spring. 'I'll leave that up to the coaches,' Clemens says, of starting. 'Shoot, I can't comment on that.'
All his throws were on target Saturday: short stuff to the tight ends, outs to receivers and especially down-the-field plays to Parker. His 68-yard strike to Parker was just like Joey Harrington-to-Parker in the Fiesta Bowl. 'I just throw it as far as I can. It's tough to overthrow Samie,' Clemens says.
More importantly, Clemens didn't unnecessarily tuck and run with the ball Ñ his weakness. 'I've calmed down a lot,' he says. 'The offensive line has done great. When you have that kind of confidence in the guys in front of you, you can keep your eyes downfield and look to throw.'
The Ducks may ride Vincent next year offensively after he spends the summer getting in shape after arthroscopic surgery on his knee during the winter. Assistant coach Gary Campbell tries to involve two backs in game plans, however, and Vincent doesn't take anything for granted.
'I live in a little state of denial all the time. I always beat myself up,' he says. 'Everybody said I did good (Saturday). I just go out and play.'
Teammates have compared Vincent to Oregon State star Steven Jackson and say he is more elusive.
Asked to compare Vincent to Jackson, Bellotti says: 'I like what I've seen. Great movement for a big man, with change of direction skills. He's shown speed improvement. He's become an adequate blocker. He's worked on catching the ball. I really want to see him after three months of working out. He's got the potential to be a very good back in this conference.'