JASON SAYS: Ducks likely to begin getting on track
Before we get to Oregon's game against Nevada, 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium, let's review a few issues of the week:
• It looks as though Kenjon Barner is OK after he appeared to injure his right ankle against LSU. You'll see a lot of "appears" and "appearing" in news reports these days, because Oregon doesn't talk about injuries or put out an injury report, and coach Chip Kelly closes practices in the increasingly bunker mentality of the program.
• Linebacker Kiko Alonso and/or cornerback Cliff Harris may not play against the Wolf Pack. Alonso, who defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti calls NFL-caliber, and Harris, a possible 2012 first-round NFL draft pick, could help the Ducks, although Kelly says the team didn't miss Harris against LSU.
• Could we see more of standout freshman running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas as the season progresses? Definitely. One also wonders how much the Ducks will work in 6-5, 240-pound tight end Colt Lyerla and junior college transfer receiver Rahsaan Vaughn. Lyerla was one of the top athletes in the country in the 2011 signing class, Kelly says. Oregon is searching for some answers offensively, and Kelly said on his TV coach's show that the Ducks were still searching for a go-to receiver.
That was interesting, because senior Lavasier Tuinei, 6-5 and 215 pounds, spent the offseason, spring, summer and training camp talking about wanting to be the go-to receiver; he had seven catches for 47 yards against LSU.
• I get a kick out of critics who say LaMichael James may have lost a step of speed and quickness, by virtue of him putting on about 20 pounds to get up to 195. Well, first of all, James has a lot of speed/quickness to lose. Secondly, like many running backs, he needs blocking to be successful. Thirdly, Auburn and LSU had fast defensive players. And, as far as bulking up, remember, he needed to be more durable, and he's getting ready to try to be an NFL player and to try to earn paychecks like everybody involved in college football does except for the players. That's what college is for, right, preparing to get a job?
Same thing with Barner. And, I expect both of them to enjoy standout seasons.
• Quarterback Darron Thomas deserves some benefit of the doubt, even though he struggled with passing and some decision-making on options against LSU. He had a heck of a 2010 season, folks.
All that said, I think the Ducks rebound against Nevada, a tough foe that will find some success against the home team. I gotta believe Nevada's pistol offense will put up yards and points, even with new QB Tyler Lantrip, given the Ducks' suspect positions on defense.
A lot of improvement happens between the first and second games, and you'll see some improvement offensively, especially with Darron Thomas, James, receivers/tight ends and offensive line/blocking. The Ducks have some potential firepower.
I see the Ducks improving against Nevada and Missouri State, a la 2009 when UO came back from its humiliating defeat at Boise State to put things together against Purdue and Utah before league play.
Then Pac-12 play starts, and Oregon could be challenged nearly every week.
THE PICK: Oregon 41, Nevada 30