Seastrunk impresses; Lyerla, Coleman in camp early
EUGENE - About 2½ months ago, a last-second Auburn field goal ripped the bones from the Oregon Ducks' backs in the national championship game.
Ducks coach Chip Kelly was ready when his new team stepped onto the field Tuesday for the first of 15 spring practices.
'I get fired up when we get out to practice,' Kelly said. 'It's not like I don't think much of this team so we're going to be down. You get excited anytime you get a chance to be on the field. When that does change, you should get out of it. If you start to get out to spring practice and you're not fired up for it, if you sleep really well the night before, then time has passed you by.'
For the record, Kelly said he slept 'not good' Monday night.
And there was one thing Kelly was not fired up about: answering questions about the media storm that arose when it was reported that the Ducks had paid a recruiting service $25,000.
Last season, Kelly had to deal with questions about multiple offseason legal incidents with players. After the first spring practice last year, Kelly walked to the media scrum waiting to talk to him, looked over the group and said: 'Let's do this.'
But after a few national coach of the year awards and a trip to BCS title game, it would appear that Kelly has decided he is not going to 'do this' again.
Before Kelly spoke on Tuesday morning, UO sports information director David Williford warned the media that the coaches and players would answer only questions about spring football.
Of course, that did not mean that questions would not be asked.
When Kelly was questioned about Will Lyles, whose company 'Complete Scouting Services' received the $25,000 check, Kelly treated the question about as well as spicy food treats an upset stomach.
'Why would I (only) want to comment on spring ball?' Kelly asked. 'Because that's what we're talking about, spring ball. We made a statement about (the scouting services controversy) a long time ago. You can go look it up.'
• Several times during Tuesday's practice, quarterback Darron Thomas handed off the ball to a running back who exploded through the line of scrimmage and left the secondary in the dust on his way to the end zone. The back wasn't ast year's Heisman Trophy finalist, LaMichael James. Rather, it was redshirt freshman Lache Seastrunk.
'Lache has some development yet to do,' running backs coach Gary Campbell said. 'But he's going to be a real good back. He's determined to be successful. I'm actually surprised with his first day. Last season, I was a little bit concerned about his learning. After today, I think he's going to be all right.'
With James, Seastrunk and last year's backup running back, Kenjon Barner, it wouldn't be a stretch to say the Ducks' backfield is an embarrassment of riches.
Campbell wasn't about to start blushing, though.
'No embarrassment,' he said, laughing. 'None at all.'
The backfield could have been better had Dontae Williams not left the team after redshirting last year. Campbell would not go into details about why Williams left, but the assistant coach admittedly wished that Williams had been on the field in a Ducks uniform Tuesday.
'There's always regrets when you have a good player and you don't get to coach him,' Campbell said. 'I love Dontae. I recruited him, and I've gotten to know him real well. We're pretty close. So I would've loved to have him here.'
• Perhaps the defining ingredient in the Ducks' success last season was the leadership, on and off the field, the team got from its seniors. Those players are gone now, leaving some gaping holes.
'The unique challenge for us,' Kelly said, 'and the biggest challenge for us is we lost some great leaders: Casey Mathews, Spencer Paysinger, Jeff Maehl, Drew Davis, Talmadge Jackson, Nate Costa, Jordan Holmes, you go on and on and on. Every single one of those guys had some unique qualities to them and really led.'
Seeing who the new leaders will be is something Kelly loves, though.
'That's the fun part of coaching, it's who's the next group that's going to come in?' Kelly said. 'It isn't the NFL, where your whole team went to the championship game and most of it is coming back. Every year, someone is going to graduate, someone is going to leave, and who steps up?'
• Two early-arrival freshmen will participate in spring practice this season: Hillsboro High's Colt Lyerla and Lake Oswego's Tyson Coleman.
Coleman will play linebacker. Earlier this winter, Lyerla said that he was not sure what position he would play for the Ducks. For now, the coaching staff will look at him at tight end.
Kelly said he does not try to persuade incoming freshman to graduate high school early so they can practice with the team during spring ball.
'That's all their decision,' Kelly said. 'It's up to the individual, and a lot of it depends on how you set up your high school schedule. I'm sure a lot of kids would like to be here, but their schools don't allow them to graduate early. Our main starting point for all of our freshman is June, when they come in for the summer program. Anybody that got here now, it's all up to them.'
Kelly said he believes that by sacrificing their final months in high school, Lyerla and Coleman will reap some dividends on the football field.
'It's a great advantage to them, because they'll get 15 practices,' Kelly said. 'When the fall rolls around in preseason camp, they're not going to be young guys anymore.'
• Last week, Kelly was in South Bend, Ind., where a he spoke at a Notre Dame coaches clinic and attended an Irish practice.
So what did Chip think of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly?
'I think they have one of the top coaches named Kelly in the country,' he quipped. 'I actually said at the clinic when he introduced me that it was a real treat to be the second-most famous Kelly at a coaching clinic.'
The two coaches have more than just a profession and their last names in common, too.
'We both grew up in New England,' Chip Kelly said. 'All of us New England guys kind of gravitate to each other.'