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Ducks take half-dozen QBs to spring practice

April camp will show loads of talent hoping to succeed Dixon
by: ©2008 BRIAN KANOF, Duck Justin Roper, who showed promise at the Sun Bowl, has competition  at quarterback from five others, including front-runner 
Nate Costa.

Six quarterbacks are expected to take the field when Oregon begins spring football camp Tuesday, and offensive coordinator Chip Kelly downplays the competition aspect of it. “I’m not concerned with who our quarterback is going to be against Washington on Aug. 30,” says Kelly, of UO’s season-opening game. “It’s a work in progress, it’s not a quarterback controversy. Instead of competing against each other, they should be competing against themselves.” Six months after knee surgery, No. 1 QB (for now) Nate Costa has been cleared to do everything except contact drills and scrimmages. It’s a good sign for the Ducks, whose major hole in the spread offense came with the departure of Dennis Dixon. Sun Bowl standout Justin Roper and Cody Kempt will continue to vie for backup spots, pushed by BYU transfer Cade Cooper and true freshmen Darron Thomas and Chris Harper. It’s unlikely that Thomas and/or Harper will challenge for playing time in their first year, but they have good athleticism for the spread, and Kelly helped make Justin Roper look like an all-star in the bowl game. “I’m excited,” Kelly says. “It’ll be the first time I get to see Darron and Chris throw.” The spring game is 2 p.m. April 26 at Autzen Stadium. Running back Jeremiah Johnson, like Costa, only will be held out of contact drills and scrimmages. But he recently ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, according to Kelly — a testament to his health after injuring his knee Oct. 13 against Washington State. Kelly credits UO’s new athletic treatment center for fast rehabs of Costa, Johnson and others. Six new players are expected to be in spring drills: Thomas, Harper, safety John Boyett, junior college defensive lineman Blake Ferras, JC running back LeGarrette Blount and grayshirt offensive lineman Carson York. Linebacker Jerome Boyd hurt his toe in offseason workouts and will miss spring ball. But the UO coaches want to evaluate several linebackers, anyway, and Casey Matthews (shoulder) should be ready. The main competition should come in four areas: offensive line, which has open starting spots at left guard and right tackle; defensive line; linebacker; and free safety. Quarterback is where many eyes will be, however. Costa had been anointed the next starter, but Roper went 17 of 30 for 180 yards and four TDs in Oregon’s 56-21 rout of South Florida in the Sun Bowl. And Kempt had been better than Roper in practice and was in the game plans for UCLA and OSU. All three QBs will be third-year sophomores and “should be in better position to run the team,” Kelly says. Roper and Kempt need to work on decision-making and running the offense faster. Cooper will get a lot of reps while coming off a foot injury. Thomas has been in Eugene since January, and Harper will arrive today, Kelly says. Thomas, from Houston, has been compared to Dixon. The 225-pound Harper, from Wichita, Kan., looks like he could play running back or receiver. “The one thing impressive about Darron is he’s 210 pounds. And he tested out as our strongest and fastest quarterback,” Kelly says, of the 6-3 QB. “Dennis was about 178 when he came in, but he was leaner and flat-out faster.” The 6-2, 230 Blount, from East Mississippi Community College, should get plenty of work at running back. “He’s a specimen, physically, but we won’t know anything until we see him on the field,” Kelly says. “He’s been lifting, but I don’t know how much running he’s doing, if he can keep up.” All the receivers and tight ends are expected to be healthy and ready to go. Kelly says coaches are excited about the corps, which includes returning players Jaison Williams and Aaron Pflugrad at receiver and Ed Dickson and Malachi Lewis at tight end. Receiver Jamere Holland, who transferred from USC, recently ran a 4.2 40, Kelly says, and Derrick Jones ran just about as fast and participated in indoor track and field. Jeffrey Maehl, who played receiver and safety last year, will stay on offense for reps, and it’ll be an important spring for senior-to-be Terence Scott as well. Coach Mike Bellotti says sure-handed tight end David Paulson was one of the most promising redshirt players last year.