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UO defense eye-opening for young QB

Darron Thomas gets crash course in D-I football during drills
by: , THOMAS

EUGENE -Darron Thomas is fast, but he sometimes feels slow in Oregon's uptempo offense and against Division I athletes.

It doesn't help that the true freshman quarterback from Houston wears knee braces for protection and has added about 10 pounds since he arrived in January.

'I need to get more comfortable,' Thomas says. 'I'm getting better as each practice goes on.'

The Ducks have been impressed with the 6-3, 210-pound Thomas, who, like fellow frosh QB Chris Harper, left high school early to take part in spring ball.

'It's too early to tell' whether Thomas can help the Ducks next season, coach Mike Bellotti says. The No. 3 spot behind Nate Costa and Justin Roper appears up for grabs, though.

When Thomas signed, Bellotti said the Ducks were getting a Dennis Dixon clone. Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly says Dixon had more speed and quickness but that Thomas has plenty of athleticism and arm strength.

'He looks a lot like me,' says Dixon, who is training in Eugene for the NFL draft.

The two talk almost every day.

'I share stuff with him, day in and day out,' Dixon says. 'I just tell him to get in the film room, continue to talk with Chip Kelly, and look at worst-case scenarios - so when you're in the game, everything comes easier for you.'

Thomas watches Dixon's game and practice video. 'He's a really good player,' Thomas says. 'Even when he made bad reads, he made plays look good.'

Thomas says he has picked up the UO playbook quickly, having played in the spread offense at Houston's Aldine High. And Kelly keeps things simple for his QBs by not overloading them with difficult plays.

Thomas completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,576 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for nearly 1,000 yards in his senior season. 'There were games I threw the ball 40 or 50 times,' he says. 'I have experience throwing in zone reads and stuff like that.'

But he hasn't seen defenses like Oregon's.

'It's crazy,' he says. 'Coach (Nick) Aliotti does a good job blitzing, throwing stuff at me. He says, 'I'm getting you ready for the speed of the game.' Man, they blitz a lot.'

Thomas says he wouldn't mind redshirting next season.

'The better I am when I get to play, the better off I'll be,' he says. 'I want to play well when I'm in. I don't want to fumble or anything.'

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UO Football

Chris Harper, the true freshman QB from Wichita, Kan., says he has a problem with his rotator cuff. 'It's swollen,' he says, 'and I can't throw well because if I lift my arm high, it hurts.' He might have an MRI. 'We're going to do something about it,' he says. 'I'm not worried. Doctors know what they're doing.'

• The quarterbacks were a combined 13 of 26 for 83 yards and three interceptions in Saturday's extended scrimmage. Former QB Dennis Dixon's take on the competition: 'It's up for grabs. Chip Kelly never has a defined person for the job. It depends on who responds in fall camp. It's too early right now, people are just flying around.'

• Running back LeGarrette Blount was the offensive star of the scrimmage. He had 11 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown, mostly carrying inside and breaking tackles. He bulled over Willie Glasper on one run.

• Kicker Matt Evensen from Franklin High booted a 53-yard field goal with room to spare. And punter Josh Syria 'kicked the ball as well as he has kicked,' coach Mike Bellotti says. 'And maybe as well as anybody who's punted for us in the time I've been here.'

- Jason Vondersmith