Ducks restructure offense; may use some two-back sets
Jonathan Stewart will get more carries next season, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti says, as the Ducks try to ride their talented running back.
'I think he'll have a great year, but we're looking for more consistency. And, he has to stay healthy,' Bellotti says. 'I expect every game should be 100 yards-plus. A minimum game for him should be 75 yards.'
That's music to Stewart's ears -and running back coach Gary Campbell's.
'He needed to carry it more last year,' Campbell says. 'Given more attempts, he can help, but you have to throw the ball, too. He can't do it by himself. Once you home in and run the ball, the defense knows you're one-dimensional. You have to mix it up.'
After next season, Stewart's third with the Ducks, he could test the NFL waters. While he dismisses the NFL question as 'too early,' he will have eyes on him all season.
Does he live up to the superstar hype?
Does he play well through injuries?
Does he excel even with teams bent on stopping him?
After his seven-carry day in the Las Vegas Bowl, Stewart finished 19 yards short of 1,000 for his sophomore season. He had five 100-yard games (all UO wins), and an impressive, grinding 94 yards and three touchdowns in the Civil War. Bellotti cites Stewart's play against Oregon State as the prime example of him playing through pain and with an edge.
'If he can ratchet up the intensity (like that), he can be unbelievable,' Bellotti says.
The party line is that UO's passing offense couldn't open up the field against BYU in the Vegas Bowl, rendering Stewart and the running game ineffective. Some skeptics also wonder why Stewart wasn't more prominent in the game plan, why the Ducks didn't make the Cougars stop him. But the UO offensive line didn't exactly have its best day, either.
New offensive coordinator Chip Kelly has been busy restructuring the spread offense with new terminology and an aggressive and faster pace. He's experimenting with two backs on offense and working on QB Dennis Dixon's decision-making.
Bellotti hasn't thrown down a mandate about getting Stewart the ball more, but Kelly sees the value in utilizing the bruising and fast 5-11, 240-pound junior as much as possible.
'Arguably, with he and Jeremiah (Johnson), we have the best tandem around. It's obvious in practice how good they are,' Kelly says. 'You have to get them the ball.'
The Ducks led the Pac-10 in rushing last season for the first time since 1955, thanks to Stewart's 981 yards, Johnson's 644 and Dixon's 442. 'They must have done something right,' Kelly says.
But Oregon's spread offense differs from Oklahoma's, for instance, which emphasized Adrian Peterson and ground-pounding in three recent games against the Ducks.
'I'd like to see us do that, give it to (Jonathan) 30 or 40 times,' Campbell says. 'Like with Oklahoma, that wears (opposing) guys down in the end, and that's when you get the yards. … That's what they do. We're a little more balanced.'
In the two-back scheme, Stewart (or Remene Alston) would line up in the traditional one-back spot, while either Johnson or Andre Crenshaw would motion from the backfield to the slot, or 'R' receiver position.
'We don't have a lot of (solid) receivers, and those are two guys we can put in that position who can perform as well as our better receivers,' Campbell says. 'Jonathan catches the ball well, but those guys are really confident and they run really good routes. They have the better, softer hands. Crenshaw played receiver in high school, and he has a really good feel for running routes. Jeremiah is a natural.'
Stewart also can line up at the 'R' position; the Ducks could go with a no-back set and five receivers, two of them being Johnson and Stewart.
'If they get speed and space, it presents problems,' Kelly says. 'I want to make sure we have our best 11 guys on the field. It doesn't make sense to have a guy like Jeremiah Johnson on the bench.'
It appears Oregon has steered away from using an H-back - essentially a second tight end -mostly because the Ducks have fewer candidates at that position than they do at running back. It remains to be seen how much the Ducks will use the fullback, namely Jason Turner, to support Stewart. Turner has sat out the spring with an injury.
'I've heard great things about Turner,' Kelly says.
Stewart reports no injuries this spring, after battling various aches and pains the past two years, including bad ankles last season. Bellotti preached to him about playing through pain, which Stewart says he now understands how to do.
'It comes down to being mentally sound,' Stewart says. 'Sometimes you can't do anything about an injury, but when it gets a little better, you've got to learn to get your mind ready for the pain.'