Chip Kelly says the team has no lingering medical issues, and all the players signed in February are registered and ready to go (first reported by Rob Moseley of the Register-Guard.) This means the Ducks will have the full complement of promising candidates at receiver, including Rahsaan Vaughn and B.J. Kelley, who weren’t available for summer. The only enrollment casualty is reserve defensive end Anthony Anderson, who has left the team. With Terrell Turner, Brandon Hanna, Dion Jordan and Tony Washington, the Ducks still have a good nucleus at defensive end, and freshman Lake Koa’ Kai and junior college transfer Ike Remington will step up and add the necessary depth. They’ve talked about experimenting with Josh Kaddu at drop end, an intriguing wrinkle that would get more speed and agility on the field for certain opponents and situations, like Arizona and Arizona State that like to spread the field.
The Ducks come into a new season focused and undistracted. Every speaker from the coach on down emphasized practice, hard work and preparation. They’re eager and determined. The mentality isn’t us against them; it’s more like “us, continuing to do more of the things that have made us successful.”
On schemes: “College football has always been about the players, and it will continue to be about players.” Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are “the secret,” not formations or plays or wrinkles.
On National Championship game: “We probably should have thrown it a little more based on Darron’s productivity in that game.” But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be “throwing the football all over the lot” against LSU.
On turnovers: “We had 15 fumbles lost, and that’s really unacceptable.” Darron Thomas, on the other hand, did a good job last year with only 9 interceptions for the season. Expect Thomas to improve on that number with a year of experience.
On LSU: “You always spend a ton of time preparing for your opener.” Off season, it’s the one opponent you know you’ll face that you know the least about what they’re going to do with changes from last year.
LSU opened camp Saturday (they take additional off days) and Tiger coaches are already pointing toward the Ducks in drills. Secondary coach told his team at the first practice, run this like you’re covering Oregon.
On Bryan Bennett: “A quarterback is like a teabag. You don’t know what you’ve got until you put him in hot water.” He says the quarterback depth chart is Thomas, Bennett, Mariota and Haines, with no mention of Daryle Hawkins, which puts Hawkins in the mix at running back and receiver, another smart athlete who knows the system.
As he was at PAC-12 media day, Kelly was receptive to questions and on point. He handled the thirty minute session with poise and focus, not contentiously, at several points, prefacing his answer with a nod toward the reporter and “good question.” He complimented the media on their intelligence in picking the Ducks to win the PAC-12.
“You play for the team. You don’t have to worry about anybody else.” Not the fans, not the media.
About how this year’s team is different: “We’ll just have to wait and see, when we get the pads on.”
“I love my coach too. Coach Campbell is a big part of me.” James said he came back “one more year” to be with his teammates, but later corrected himself to say that this wouldn’t necessarily be his last season at Oregon.
“I want to be a leader on the team. I’m going to push those guys to the end.” James is more of a lead-by-example guy. Expect Darron Thomas to be more vocal. For a great read on the importance of developing leadership in a new season, see Rob Moseley’s story today on “filling the leadership void.” These Ducks are very competitive and self-directed group. Leadership won’t be a problem because the work ethic is so high, and universally shared. There’s a very strong commitment to practice and preparation in this group.
LSU: “They’re gonna be strong, they’re gonna be fast.” James credited the Tigers big, athletic defensive line, but quickly added, “I’m confident in my guys.”His offensive line will be ready, and he said the BCS experience would help.
LaMichael was emphatic that he doesn’t care about Doak Walker or Heisman. “I just care about winning games.” He emphasized he’s not bothered my media attention or preseason controversy and predictions. “The game is won on the football field, and the talking’s done off the football field.”
Soft-spoken and confident, James didn’t shy away from the hype and reputation the team has inspired. “There’s no such thing as expectations too high,” he said, but noted the emphasis has to be on getting ready and getting it done on the field.
Barner says he’s ready to play slotback, receiver or tailback if asked, even quarterback if he has to.
“I’m excited about the new role.” Fast and versatile, Barner seems destined for a bigger role in the Oregon offense this season, much like he played in the Civil War, and if so, he could complement James with 1500 all-purpose yards, making the Ducks’ attack even more potent.
On his confidence in Darron Thomas: “Darron is extremely calm. Always calm, cool and collected.”
Thomas’ growth and maturity will be a big factor this year. His leadership will be a strong element in their continued success, and Kelly will have even more assurance about putting the game in his hands. His teammates believe in him and respect his toughness, and that increases their ability to respond to pressure situations.
On last year and his concussion: “It made me a smarter player. It made me more aware.”
On being ranked #3 in the country and picked to win the PAC-12: “It’s doesn’t really matter. It’s a preseason ranking.”
“We gotta come on the field and work hard, every day, live up to all those expectations.”
“Happy that today is finally here and all that other stuff can go away, we can talk about football now.”
“Coming in this to be a great leader, makin’ sure I’m up on my game.”
“A lot of people think our plays are disguises but they’re just regular plays, ran to perfection.”
Analysts and commentators try to wax eloquent about the Oregon system, but no one has ever been more incisive than Darron Thomas. What Oregon does is not complicated. It’s eight basic plays, with counters and variations. The secret is not complexity but speed, talent, tempo and execution. Last year in the third quarter Washington defenders were hollering “same play, same play” but they were too tired to stop it, and DT and his teammates ran it too well and too quickly.
On his eagerness to begin a new season: “This is like Christmas. Last night was like Christmas Eve.”
Thomas says he’s been working with the three new centers all summer, and has confidence in them. He had a little trouble pronouncing their names but those three, Karrington, Hroniss and Hamani, aren’t exactly David and Josh. Don’t even get me started on rrr-etha-go-yena. Andre Y, how you doin’?
On sophomore receiving sensation Huff: “Josh is gonna be a big weapon for me. He’s a diverse guy. He’s got his #1 jersey back so he’s ready to go.”
The Ducks are ready to go. And that’s the main message and the most important theme of Media Day and the first practice.