This is the ninth in a series reviewing spring football camps in the Pac-12. Today, Oregon.
Starters returning – 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense), plus both kickers.
Refresher on 2011 – Ducks began badly, losing a much-ballyhooed 40-27 opener with LSU before embarking on a nine-game winning streak capped by a 53-30 blowout of league co-favorite Stanford. But a 38-35 upset loss the next week to USC ended Oregon’s chance of a repeat appearance in the national-title game. The Ducks finished the season with three straight wins for a 12-2 record and the school’s first Rose Bowl victory (over Wisconsin) in almost a century. Oregon played under the cloud of an NCAA investigation into the role of mentor/scout/agent Willie Lyles. Later, coach Chip Kelly did a late about-face and returned to the Ducks after reports he was headed to the Tampa Bay Bucs. All-American rusher LaMichael James had 1,805 yards and left for the NFL, as did, surprisingly, QB Darron Thomas, off a season of 33 TDs and seven interceptions.
Major spring concerns – Sorting out a replacement for Thomas, who played at an all-league level for two years . . . finding receivers to go with leading wideout returnee Josh Huff . . . defining the depth at linebacker, where there were quality losses.
Developments – QBs Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota (a 6-4, 196-pound RS freshman) dueled, with the winner not likely to be determined until well into fall camp. Bennett was the presumed leader, having rushed for 200 yards last year and thrown for six TDs with no interceptions, but Mariota appears to be even after a productive spring game as Bennett foundered . . . with dependable Auburn product David Paulson exiting, the tight end spot is flush with inexperience, as Colt Lyerla has the most returning receptions with seven . . . turning in good spring sessions at WR were walk-on Blake Stanton (5-11) and junior Daryle Hawkins (6-4) . . . All-Pac-12 DE Dion Jordan showed well in spring drills and the defensive line looks to be deep and talented . . . defense could be the best in the Pac-12 after its 5.1-yards-per-play yield was second to Utah’s 5.0 last year . . . Ducks continued to be optimistic about LB Kiko Alonso, defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl who has had alcohol issues in the past . . . luxury of depth allows Oregon to replace All-Pac-12 LB Josh Kaddu with Boseko Lokombo, who has four career TDs . . . 6-8, 297-pound DT Arik Armstead, an early entrant after a major recruiting battle, looked promising . . . Ducks expect 5-11, 188-pound Kenjon Barner, recently James’ understudy, to pick up for him, but the question is how much pounding he can take at that size . . . K Rob Beard returned from a troublesome quadriceps injury that dogged him last year, and will battle with Alejandro Maldonado for that job . . . before drills, RB Tra Carson, who attended Texarkana High (Texas) like James, announced he’s transferring. He gained 254 yards last year . . . WR Huff missed some work after he was cited for DUI over the winter . . . De’Anthony Thomas, the RB/WR flash who figures to be in the Heisman picture, is scheduled to run the anchor leg for the UO sprint-relay team at the annual Twilight track meet Saturday . . . Ducks were stung by a mid-April ESPN the Magazine report quoting current and former UO players as saying marijuana use on the team is at 40-60 percent. Kelly scoffed at the numbers cited.
Spring game – Ducks swamped all other Pac-12 schools by drawing 44,129 to their game, marked by Mariota’s breakout performance (18 of 26 for 202 yards, plus an 82-yard TD run — though it may have been aided by the no-tackling-of-QBs format). Bennett struggled with turnovers, ruining a 19-for-32, 209-yard day with two interceptions and a fumble, while Mariota was picked once.
2012 schedule – Unlike 2011, when they opened against LSU, Ducks should be able to fall out of bed and go undefeated deep into the season, perhaps into November. They start with four straight home games – Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech – before the league opener against Arizona. Then it’s WSU at CenturyLink Field, which ought to be intriguing if not richly competitive, and Washington in Eugene. October closes with games against Arizona State and Colorado, so it’s not difficult to picture the Ducks at 8-0 before November gets dicey with consecutive road games at USC and Cal. By then, the new quarterback should be battle-tested.