Monday, March 28, 2011

I Want the Truth: Key Questions for Oregon's spring practice

Duck fans can handle the truth, because most of it is pretty good news.    The starting quarterback is back and working on getting even better.  The country's best running back has fresh legs, and three guys behind him who are fast and shifty, including a new one who's built like a Ram 1500.  They return seven starters on offense and six on defense, plus all their best kick returners,  the starting kicker, punter, holder,  and long snapper.

Every spring has its surprises and question marks.  Here are a few clues Duck fans will be looking to unearth when spring practice begins:

Which newcomers report for spring practice, and how do they look?  Are they picking up the assignments?  Are they getting reps?

How does Colt Lyerla look?  Does he stay at wide receiver and does he look comfortable running patterns?  How are his hands?  Is he learning the offense and making a bid to contribute as a freshman?

Which offensive and defensive linemen improved in winter testing?  Who's getting reps with the first team?  Are Ricky Heimuli, Jared Ebert and Isaac Remington showing the mobility and technique to challenge for playing time?

Linebacker Kiko Alonso is a key piece of the puzzle.  If he looks fast and agile after knee surgery and a year suspension, it gives the Ducks more flexibility and depth.  Josh Kaddu could take some plays at drop end, Bo Lokombo can start, if Alonso can replace 4-year starter Matthews at the Mike.  Is Alonso ready for his redemption?

Who wins the position battle at wide receiver?  With two starters to replace, and several promising newcomers scheduled to arrive in August, this is the chance for Nick Cole, Eric Dungy and Blake Cantu to try and establish themselves as a reliable target for the open third wide receiver position.

Who's going to replace Jordan Holmes at center, and are Grasu and Armstrong, the leading candidates, mastering the shotgun snap?  Will Oregon be able to maintain their timing and precision with a new center?  Does the offensive line make progress toward gelling, getting ready for a season they'll start without a breather or a tune-up game?  Can Steve Greatwood rebuild the offensive line in time to move the pile in Texas?

Do this year's Ducks bring the same effort and intensity to practice?  Chip Kelly has said last year's team never had a bad practice, that he knew they were going to be special because of the way they practiced.   With several senior leaders to replace, who sets the pace in practice?  Does this team focus with the will to defend the conference championship?

Every team has its own character and personality, and that emerges as they work together.  Can this year's team stay on the right side of the fine line between confident and cocky?

And the most important question:  Can the Ducks stay healthy, practice hard while avoiding a key, devastating injury?  Penn State has had two so far this spring.

For another preview of Spring Practice, see Joe Penkala's "Oregon Football: The Top 8 Storylines for the 2011 Season" on Bleacher Report.

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