Q & A with Braden Gall, who is a content producer and recruiting editor for Athlon Sports. The website is athlonsports.com
Junior College transfer running back LaGarrette Blount looked outstanding in the spring game, rushing for 68 yards on five carries. He reminds me a lot of former UW star Corey Dillon. Both were junior college products that entered the Pac-10 as big, physical runners. What is your evaluation on him as a player, and is that a fair comparison?
First—and this is more of a personal statement—spring games mean very little to me. So what he did in the spring game is not that important to me. The biggest thing to take from that performance was that he was even there to begin with. That extra time working with teammates, coaches and just getting to know the campus early allows for him to focus on football come the fall.
I think the future is very bright for LaGarrette Blount. The Corey Dillon comparison is very fair—bigger, more physical styles of play but both have deceptive speed. Blount will open defensive coordinators' eyes with his speed.
Will he set single-season school records for rushing yards and touchdowns like Dillon did in '96? Probably not. Will he set an NCAA single -quarter record for rushing yards and all-purpose yards like Dillon did against San Jose State? Probably not, but he will be a major factor in the offense.
What I love about him is how he fits with the rest of the team. Jeremiah Johnson, someone I expect a lot from this fall, is so versatile and explosive. He should be a huge factor in the passing game and on the edge.
That leaves the short yardage and inside yards to Blount. They will compliment each other perfectly. 125-175 carries, 600-800 yards and 8-10 touchdowns are a legit possibility for Blount.
I want to talk about another junior college player entering Oregon, and that is five-star defensive tackle Justin Thompson out of El Camino Junior College. El Camino has numerous players who signed letters of intent to play Division I college football, especially in the trenches.
How much will this help the transition, having played against great players, and what are realistic expectations for him in his first year in the Pac-10?
El Camino is one of the most dominant junior college programs in the nation, much less the West Coast. Of course, there are a few schools in Kansas and Mississippi that would have something to say about that. But I digress.
Thompson has all the tools to be very successful on the next level. Oklahoma, LSU, Nebraska, and Tennessee don't just offer any old defensive tackle.
The key, for me, is the situation he is walking into Eugene. With Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu returning on the outside of the line and a very underrated secondary returning a lot of talent, he will not be asked to be a playmaker.
Reed will be the leader and will be double-teamed on a regular basis. That should open up the middle of the line for Thompson to make plays. At 6'5" and nearly 280 pounds, he should take up a lot of space in the middle and allow those LBs to flow through and make plays.
He is a great addition for the Ducks. The numbers won't be there, but if he starts eight or nine games this season, his impact will be massive.
Incoming freshman Quarterback Darron Thomas appears to be the best fit in the Chip Kelly offense with his speed and athleticsm. Is he physically and mentally ready to play, or would he be better served redshirting and developing his strength and knowledge of the playbook?
I may have to backtrack here. I have been a HUGE Darron Thomas fan for quite some time now. His feet are lightning quick and can accelerate to full speed as fast as anyone I have seen in years. He also has really nice touch on the ball.
The major issue for me is his arm strength and size. Dennis Dixon was rail thin, and it cost the Ducks a shot at a title and maybe a Heisman Trophy. He will need to add weight. Again, the early enrolling is clutch, especially for a player competing in essentially a wide open position battle.
Here comes the backtracking. I had a chance to meet John Neal in Houston when I was on a recruiting trip and got to talking with him about the QB situation (we were actually in Aldine, Texas). He said he was blown away by Chris Harper. The Kansas native is much bigger and stronger than Thomas. Both were on campus early, both are great athletes, and both fit the Chip Kelly system perfectly.
After hearing what he had to say about Harper, I am leaning now towards the Wichita product. That is, if Roper and Costa lose the job to a true freshman.
If you had to give the Oregon 2008 class a letter grade on offensive talent and defensive talent, what would it be, and do you think they got good personnel to match their schemes?
I love this class. The skill positions are loaded. Thomas and Harper could end up anywhere on the field on offense. They are pure playmakers. Then add Blount and a perfect compliment to the big back in LaMichael James and the backfield is set for years.
I didn't even mention the speedy and versatile Kenjon Barner (although he could end up at corner). Dion Jordan is a big, athletic target for whomever is throwing the ball.
The kid I love on offense is Nick Cody. I had a chance to interview him when he committed live on RivalsRadio, and I was blown away. His story is well-documented, but his maturity and drive are startling for a 16-17 year-old kid. He plays to the whistle every time and will be a great one for the Ducks. Hamani Stevens could end up the top OC in the class on 2008.
Just not a lot of bodies, with possibly only seven recruits on defense. Harper could end up on defense, of course, but he was the only game breaker in the group. Thompson should be the top impact contributor. I am a fan of DeWitt Stuckey as well.
How much of an impact do you think the facilities, stadium, and uniforms have on recruiting? Is Oregon one of the easiest places to recruit from in the Pac-10?
I have covered recruiting for about five years now, and I have learned one thing about recruiting: everything impacts a 17-year-old athlete. Studies have shown that proximity and official visits are the two most important issues when dealing with recruiting.
That said, facilities, atmosphere, stadium, and fan support play a major role as well. Oregon is arguably the best (most rabid) fan base in the Pac-10. It is the closest thing to an SEC gameday that there is on the West Coast. So clearly the Ducks have an advantage in that department over almost every school in the Pac-10.
The uniforms are flashy and catch the eye but don't impact recruiting (certainly doesn't hurt). The sellouts, fancy locker rooms, player lounges, and trophy rooms do.
Most importantly, though, is winning football games. And Mike Bellotti has done that.