Oregon's Duck Days of Summer: Things To Watch

Fletcher JohnsonCorrespondent IMay 6, 2010

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 11:  Nathan Costa #7 of the Oregon Ducks runs with the ball during the game against the USC Trojans on November 11, 2006 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Oregon Ducks wrapped up spring practice last Saturday, and while there are not many questions heading into the summer, here are some things to watch as we count down the last four months until the season opener against New Mexico.


Which Quarterback Will Fly to the Front of the Flock?

Many believed that senior Nate Costa held a slight edge coming into spring ball, but redshirt sophomore Darron Thomas made great strides at the end of spring, to close the gap into a virtual deadlock.

Thomas seems to provide more of the flash that a player like Dennis Dixon did back in 2007, while Costa is the smooth operator, who just doesn’t make mistakes but leaves something to be desired in an offense made for wowing folks.

They traded shots throughout spring practice and put up very similar numbers in the spring game, but the deciding factor might be Costa’s ability to run. 

After three knee surgeries, many people doubted Costa would have the burst needed to keep defenses honest against Oregon’s high-powered spread option attack. 

During Oregon’s spring game, Costa took the ball and showed an exceptional burst I had not seen from him in a long, long time.  If he does this, his steadiness at the quarterback position gives him the nod in the fall.


Who Will Catch the Ball for the Ducks?

Every major receiver is back this fall with the exception of now Baltimore Raven Ed Dickson, but there are questions at the position nonetheless. 

The Ducks seem stacked at tight end with David Paulson, Malachi Lewis, and JC transfer Brandon Williams who impressed during spring ball.

The wide receiver position seems to have the three starters locked up in Jeff Maehl Lavasier Tuinei, and DJ Davis, but the Ducks didn’t get much production out of their receivers last year. 

The Ducks are one game-changing receiver away from being unstoppable at the receiver position, and that guy could be either Tyrece Gaines or Diante Jackson. 

There was some eligibility issues with Gaines after he played one play last year against Purdue, but according to the Oregonian’s Bob Rickert, Gaines did get his petition accepted by the NCAA.

It requires that he sit out the first two games of the season.  Jackson is a redshirt freshman who continually made phenomenal plays for the scout team last fall, and was widely regarded as an up-and-coming playmaker for the Ducks.

It is also important to note that as we talk about the receivers, head coach Chip Kelly has made it clear that if you can’t block, you won’t be on the field. 

Oregon’s rush game is dependent on downfield blocking to spring the 40- and 50-yard dashes, so with that in mind, the receivers have to be well-rounded.

We have made it to this point of the article without mentioning the suspension of Jeremiah Masoli, but here we go.  The suspension hurts Masoli, but the other player it hurts the most is Jeff Maehl. 

Maehl and Masoli seemed to have a special connection, and Maehl seemed to be the only receiver Masoli trusted. 

Anyone who watches football knows that there is a connection that takes place between receivers and quarterbacks that results in trusting a receiver to be in the right place no matter what and make big catches.  Maehl has caught balls from Masoli for the last two years, and now he has to make the switch. 

It will not be easy.


Who Will Push the Pocket and Stop the Run?

The Ducks return two starters on the defensive line after losing Will Tukuafu, Blake Ferris, and Simi Toeaina to graduation and Terrence Montgomery to dismissal.  This unit was undersized last year, and will be undersized again after they were handled by Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

The leading pass rusher Kenny “Playmaker” Rowe is back along with Brandon Bair, but this is by far Oregon’s biggest weaknesses heading into 2010. 

Defensive coordinator Nick Alliotti said in the offseason that they just needed one big guy in the middle to clog things up.  They unfortunately were not able to get that piece this offseason (barring a miracle). 

The team will once again have to rely on speed and quickness off the snap to compete against the bigger offensive lines in the conference. 

Keep an eye on JC transfer Isaac Remington, Terrell Turner, true freshman Ricky Heimuli, and Tyrell Irvin to step up and be factors come September.


Fantastic frosh or Freshman Flop?

The Ducks didn’t lose many starters from last season, but they will still need some contributions from young players throughout the season.  When Walter Thurmond and Willie Glasper both went down with knee injuries in 2009, freshman Cliff Harris stepped up and showed he could ball. 

After the LaGarrette Blount incident, LaMichael James, along with Kenyon Barner, both redshirt freshmen, stepped up and played like seniors. 

As you will find with pretty much every team in college football, you need players not in the limelight or even expected to play before the season to step up. 

Here are some players who fit that profile for 2010: cornerback Terrence Mitchell, safety Erick Dargan, running back Lache Seastrunk, wide receiver Justin Hoffman, and defensive end Wade Keliikipi.


Three is a Magic Number

Oregon lost placekicker Morgan Flint, who was automatic from inside 43 yards (26-yard line and in) after last season.  Rob Beard returns with a strong leg, but a question in the accuracy department. 

He will be pushed by freshman Alejandro Maldonado, and they could possibly spit the duties.

There were numerous instances last year when Flint gave the Ducks a boost or a cushion that helped them seal the deal down the stretch (think Arizona, hits the crossbar, or Oregon State, gives the Ducks a four-point lead 37-33 in the fourth).

Kickers may not be considered football players, but they are.

They have to be some of the most composed crunch-time athletes in sports—just ask the 1991 Buffalo Bills or 2009 Texas Longhorns.

The weather is getting nice, and we are over the halfway point of college football's offseason.  

Coming off of the first outright Pac-10 championship by a team not named USC in eight years, some offseason turmoil, and an exciting spring, the summer leading up to the 2010 season kickoff against New Mexico will be long and arduous.  

In Oregon, these are the duck days of summer.