Oregon Ducks Football: Top 10 Impact Players for 2011
After a national championship run ended three points short, the Oregon Ducks will have to refocus and take aim at another season in 2011.
Last year, the Ducks hand a great blend of senior leadership and young explosive talent. With the loss of last years leaders, comes the need for new players to step up to the next level.
With under two weeks left until Oregon kicks off their spring game the field is wide open for new players and old to step to into the spotlight. In 2011, these are the Oregon players that will hope to take the Ducks back to the National Championship.
One of the major keys to last years success was the ability for the Oregon offense to open up its playbook knowing that if anything happened to Darron Thomas, they would not miss a beat by putting in Nate Costa.
Coming into 2011, the Ducks will hand the ball to Darron Thomas for his second straight season as starter. If the Ducks are able to grow confident with backup Bryan Bennett, it could make the offense even more dangerous.
With the loss of both Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis, there have been holes left in the Oregon passing game.
Oregon fans have already had a scare in spring practice when Josh Huff went down to the ground grabbing his knee. Since the injury occurred, there has been no announcement to the severity of it but it appears it is not something that will keep him out in the fall.
This would be good news to the Ducks if true. The Ducks will be relying on Huff's speed and playmaking ability. Ducks fans will just have to wait and see and hope that Huff is ready for week one against LSU.
If the injury to Josh Huff is more serious then it is believed to be then Lavasier Tuinei will quickly become the go to guy in the Oregon passing game.
Lavasier Tuinei was good size and was a target used by Darron Thomas to help move the chains. If Tuinei is able to improve upon his speed and become more of a deep threat, he could truly have a breakout year.
One of the major keys to the Oregon defense last year was the ability of the linebackers to not only step up in run support but also be able to show the ability to drop back in coverage. Unfortunately, the Ducks have lost Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger.
With the loss of two senior leaders, the Ducks will be hoping that players like Michael Clay will be able to step up and fill the void. Clay was able to play in every game last year and will have the experience to step into the starting light.
As the Ducks have to deal with losses in the wide receiver group, they also are looking to replace three starting offensive linemen.
When playing in Chip Kelly's offense receivers and tight ends know that if they do not block, they will not see the ball thrown their way.
David Paulson has the responsibility of helping fill both voids. Paulson will not only be called on to help move the ball through the air but will also need to help keep the Oregon running game operating on all cylinders.
Dion Jordan is a young player that started his career at Oregon out on offense but has shifted to the defensive line. The Ducks will need him to rise to the next level this year.
With the exit of Brandon Bair and Kenny Rowe, Dion Jordan's time is now. The Ducks will need him to provide a speed rush off the edge and will also rely on him to step up in run support.
Cliff Harris may be the most electrifying player on the Oregon roster. He will have a direct impact in two phases on the game, defense and special teams.
As last year went on, teams started to realize they had to sacrifice field position instead of giving him a chance at a return. Another thing they started to realize was they needed to throw to the opposite side of the field.
This year, Harris will be a year older and more dangerous then ever. Whether on defense or special teams, Harris has the ability to change the momentum of the game in a flash.
With the emergence of Cliff Harris as a shutdown corner, offenses will begin to turn their attention to the other side of the field and will take their chances with other corners and most likely Anthony Gildon.
Gildon is a strong and fast corner who did start Oregon's first six games last year until being slowed by an injury.
If Gildon can stay healthy, he will have plenty of opportunities to his side of the field and is the player the Ducks need to step up in their secondary.
Since stepping on the field in 2009, Oregon's LaMichael James has taken a hold on the starting job at running back and has not let go.
James will be coming into his Junior year and with an offensive line that will be taking time to gel together, James will need to help them out by making great reads and creating holes on his own.
Last year James led the nation in rushing. If he can repeat that performance in 2011, the Ducks will be taking aim at heading back to the national championship.
In 2010, Darron Thomas stepped into the Oregon offense and led them to a 12-1 record in his first season as a starter. While Thomas played like a veteran leader last year, he still has areas to improve on this offseason.
Coming into his second year as a starter, Thomas will continue to work on the zone read. If Thomas can take a step forward in his ability to making consistent and correct reads, the Oregon offense will be scoring quicker then it did last year.