When it is Oregon’s turn at the podium at Pac-10 Media Day on Thursday, the questions will not be posed to one Mike Bellotti, but rather a new, young, colorful head coach named Chip Kelly.
Kelly is taking over an Oregon team that has been ranked as high as No. 7 in preseason polls. But there will be many questions for the new coach, as Oregon has many issues heading into the fall.
Here is a look at some questions he may be asked, and some background on each issue.
One of the most prominent questions that will be asked of Kelly is how he will take over for one of the most successful coaches in conference history, not to mention school history. Bellotti won 74 conference games and went 47-12 in games decided by seven points or less during his 15-year tenure. Kelly has the schedule to make a big splash this year, having USC, Cal, and Oregon State all at home.
Bellotti will not be too far away, which should help Kelly go through the ups and downs in his first year as head coach. With so many more issues to focus on throughout the course of the week, Kelly will be much more spread out and not just able to focus on the offense. A veteran coaching staff around him should help him balance his time and manage issues that arise on a daily basis.
This offseason, Oregon has been in the news the most for their flood of transfers out of the program. In all, four top players transferred away from Oregon: Quarterback Chris Harper, quarterback Justin Roper, wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad, and defensive lineman Tonio Celetto.
After a coaching change, players are left to feel out and sometimes prove themselves again to the new head coach. Some do not want to do that, so they choose another path.
Harper knew that there was no way he would play quarterback at Oregon after his appearances last year, so he chose to transfer to a school that would give him that opportunity.
Pflugrad’s father, who was the wide receivers coach, was let go after Bellotti stepped down, and many were surprised that Pflugrad decided not to transfer. But no one was surprised when they found out he was going to after the spring game.
Roper was destined to become the next Brady Leaf, after a stronger, quicker Jeremiah Masoli took over the offense. Masoli is a better fit to run the spread and could take Oregon to heights that Roper probably couldn't. Roper saw what happened with Leaf and Dennis Dixon and decided to make a change that is better for him. I probably would have done the same.
The Celetto situation was very weird, as he quit football to be with his family. It was eventually discovered that he was transferring to Nevada to play football, and there is only speculation as to why he wanted a transfer.
Among the Duck fans that follow the team closely, the most concerning issue is that of the offensive line. The Ducks have depended so heavily on their run game the past few years, and this will be the first year that the line needs to be completely rebuilt after the loss of Max Unger, Mark Lewis, Jacob Hucko, and Jeff Kendall.
It’s not that the Ducks don’t have significant experience returning, but the chemistry needs to be developed between the new linemen. Many have no doubt that the chemistry will develop, but expediting this process is necessary if the Ducks want to have a special season.
Finally, a question that should be asked is a team assessment heading into the fall. “Who will be impact players from the past recruiting class?” “Who is an up-and-coming star?” and things of that nature.
Regarding players from the 2009 recruiting class, Tyrece Gaines and Bryson Littlejohn should be getting considerable playing time by mid-year.
Gaines is a 6’2” receiver with great speed, and he will make a difference in a receiving corps that has struggled these past couple years.
Littlejohn will bolster a strong linebacking corps by adding depth and college experience. This could be the most depth that Oregon has ever had at the linebacker position, going at least two and sometimes three deep at each position with no talent drop-off.
Wide Receiver Jamere Holland has been the most widely-regarded name that is expected to make a big splash in the fall. He is the fastest player on the Oregon Duck team and has already drawn high praise from Kelly.
Another player to keep your eyes on is Linebacker Eddie Pleasant. The sophomore should have an opportunity to make a big impact in the fall at outside linebacker, as he is a big hitter who has a great understanding of the game.
Oregon is the second to last team to take the podium at Media Day this Thursday, but the Ducks hope to be the last ones standing at the end of the year. If they can learn to play with each other, and their coach takes on the steep learning curve with a full head of steam, this could be a special year for the men in thunder green and lightning yellow.