The Case for Kenjon (Barner)

Ed’s Note: Written by Jeff Spiegel

Immediately following the devastating Rose Bowl loss last January, the only positive Oregon headline in circulation read: “Kenjon Barner is the Lone Bright Spot for Oregon” (Los Angeles Times). For anyone who has forgotten the details of that game, that wasn’t a typo. It wasn’t Jeremiah Masoli or LaMichael James who carried the Ducks in the biggest game of the season; it was that other running back that kept it close. Said Chip Kelly after the game, “I know there’s a lot of negatives about tonight…but I get to spend three more years with Kenjon.”

You see, while everyone has spent the off-season touting LaMichael James, the breakout freshman from last season, it appears many people are passing over the explosive Barner. While many would claim they aren’t underestimating Barner, I’m asking you to consider the following: could Kenjon Barner actually be better than James?

On the face of it, the competition doesn’t seem that close. James was given four times the carries Barner was, and carried the ball for an astounding 6.7 yards per carry compared to Barner’s 6.0 YPC. Consider, however, that over the final eight games of the season, Barner’s averaged jumped to 7.2 YPC against defenses such as UCLA, ASU, USC, and Ohio State compared to James’ 7.0 against the same opponents. The reason to look at just these final eight games has nothing to do with the added importance of these games, but just the added grasp Barner had of the offense.

While James had the luxury of learning the system for an entire season during his redshirt year, Barner spent that time playing defensive back for the scout team. Last season, Barner was essentially a true freshman learning the offense on the fly after taking an entire season off. In addition to all this, Barner starred during his time on special teams last season, setting a single-season Duck record for kickoff return yardage, and figures to do more of the same this season. What I am trying to say is not that Kenjon Barner is definitively the best Duck running back on the roster, but that Barner hasn’t done anything to lead us to believe he can’t be.

To clarify further, none of this has anything to do with James. LaMichael is a freak, and figures to be one of the nation’s top running backs this season; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barner joined him in that group this season. During James’ Week One suspension, Barner will have the opportunity to make a statement regarding his place on the Oregon depth chart, and given the porous defense he’ll be facing, I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes that statement at the top of his lungs.

With as much talent as the Ducks have rotating around the running back position with both of these elite backs — and the addition of two of the most highly recruited backs in Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams — Chip Kelly’s task of spreading the ball around will most certainly be difficult. All this being said, that remains a problem most coaches wished they had.

Expect a lot more of this, this year:

Oregon Ducks Fall Camp: Day Three Notes (With Video)

Ed’s Note: Written by Chase Kepler:

Nothing too spectacular today, but some good stuff nonetheless.

KVAL.com

The quarterback competition is obviously the hottest topic for Duck fans. Both Darron and Nate had their best days so far in fall camp. They each threw fewer interceptions and overall better made better decisions. Both did throw a pick-six and weren’t perfect, but still much improved from the previous two days (which sadly didn’t take much).

What I would like to see is one QB take charge of the competition and be the clear cut number one, and that hasn’t happened. But there’s still a long way to go. Hotshot true freshman Bryan Bennett again looked good but had a couple plays in the last team drill that reminded us that he’s a freshman, fumbling a snap and making some bad reads.

Chip Kelly must have skipped breakfast this morning because when asked about the evaluation process of Costa and Thomas, Chip compared it to breakfast food.

“I evaluate how they eat their eggs in the morning,” he said, smirking. “It’s an all encompassing thing for us.”

So who’s the better egg eater?

“Right now, it’s Darron because he goes over-easy instead of scrambled – scrambled falls off the fork,” Kelly said.

As for the people on the Darryl Hawkins bandwagon: Get off. Now. He looked terrible in individual drills and team drills. The sooner he is moved to WR the better (Ed’s Note: Ouch).

Redshirt freshman linebacker Bo Lokombo again looked like a complete stud. He had an amazing play where he jumped a route, leaped, picked it off and ran it back to the house off Nate Costa. It will be impossible to keep him off the field — even with how stacked the position is — Bo is simply all over the place.

LaMichael James looked good once again, as did the all the running backs. The running game really stood out today and the holes were really opening up as James, Kenjon Barner and Remine Alston all had their fair share of long runs.

Today’s biggest disappointment was Josh Huff. His effort and speed still showed but he did his best Jaison Williams impression, dropping several catchable balls. His athleticism is there but the hands need work, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as Huff is making the switch from the backfield to out wide.

The same players who looked good yesterday, minus Huff, continued to shine. Its hard to really evaluate the lines right now as they aren’t yet in full pads and can’t get after it 100 percent. Full pads will come Friday.

Video from Jonathan Marx:

Until next time…

Go Ducks!!

Oregon Ducks Fall Camp: Day Two Notes

Written by Chase Kepler:

Another exciting day at Duck Practice. It was the last day without shoulder pads and you can tell the players are ready to hit.

Seastrunk has really impressed with his quickness and agility out of the backfield.

Some guys really stood out, starting with Bo Lokombo. He just keeps making plays and is all over the ball. The highlight of the day was easily his pick-six off Nate Costa, where he made a GREAT catch on the ball. Bo is really pushing for that number one spot at OLB.

It should be noted that Chip Kelly swapped in Darron Thomas for Costa to run with the first team today, although it could just be a back and forth thing until one player emerges.

That said, the quarterback battle is still pretty even — and rusty. Costa threw a pair of interceptions today and had another one that should have been brought back for a touchdown, but Kenny Rowe couldn’t hang on to it. The argument for Costa is that he is the “safe” pick, however in the first two practices this has not been the case. He’s thrown six interceptions to Darron Thomas’s one, and throws into double and triple coverage far too often.

But like Kelly noted, “A guy may throw a pick, but when you look at the film, the receiver ran the wrong route. Is that the quarterback’s fault? Is there a protection breakdown? They look like they did some decent things out there (today), but other times it looked like they made some mistakes.”

Darron has actually been making very good reads, hitting his check down — almost too much  even — and rarely forcing the ball to his receivers. I would like to see two things from Darron: the first being more consistency with his ball/ accuracy. His ball often wobbles, and it comes in too high or too low for the receivers. I’d also like to see him take more shots downfield.

The QB position might seem a little shaky right now, but the future looks great. True freshman Bryan Bennett looks like a veteran already in his second day of fall camp. He throws the best ball out of all three QB’s and has been making great reads with few mistakes. He especially looked great after practice when it was just the newcomers going 7 on 7, hooking up with receivers deep downfield with perfect balls. I have a new man crush.

On twitter, Dan Rubenstein (a must follow) said that Bennett is the first QB to come into Oregon who ran a modern read-option spread offense in HS.  Which might be why he’s so ahead of the curve.

Other players that stood out were:

  • Curtis White: He is going to be special. Great frame and catches everything.
  • Brandon Williams: Or should I say Antonio Gates. Enough said.
  • Josh Huff: It will be hard to keep him off the field. Great hand, great speed.
  • Blake Cantu: Aaron Pflugrad but bigger and quicker.
  • Lache Seastrunk: Didn’t do much but had a run at the end of practice that showed why he was a 5 star. Agility is insane.
  • Lavasier Tuinei: Great hands and has definitely added some weight from last year.

A few more notes from the Register-Guard’s Adam Jude:

Jackson Rice definitely won the day, at least judging by the difficulty punt returners LaMichael James and Lache Seatrunk had catches Rice’s booming kicks. … Seastrunk, splitting time with fellow freshman Dontae Williams with the third-string offense, cut outside with a couple nifty moves for a big run on the final play of 11-on-11s. … Sophomore CB Cliff Harris practiced today in his new No. 13 jersey, running mostly with the “threes.” … Joey Harrington made an appearance today, watching practice from the edge of the field. He then spent a few minutes after practice talking with Costa.

Harris with the threes? I really hope he gets his head on straight and earns his way into a starting spot. He has the potential to be special.

Until next time…

Go Ducks!

“Focused” is Word of the Day as Oregon Ducks Open Fall Camp

This is the quiet before the storm.

We're gonna see a lot these three this year: LMJ, KB and Lache.

The Ducks took to the practice fields today to participate in the first of twenty-nine preseason practices leading up to the season opener against New Mexico on September 4th.

They are more than ready.

All 105 players reported and began the day watching film and having their first position meetings, which began around 8:00 am over in the Casanova Center.

Chip Kelly took questions from the media at 11:00 am, and offered his trademark vagueness when asked about specific position battles.

Kelly told reporters that Nate Costa and Darron Thomas both have improved and said that he will make a decision regarding the starter after the final fall scrimmage. As we’ve known for a while, Kelly reiterated that he will decide on one quarterback, but the other will need to be ready to go.

A solid group of starters return for the Ducks, nine on the offense and eight on the defense.

Asked about the mindset of the team right now, Kelly called them focused.

“The group is really focused and they understand what they have the ability to do,” he said. “Now we have to go out and do it.”

Oregon is arguably the fastest program in the nation. Kelly said that there’s significant speed at every position, and that “we base our recruiting, we base everything we do on speed.”

“We want bullets, not bowling balls,” Kelly said referring to the program’s speed.

Kelly called safety Eddie Pleasant possibly the fastest Duck on the squad, and expects his move from linebacker to safety to bring a lot of “T.J. Ward” to the position.

What was a cold, overcast morning in Eugene blossomed into a warm afternoon once practiced started. Players started making their way to the field around 1:45 pm, and by 2:15 pm practice was underway.

A steady mix of Metallica and Eminem blasted over the speakers, as Nate Costa was the first up in the team drills. Costa looked solid to begin with, but later in the day he threw three interceptions in a single drill. His arm looked strong for the most part, and aside from a few mistakes, he was relatively spot on with his accuracy.

Darron Thomas looked groomed and ready to lead the team. His lightning bolt release found many a wide receiver downfield. Both quarterbacks looked good scrambling, with Thomas making a nice would-be-touchdown getaway late in the day.  Arguably, the only thing faster than the Ducks running back unit today was Thomas’ release. As soon as he pulls back, the ball is already seemingly in the air to the receiver.

Also worth noting was true freshman QB Bryan Bennett’s beautiful pass to fellow true freshman WR Josh Huff for what would’ve been a touchdown. Bennett got a few reps in, along with some coaching from Costa.

LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk took turns alternating returning kicks. All in all, everybody looked like they were glad to be out there.

A good crowd came to watch the first practice of the fall, which lasted three hours. The Ducks will be back out again tomorrow, again open to the public.

Lache Seastrunk Adds a Cool Name and Even More Depth to Oregon’s Offense

Ed’s Note: Welcome our newest contributor (they just keep coming, don’t they?) to the blog, Drew Eyman. Drew is a junior political science major at the U of O and is a huge Blazers fan — oh, and he likes the Ducks too. Follow Drew on Twitter here.

Oregon’s top recruit going into this season has many passionate Duck fans salivating over his high school highlight reels and potential impact, before he’s even taken a step onto Autzen Stadium’s new turf.

Looks like Lache is enjoying his new digs.

Lache Seastrunk (pronounced “Lake”) is a 5’11” 190 pound lightning bolt with the speed and agility of LaMichael James, but on a slightly larger frame. Also similar to James, Seastrunk is another running back recruit out of the state of Texas. Hailing from Temple High School, this five star recruit was wooed by schools from all over the country, including USC, LSU, and Auburn before finally settling on Chip Kelly’s explosive spread offense. Many have compared him to former USC great Reggie Bush. While that may be a bit of stretch, as Lache has yet to receive his first carry, his ceiling is truly limitless.

The challenge for Chip Kelly is to find the best way to use a true freshman running back at a position where talent isn’t exactly scarce. With sophomore standouts James and Kenjon Barner returning, Seastrunk may find playing time hard to come by. However, he could be deadly on special teams if used alongside Barner on kick returns or back deep as a punt returner, a la Keenan Howry.

Last year Barner was Oregon’s return specialist, but given his breakout performance at tailback, Chip Kelly may deem him too important for the possibility of pulling a Walter Thurmond III – wince 😦 – and use the dynamic threat more so out of the backfield, as lightning to James’, well, lightning. This would open up more of the return responsibilities to Seastrunk – someone I wouldn’t mind seeing with the ball in the open field a few times each Saturday.

The only problem with Seastrunk’s arrival is that he, Barner and James are all quick and relatively small running backs. Now that Legarette Blount has taken his Falcon-punching talents to the NFL, Oregon lacks a big physical running back who can pound it inside when needed. James, Barner, and Seastrunk are all incredibly strong for their size, but when Blount (and Jeremiah Masoli) was sharing the ball carrying responsibilities with James it was an effective change-up in running styles.

This juxtaposition of running styles worked well to keep defenses on their heels, so don’t expect a great power running game this season; however, the Ducks might not need one. With all five starting linemen returning, as well as some of the key reserves, James, Barner, and Seastrunk could form the most explosive backfield tandem in the country. And don’t sleep on Dontae Williams , Josh Huff or my new favorite from the Spring Game, Jide Shinaba.

Now about that quarterback position…

No Guts, No Glory: Oregon Must Go With Darron Thomas at Quarterback

Ed’s Note: On Friday, Jeff Spiegel wrote a column championing Nate Costa for the starting quarterback job. Today, I strike back. As always, leave your thoughts in the comments.

“I really want to have one quarterback. I don’t believe in playing two quarterbacks. I believe if you’ve got a two-quarterback system that means you don’t really have a quarterback.”

Those are the words of Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

When it comes to upside, it isn’t even close. Thomas could be Dennis Dixon, Costa could be… Kellen Clemens.

Nate Costa. Darron Thomas.

Come the New Mexico opener on September 4th, Kelly will have picked his man. And it should be Thomas — by a long shot.

Costa would be a great story: The little engine who could. But that’s all it would be, a great story. More importantly, it would be a huge mistake.

He came to Eugene as a three star recruit. There was no big press conference, no parade, no jaw-dropping high school highlight reels. In fact, this was the top result from a quick Google video search of “Nate Costa high school” — it couldn’t be further from a football field.

Once at Oregon, Costa proved a hard worker, a smart kid — gobbling up the play book and holding a clip board like nobody’s business. Finally it came Costa’s turn. In 2006, Costa was viewed as the future quarterback for the Ducks after completing all five of his passes in two games as a true freshman. But then came the knee injuries. Four years and three ACL tears later, Costa is still waiting for his turn.

Costa is proof that nice guys finish last.

While Costa brings experience, accuracy and a game-manager-like quality, Thomas couldn’t be any more the opposite. Flash, speed, potential and play-making ability define the highly touted redshirt sophomore. And to the delight of Duck fans, he strikes a stunning resemblance to our beloved Dennis Dixon — who not-so-coincidentally came into his own his first year under the tutelage of Kelly.

With 17 starters coming back from last years’ Pac-10 championship-winning team, and an injection of fresh talent with its top-15 recruiting class, Oregon is a quarterback away from being a national title contender. Sure, you could play it safe with Costa and have a decent shot at returning to the Rose Bowl, but that’s the ceiling — at least two losses, guaranteed. If Thomas pans out, the Rose Bowl becomes an afterthought. If Thomas becomes even Dixon-lite, name one team on Oregon’s schedule who you can’t see the Ducks beating.

Everything else is set up for Oregon to make a BCS title run. It’s a risk worth taking. It’s a risk Oregon must take.

Thomas may be raw, with just one quarter of experience under his belt, but oh what a beautiful quarter is was: passing for 210 yards and three touchdowns, while earning the label “next”. He even came off the bench in the Civil War for one of the greatest trick plays I’ve ever seen.

It’s no surprise that Dixon broke out in Kelly’s first year. Or that Justin Roper stepped right in to lead Oregon to 56 points in the Sun Bowl. Or that a once-5th string quarterback could become the best player in the conference. Kelly system gets the most out his quarterback.

But if that’s the case, then why not Costa?

Although one year sooner than I would have liked, it’s time for Darron Thomas to take over.

People like to use the “Costa experience” argument quite often, but I’m not buying. He’s been in Kelly’s system just a year longer than Thomas, and only has three quarters more playing time. Not necessarily a resume draped with experience. Also, with Costa, the threat of the QB tucking the ball and running 40 yards isn’t there. On any given play, the defense would have to put a spy on Thomas, making sure he actually gets rid of the ball before turning their heads and running with the receivers — something we’ve taken for granted the past few years with Dixon and Masoli.

I know it’s a small sample size, but DT’s quarter against Boise State was far more inspiring than Costa’s seven-point offensive production in a 14-point win over middling UCLA last season.

One more big reason for choosing Thomas over Costa is age. Even the biggest Costa supporters will say the gap between the two isn’t all that big. If that’s the case, why waste another year of Thomas’ eligibility for a lower-ceiling — albeit safer — choice. Imagine how good DT will be when he suits up as a third-year starter in 2012. Dixon may become an afterthought.

Oregon is a flashy program. The newest uniforms, the coolest facilities, the most innovative offense. Why go completely against their grain and pick the “safe” choice as quarterback? It doesn’t make sense.

No guts, no glory. For Oregon to reach its highest potential this year — a legitimate shot at the BCS title game — Kelly must pick Thomas. And don’t even get me started about the future.

What does Masoli’s future look like if he (or would have, hoax?) suits up for the Ems?

UPDATE: We have been victims of a taken-too-far April Fool’s Day prank. Floating a rumor is one thing, but writing a press release is beyond ethical. Masoli is not going to pitch for the Ems, as local news stations are saying the rumor is officially false.


Jeremiah Masoli is going to pitch for the Eugene Emeralds this season. Say what? Huh? April Fools?

Curious timing, certainly. But alas, we’re 12 hours into the famed prank day and all three local TV stations are still sticking with the story (although KEZI9 just pulled the story from it’s website).

Who knows, maybe Masoli is the next Walter Johnson?

This may sound like a cute way for Masoli to entertain himself during a redshirt year without football games, but I think the would-be Heisman contender is making a huge mistake.

First of all, Masoli has no professional future in baseball. He has very little baseball experience, not having played since his freshman year at Serra High School in San Mateo, California.

Second of all, why risk what minor chance he has in the NFL, or slightly larger in Canada?

The most important thing I read into this is that, if true, Chip Kelly is ok with it. More specifically, he isn’t too worried about Masoli’s arm for the 2011 season.

The redshirt junior’s choice to stay still makes me feel a little weird. Sure, he’s a great college quarterback (and please don’t trash his abilities now just because he betrayed us), but after sitting for an entire season during a year where the stars seem aligned (well they did 2 months ago), it would be beyond awkward to put Masoli back on the field.

Especially if the talented sophomore Darron Thomas wins the job and lives up to the hype.

What would Chip do, bench his now-star junior quarterback in favor of a senior who hasn’t played in game for over a year?

I just can’t see it.

If Masoli really wants to play professional football, and I’m guessing he does and wants to stick at quarterback, then he shouldn’t be fooling around on the baseball diamond.

He should focus on fixing his image, straightening himself out (ya know, in case this football thing doesn’t work out), and then dedicate himself to being the best quarterback he can be.

He could make a decent living playing north of the border, and with some luck, could give Tim Tebow a run for his money as the next dual-threat QB in the NFL.

Please Jeremiah, I know baseball might sound fun and be a good way to get some attention, (as well as help sell tickets for the Ems, who happen to play in P.K. Park. Athletic Department: Cha Ching), but think about your future.

Although I guess Chip Kelly has too, and he doesn’t see Masoli in it.

Message for Oregon AD: It’s Time for Student-Athlete Social Media Training

By now, you all should be well aware that junior wide receiver Jamere Holland has been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.

More specifically, Holland posted multiple Facebook statuses, one last night and another this morning, undermining Chip Kelly’s yet-to-be-made decision on sophomore Kiko Alonso. The second one, supposedly, was posted after talking with Chip Kelly.

Holland’s actions were irresponsible, ignorant, and most importantly, an easy mistake than can happen again.

With how powerful social media is today, what was meant to be an innocent plea to back up his teammate, was quickly noticed and spread throughout the interwebs in just a matter of minutes.

This isn’t the first time this has happened and it certainly won’t be the last.

Yes, social media – Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace (if anyone will admit they still use it) – is an incredibly powerful tool to communicate with friends, explore interests and spread information, but it also symbolizes something equally important: your social brand.

Holland obviously isn’t aware that everything he says represents himself, the football team, Chip Kelly and the entire University.

That’s a lot at stake.

Sure, you would think that he should know better than to write anything potentially damaging, but the truth is, some kids just don’t.

This is why the Oregon Athletic Department must invest in social media training for its athletes.

At the very least, it protects their investment. At best, it educates student-athletes on how social media impact them today, tomorrow and 10 years from now. Something essential, considering 99% of student-athletes “go pro in something other than sports”.

University of Mississippi has the right idea, as one of the first universities to jump on the social media training bandwagon.

“We certainly respect the social networking rights of our student-athletes but, at the same time, we also want them to be mindful of how they present and represent themselves,” Jamil Northcutt, Ole Miss’s assistant athletic director for Internal Operations told FanHouse.com.

Ole Miss hired Vermont-based UDilligence.com, to be a round-the-clock watchdog to scan the social networking profiles of Rebel athletes for any references to drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, racial slurs or profanity.

“It only costs pennies a day per athlete to protect the athlete’s reputations and the image of the school,” says Kevin Long, the founder of UDiligence.

“By the time a reporter calls asking about it, it’s too late. You’ve lost the advantage from a public relations perspective.”

As we’ve seen here in Holland’s case, his status updates quickly mushroomed into a full-blown public relations disaster.

Dave Williford and the Oregon Athletic Department need to learn from this before any other student-athlete decides to throw F-bombs around in a public forum.

Holland might have thought he was sharing something only between him and his 2,500+ friends (dangerous enough already), but without proper privacy settings, the entire world has the ability to see his post with the click of a button.

I spoke with Kelli Matthews, a public relations professional and professor at the University of Oregon, who has lengthy experience in crisis management, as well as in the online sphere.

She said, “Helping employees understand how social media has changed communication must be a vital part of every organization’s training.

“Every employee is an ambassador and has the opportunity to build or damage your brand with Twitter, FB and blog posts. Organizations must be proactive.”

Your move, Mr. Williford.

Be sure to follow the UO Sports Dude on Twitter.

Unfortunate Irony: Random Acts of Kindness Week is February 15-21

I don't think we'll see LaMichael's name on that poster. (click for larger image)

Apparently LaMichael James didn’t know what week it is.

ActsOfKindness.org is holding its annual Random Acts of Kindness Week this week,  and with that said, it’s pretty clear that LMJ didn’t see the big poster about it posted in Dux Bistro of the Living-Learning Center dorm on campus.

Talk about irony – although this story was plenty random.

LMJ has been a model citizen, and a personal man crush that my girlfriend has been deservedly nervous about, ever since stepping foot on campus nearly two years, which makes this news even more disheartening.

After going through enough scandal already this off-season, resulting in three players leaving the team and more facing possibly legal action, this isn’t wasn’t the way Duck fans were looking to bounce back from their Rose Bowl disappointment.

I have heard way too many comparisons to the Jail Blazers and “The U” today, things that shouldn’t be synonymous with Oregon football.  Although at this point, I’d take Miami’s four championships.

The toughest part is that Chip Kelly really can’t do much about this. Sure, he can impose punishments and give stern speeches, but he can’t babysit his players at parties or be there to furiously yell “No!” when a player ponders a possible foray into Springfield.

The only thing that really sends a message is taking away scholarships. The only reason most of these players are here is to play football. But Chip needs these guys too. It’s a complicated ethical predicament.

He’s dismissed a few players this off-season, Garrett Embry, Matt Sims and Terrance Montgomery, and had Mike Bowlin “withdraw” and leave the University, but until he kicks a player off that actually is of importance, the star players have nothing to worry about.

Now I’m not advocating for Chip to dismiss LaMichael. But IF he is found guilty, I think intensive counseling, extensive community service and a three-game suspension would serve as fair punishment.

There is definitely a problem here in the athletic department that needs to be fixed. And as passionate Duck fans, I don’t know how much more of “star player x” is in trouble stories we can handle.

With our luck this offseason, I can only imagine the next headline: “Phil Knight gets caught running Ponzi scheme through the Duck Athletic Fund”. Knock on wood. I actually am looking forward to Matt Court.

Poll: IF guilty, what would you want Chip Kelly to do with LMJ? Link.

For further updates: follow me on Twitter.

Oregon Ducks: Recruiting Update

This little investment goes a long way in making recruits forget they are leaving Florida and California to come to OREGON.

This little investment goes a long way in making recruits forget they are leaving Florida and California to come to OREGON.

College football on the field is now officially over. However, there is good news: recruiting is heating up.

And we all know how exciting it is when some teenager that we’ve never actually heard of with crazy good high school statistics dons an Oregon cap at a press conference covered by his local news station in his small town high school gymnasium.

Even better news: the Ducks have become a national player in the recruiting game, with more kids from out of state than Oregon (and even California) on their prospect radar.

So far the Ducks have received verbals 14 players ranked in the top 75 at their positions nationally, including nine in the top 25.

With the latest commitment from defensive back Dior Mathis today at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the Ducks are in the midst of their finest recruiting season in a very long time.

Here’s a breakdown on who the Ducks have signed so far, who they are pursuing and which big names left out there they actually have a chance of bringing to little old Eugene.

Offense

Obviously, the two big names are Marcus Lattimore and Lache Seastrunk, the number one and two running back recruits in the country, respectively.

Both have a laundry list of top schools offering their finest coeds and SUVs for their services, but there is thought to be a decent chance that the Ducks land one of them.

For what it’s worth, a site admin on DucksAttack.net received a text message from an Oregon commit that Seastrunk is “all Oregon”.

And with all the Seastrunk and Lattimore talk, I almost forgot to include commit Dontae Williams , a 4* from Texas who could be the thunder to LaMichael James’s lightnight, a la Legerratte Blount.

He’s a 5-11, 210 pound physical specimen who is also a great blocker, catcher and team leader.

Even though Oregon is loaded at quarterback – with Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, and redshirt freshman Daryle Hawkins – the Ducks added another top prospect, 4* Bryan Bennett, who by the way runs a 4.6 40.

On the line, Chip Kelly added two more top recruits – 4* Nick Rowland and 4* JC transfer Ryan Clanton – to an already deep line that returns EVERY SINGLE player.

Once again, the Ducks are having trouble landing a top wide out. Oregon is in the running for both 4* Ivan McCartney from Florida and 4* Dyjuan Lewis from Indiana, but neither is likely to sign. I guess receivers want to play for a team where throwing the ball to an actual wide receiver is not the fourth option on offense.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. Kyle Prater, a top USC recruit looks like he is backing out of his commitment. Oregon is one of the schools that is flooding his high school recruiting coach with phone calls and text messages.

As far as tight end goes, 2* JC transfer Brandon Williams has given a verbal and there is still an outside shot at 4* Christian Thomas.

It looks like Oregon is stockpiling its strengths, and with no major offensive losses outside of Ed Dickson (I really like David Paulson) this season, the Duck offense should be flying higher than ever.

Defense

Oregon finally displayed a dramatic improvement on the defensive side this past season, and by the looks of it, will only get better in the years to come. Lots of big names have already signed and there are still a few more interested that could really make the defense dominant. And soon.

The Ducks’ biggest area of concern is defensive line, where they lose two starters, Will Tukuafu and Blake Ferras.

4* Dominique Easley’s last second and unexpected change of heart (to Florida) was a big blow, but with 5* Sheldon High School product Curtis White already signed, 4* South Eugene product Gabe King expected and a decent chance at Portland’s 4* Owa Odighizuwa, Oregon could still come out with a solid group of defensive lineman.

White was initially recruited as a tight end, but with the lack of depth along the line might be forced to switch positions.

King and Owa are the keys to this class. If neither signs, it will still be a pretty good, if one signs, very good and if by some stroke of Irish luck both sign, well, I might literally jump for joy.

There have been a few rumors lately flying around that said King has been wearing a lot of Cal stuff, but like I said with Seastrunk, you can only believe so much of what you hear.

With a talented young core of linebackers already on its roster, Oregon didn’t have to focus too much on the position this season, recruiting just one, 3* OLB Isasc Dixon from Miami, FL.

Alright folks, this is where it gets fun.

The Ducks are well on their way to the best defensive back class in the history of the program.

With youngsters Javes Lewis, John Boyett (my budding man crush) and Cliff Harris already assuming starting roles, this unit might end up being the best in the country in a couple of years. And that isn’t even hyperbole.

Dior Mathis obviously is the headliner, because after all, there’s not a whole lot sexier than a 4.28 40. Ok, maybe Amanda Pflugrad, but it’s close!

Along with Mathis, the Ducks have received verbals from Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill, James Scales and Derrick Malone, all in the upper echelon of the 3* recruits.

There is still a very outside shot at Anthony Jefferson and Erick Dargan, both 4*’s.

Overall, this is a very solid class and will probably finish well with the top 25 nationally (Oregon has only had one top 25 class since 2004). That said, the even more impressive thing is that Kelly and Co. are invading recruiting hotbeds like Florida, Texas, Michigan and Southern California, something extremely important for continued success.

Let’s just say I’m very excited for the next few years.

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