Rivals Has the Oregon Ducks No. 4 to Start the Season

Of course, it’s all about the quarterback. But apparently, Rivals is buying either one or both of the Nate Costa and Darron Thomas duo.

Here’s my favorite line:

The Ducks are loaded, or at least solid, everywhere else [aside QB]. They have a strong line, an explosive running back, a productive receiver and a good defense.

Oregon appears to have the components to post a double-digit victory total for the third consecutive season and for the fourth time in six seasons. If everything works out right, the Ducks could challenge for the national title.

Don’t go booking flights to Glendale for January just yet, but there’s a good chance you might need to.

A couple interesting notes:

  • Prize DT recruit Ricky Heimuli has been tearing it up in camp and could see serious playing time right away, which would add much needed depth (behind Brandon Bair) to the defense’s weakest position. Aside from Bair, no other returning DT made more than 18 tackles last season. Yea, Heimuli will be important.
  • No kicker on the current roster has converted a college field goal. Seriously, check the stats (I know, it shocked me too). But that’s why true freshman Alejandro Maldonado is Olin Buchanan’s impact newcomer on offense. However, no matter how good he might be, a true freshman kicker is always a scary proposition.

Posts like this make me salivate for September 4th — which is good because I just booked my flight up to Eugene.

Go Ducks!

Advertisements

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.

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.

Quarterback Face-off: The Argument for Nate Costa

With fall just about upon us, the debate turns to the biggest question in every Duck fan’s mind – who will be standing under center come September 4th?  In what might be the biggest quarterback debate of the decade in Eugene (since this is the first year of the decade, that’s a fair assumption), there stand two candidates: senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas.  To ensure that each guy is given a fair shot and reasonable argument, Keith and I have each picked one of the candidates, described their credentials and explained why they deserve the starting job.  That said, here’s the case for Nate Costa…

With so much offensive fire power surrounding him, Costa's clutch performances and in depth knowledge of Chip Kelly's intricate playbook make him the best fit to be Oregon's new quarterback.

Nate Costa enrolled at the University of Oregon in the Fall of 2006 as a 3-star recruit and the 19th best dual-threat high school quarterback in the nation. As a freshman, Costa impressed in garbage time going 5-5 for 73 yards passing and 39 yards on the ground. Duck fans everywhere were excited by Costa’s potential, dubbing him the white Dennis Dixon, if you will. And then he had knee surgery. And then he had another knee surgery. And suddenly, there was a new hotshot on campus fulfilling the same hope that Costa had presented just two years prior.  His name was Darron Thomas.So where does all this leave Costa today? While his mobility and stability can both easily be called into question, I’d go as far as to say neither one of these are his biggest concern. The biggest obstacle standing between Costa and the love and affection of most Duck fans is the performance he had against UCLA last fall, a game in which the quarterback who can no longer be mentioned was unable to play. Costa inherited an offense which appeared unstoppable, and yet he gave the Ducks an uninspiring performance. He completing nine of his 17 passes for just 82 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. While many will argue that he did enough for the Ducks to win that game, those same people may remember that the Ducks tallied more points from their defense and special teams than from the offense, to squeak by the Bruins 24-10. Even so, I think come fall, the Ducks are best off with Nate Costa calling plays.

The biggest reason is Costa’s performance this spring. The competition between Thomas and Costa might seem relatively even after spring practices, but I think Costa did his best to answer to his critics. All reports out of spring practices are that Costa’s mobility has improved significantly, and while he isn’t on par with the more athletic Thomas, he appears plenty capable of running the Oregon offense.

The second reason that Costa deserves the job is because of all the weapons the Ducks supply around him. With a stable of running backs more stocked than the Kentucky Derby, it’s almost as if the Ducks don’t need a playmaker at quarterback, but more of a game-manager (Trent Dilfer, FTW!). Look at defending champion Alabama: they had Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in the backfield alongside a quarterback that half of America had — and maybe still — never heard of.   The point is, that with LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, the Texas trio of freshman, and all the starting wide receivers back, Costa appears to be the better fit. Sure, he’s had more than his share of knee problems, but he appears mobile enough to sell the option read, and given his superior passing ability, Costa makes the Ducks a more well-rounded team. If Costa’s knee is healed to the point where he can be a threat on the ground (as reports say), his passing ability far outweighs the gap in athleticism when compared with Thomas. Imagine if Oregon forced defenses to defend the pass as well as the run. The holes would open right up for the speedy Duck backs to burst through. While the “Ole Miss transfer” was nothing more than tolerable as a passer, Costa offers an arm that Eugene hasn’t seen since Dennis Dixon, and we all remember how dangerous that was. For comparisons sake, think about Chris Harper in 2008, or even the younger version of Dennis Dixon. While both of these players were remarkable athletes, it took even Dixon a couple years to settle in to a comfort zone, and Harper’s notorious 0/3 with 2 interceptions against Boise State shows that he failed to ever settle in.

Most importantly, Costa brings intangibles to the table that Thomas doesn’t have. When looking back at the best moments in Duck football last season, almost all of them took place out of improvisation rather than design. Organized chaos, if you will. When the Ducks need a big play, they look to someone they can trust and someone they know will always make the right decision, and last season that player was He Who Must Not Be Named. This season, the Ducks will be looking for that player again, and those qualifications describe Costa better than any player on the Duck roster. As a guy who’s been around the system as long as anybody (Costa probably knows the playbook better than a few coaches), and someone who the Ducks relied on for clutch two-point conversion decisions last season, Nate knows the pressure of being in games that matter, and having the ball when the game’s on the line. Think of the most important play last season. It wasn’t the Guy We Can’t Name’s demolition of the Beaver defensive back, or even his performance in overtime of the Arizona game. No, neither of those plays even matter if not for the miraculous PAT hold that Costa had to extend the Arizona game. While that was just one point, and just one play, Costa’s proven that he’s the guy I want with the ball at the end of a football game. The reason isn’t because he’s the most talented player in the world, but because he’s cool under pressure and he’s clutch, and those are two things you just can’t teach (And unlike Thomas, he’s proven able unite over 500 people on Facebook to worship his hands — you can’t teach that either).

As the Ducks enter this new season full of high expectations, the decision of who takes snaps is a critical one. While Thomas definitely offers Chip Kelly more upside and playmaking ability, my pick would be the well-groomed, reliable Nate Costa. A more adept passer, and having a better understanding of the offense, Costa has everything the Ducks are looking for in the man who will be orchestrating the beautiful symphonies that Chip Kelly draws up. His mistakes will be fewer, and his leadership will be greater, and because of all this, I’m taking Nate Costa.

Note: On Monday, Keith will make the case for Darron Thomas.

Rose Bowl or Las Vegas Bowl: What’s in Oregon’s Future?

Ted Miller posted his best case-worst case for Oregon yesterday — and despite the scary thought of a worst case five loss season, Miller was spot on.

It all comes down to quarterback play for the Ducks this season. Is Costa the man?

The ESPN blogger imaginatively looked into his crystal ball crafting an “anecdotal review from the future” of Oregon’s 2010 season. His two scenarios shouldn’t come as a surprise to Duck fans. Basically, Miller writes, Oregon will get great play from the quarterback position — leadership and accuracy from Nate Costa and explosiveness from Darron Thomas — and return to the Rose Bowl, or the duo will crumble under the lofty expectations, clash egos in a struggle to become the alpha dog and end the season with a loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The best case season ends as such, “The Ducks bludgeon Boise State 42-14 in the Rose Bowl and split the national title with Ohio State.”

The worst case: “Phil Knight converts to Buddhism, gives his fortune to the United Way and moves to Tibet. Chip Kelly goes with him. Tyrone Willingham comes out of retirement to become the Ducks head coach.”

I think you get the idea — these are obviously the extremes.

The good news is — and this is looking at this as objectively as possible (well, for me) — is that the best case scenario is much more likely than the worst (mostly because I’ve heard Uncle Phil hates Buddhism. Kidding, of course).

Chip Kelly has a well-earned reputation as an excellent offensive strategist who gets the most out of his players. Dennis Dixon came into his own in Kelly’s first year, Justin Roper led the Ducks to a 56-point explosion in the Sun Bowl, and Jeremiah Masoli went from a fifth string JC transfer to the best player on the best team in the Pac-10.

That said, I don’t buy into the thinking that Costa or DT will effectively replace Masoli right away. Sure, it could happen, and if it did Oregon has the surrounding pieces in place for a potentially great run – in line with Miller’s best case. Realistically, I expect a season similar to 2008, with better defense. That means a few losses that will come directly at the hands of the lack of quarterbacking experience.

As it stands right now, without getting into too much detail (which I will later), my guess is that the Ducks go 10-2 and once again sneak past OSU into the Rose Bowl.