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Checkin’ on the Pac: Oregon


Our eighth and final Pac-10 interview is with Jason Vondersmith of The Portland Tribune. He is currently the Tribune’s beat writer for the the Oregon Ducks and is very familiar with the intricacies of Pac-10 football in the Northwest. Thanks to Jason for participating in this interview. 

Q: Justin Roper played quite well in the Sun Bowl against USF, but he’s more of a pocket passer than a dual-threat quarterback. Will he be the starter or will Nate Costa take over under center?

He is more of a pocket passer, but he has surprisingly good running skills. He’s really worked at running the ball. He played guard on his high school basketball team in Georgia, so he’s a good athlete. The Ducks will play to his strengths, but the basic offense stays the same no matter who plays quarterback for Oregon. Coach Mike Bellotti says the “secondary and tertiary plays” are customized for Roper. And, the Ducks will not be shy about using the quicker and shiftier Jeremiah Masoli and Chris Harper at quarterback; Bellotti says Harper, a 6-2, 230 true freshman, “is the best with the ball in his hands on the team,” which means the Ducks will probably use him in some option stuff.

Q: Andre Crenshaw and Jeremiah Johnson were quite effective as backup running backs last season. Are they good enough to replace Johnathan Stewart?

Not by themselves, although Crenshaw is a crafty runner and Johnson is quick and shifty. Johnson has averaged 6 yards a carry in his career; he’s pretty good, a probable NFL player. No, the Ducks have really high hopes for their running game because of the arrival of JC transfer LeGarrette Blount. He’s 6-2, about 240, and he’s powerful and agile. He’s got an interesting style, a standup running style, kind of like Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson. He’s also got NFL talent. The Ducks will use all three of them, I believe, but mostly Johnson and Blount. Look for the Ducks to be a dominant running team.

Q: Former USC Trojan Jamere Holland transferred to Oregon a year ago. What kind of impact will he have for the Ducks?

He’s a backup right now, because senior Terence Scott shined in camp, but he has blazing speed. I expect the Ducks to use him on some simple patterns initially, because Jamere doesn’t quite have a full grasp of Chip Kelly’s offense. Also, I would expect the Ducks to use him on some end-around plays. He’s very explosive.

Q: With the return of C Max Unger and LT Fenuki Tupou, how good is the offensive line?

It should be a solid unit — and big, averaging about 310. It appears Tupou kinda screwed up, as he has been suspended for the first game for a violation of eligibility bylaws. The O-line, besides Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart, was a big reason why the Ducks averaged a school-record 251.7 yards rushing last year to lead the Pac-10 for the second consecutive year. Tupou and Unger are probably NFL draft picks. Mark Lewis returns at right guard; sophomore Jordan Holmes seems to have the upperhand at left guard. The question mark is the play of right tackle, where senior Jacob Hucko and sophomore C.E. Kaiser have been vying to play. Bellotti calls it his biggest concern on offense.

Q: The defense has been steadily improving over the past couple seasons. Will that trend continue in 2008 with the return of seven starters?

Yes. I expect the defense to be very good. The key will be stable play up the middle, particularly defensive tackle, where the Ducks will count on seniors Cole Linehan and Ra’Shon Harris. But the Ducks have speed on defense, and an excellent secondary, led by rover Patrick Chung and cornerbacks Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond. They’ll be able to defend teams in many ways.

Q: Safety Patrick Chung decided to forgo the NFL Draft and return for his senior season. Where does he rank among the UO defensive greats?

He’s certainly be one of the best to ever play defensive back at Oregon. It’s hard to quantify, but Chung is a tenacious player and a good cover guy. He’s also going to be one of UO’s best leaders. In that regard — great tackler, cover guy, leader — he ranks as one of the best.

Q: Mike Bellotti nearly left for UCLA this past offseason. Why would he considering leaving Oregon where he has had great success?

His leaving wasn’t as close to happening as portrayed. Yes, UCLA wooed him, but Bellotti calls it just information exchanging. I tend to take him at his word. He’s in a great situation at Oregon, with administration fully behind him, strong donor support, Oregon making inroads nationally with notoriety and marketing and recruiting and …. well, he rules the roost. It’s a comfortable situation for Bellotti.

Q: How many years will he be coaching Eugene?

He’ll retire with the Ducks. He’ll be 58 on Dec. 21, and he’s always said he didn’t want to be a Joe Paterno/Bobby Bowden type. I would expect him to be the coach three or four more years — no insider info here, but it’s a guess based on what he has told me over the years. There’s also the possibility of Bellotti one day becoming athletic director. A logical transition would be to keep Kelly happy for the next couple years and hand the reins over to him; Kelly will make a great head coach someday. He has a good personality and a great football mind.

Q: Please look into your crystal ball, how will the Ducks do this year?

The Ducks have some of the best depth and talent they have ever had. Quarterback play will be paramount. I would expect the Ducks to go 9-3 or 10-2. It’ll be tough to beat USC in the Coliseum. Arizona State will be primed to beat them in Tempe, considering the Ducks have won there commandingly the past two trips.

Q: Sorry, but I must ask: what do you think of the latest uniforms?

I think it’s been genius on the Ducks/Nike’s part to keep introducing the uniforms. First of all, the players always have their say in what they wear, and they like them — they could care less what others think. Second of all, the uniforms/helmets also get people talking — it’s good publicity. The big question now is when the Ducks will introduce their black helmets.