With spring football practice officially starting for the Oregon Ducks and the annual spring game right around the corner, we can't help but start talking about the upcoming season. I don't know about you, but September 3rd @ Cowboy stadium in Dallas can't come soon enough. After the Ducks disappointing showing in the BCS Champioship Game against Auburn in January, I couldn't help but get excited for what was coming in 2011. This team seems determined to make it back to the title game for a second year in a row, but this time they want to win.
The toughest part for the Ducks this season is going to be replacing star line backer Casey Matthews and fierce pass rusher Kenny Rowe on the defensive side of the ball. This may seem like a tall task considering that they were the heart and soul of this defense last year, but this team still has playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. The captain of this defense this year looks to be the returning 2010 All-American junior cornerback Cliff Harris. He is already on three defensive player watch lists for the upcoming season and he is definitely worth the hype.
Harris should be one of the top five corners in the country by season's end (though he may already be there). Also, we already know how dangerous he is with returning the ball ( once he is in the open field he's gone). When you combine him in the secondary, along with ball-hawking free safety John Boyett and the hard- hitting Eddie Pleasant, the Ducks secondary is definitely their strongest area on defense. I expect Micheal Clay to step in and play a key role at the linebacker position this season. Don't be suprised if he has a great year.
As we take a look at the Duck's offense, we see a lot of the same faces on an offense that average almost 50 points a game last year. The big losses on the offensive side of the ball were minimal. We lost some depth at the reciever spot when Meahl graduated, but in theory, we gained a lot more with the return of Lavasier Tuinei and multi-tool, speedster Josh Huff. Assuming Huff is healthy this year and David Paulson continues rising at the tight end position this recieving core should be productive and efficient.
As you know, in the Ducks spread offense the wide receivers are extremely valuable in the run-game blocking up field and holding off defenders so our backs can get to the edge. Tuinei finished last year on a tear and got alot of receptions late in the year, expect him to be the Jeff Meahl of 2011.
The recievers are good but everywhere else on the field is exceptional, the Ducks will pose the best backfield in the country and most certainly the best in the PAC-12. When you look at their backfield on paper, it's scary. The one word that describes them is speed, plain and simple. Barner, James and Seastrunk will wow you every time they touch the ball. Expect James to be sent back to New York by the end of the season for the second year in a row, this year though he has a very legitimate shot at winning the Heisman.
Last year, James missed the first game of the season due to suspension and still had an amazing year (21 rushing tds and 1,840 yds on the ground). Imagine if James played against New Mexico? He would have had a better year but he didn't and still managed to have those great numbers.
One Heisman contender helps an offense, but two can make it legendary. That is what the Oregon Ducks have going into 2011. Not only do they have James, but they have returning team leader and field general Darron Thomas. Scary huh? Thomas had an excellent first year taking over for the dismissed Masoli during last offseason. 30 tds to 9 picks is extremely efficent and the 61% completion percentage is definitely impressive. By the sounds of those numbers he sounds like a senior or junior, but that was only his sophomore year. Going into his junior year, expect him to be more developed and bigger physically. He should have a huge year for this team now that he has a year under his belt and some people feel he'll have a better knowledge of the spread offense and I expect him to tuck the ball and run a little more than he did last year.
With players like James and Thomas who are very quick, the Ducks added even more speed with the additions of freshmen Taico Sumler and DeAnthony Thomas in their 2011 recruiting class. The speed that the Ducks posses is deadly and should provide for another great offense in 2011 as for the defense we don't know what to expect, but I expect they will be solid once again. As for the team I think they will win the PAC 12 and play in the BCS title game once again in 2011.