The Oregon Ducks enter their 2011 fall camp on the heels of one of the best seasons in school history. In a remarkable 12-1 run capped by taking Auburn down to the wire in the National Championship game, Chip Kelly's Ducks carved out a spot for themselves amongst the elite of the college football world.
Expectations have not subsided, despite ten graduates from that team in NFL training camps. Pac-12 media members picked the Ducks to win the league, and the preseason coaches' poll lists Oregon as the #3 team in the country.
With the first practice just days away, Duck Sports Authority puts on its devil's advocate hat and ranks the top concerns for the Ducks entering fall training camp.
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1. Wide receiver - Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis were excellent players for Oregon in 2010, accounting for 1546 of the Ducks' 2833 yards and 15 of 31 touchdowns through the air. Jeff Maehl is in Houston at the Texans' training camp; Davis is getting a look with the Atlanta Falcons. Lavasier Tuinei will be the lone returning senior and sophomore Josh Huff the only other wide receiver with significant game experience. The answer could come from many different sources. Returning along with Tuinei and Huff for the Ducks are juniors Justin Hoffman and Will Murphy, sophomores Blake Cantu, Ben Butterfield and Nick Cole, and coming off their redshirt seasons Blake Stanton, Eric Dungy and Keanon Lowe. Newcomers B.J. Kelley, Rahsaan Vaughn, Tacoi Sumler and Devon Blackmon ensure this unit will be closely watched this fall.
2. Linebacker - Middle linebacker Casey Matthews was Oregon's leading tackler in 2010 with 79 and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. Will linebacker Spencer Paysinger had 76 and signed a contract with the New York Giants. The Ducks return 13 game starter at Sam linebacker, Josh Kaddu. In the middle, senior Dewitt Stuckey is in line to take over for Matthews with junior Kiko Alonso likely to be in the mix. Junior Michael Clay and sophomore Boseko Lokombo are two of the top candidates looking to replace Paysinger.
3. Offensive line - Jordan Holmes, Bo Thran, C.E. Kaiser, Max Forer - The Ducks are losing four seniors to graduation but the cupboard is not bare. Junior G Carson York had 10 starts in 2011, senior OT Darrion Weems seven, and senior OT Mark Asper eleven. Juniors guards Nick Cody and Ryan Clanton will definitely get their chances to earn playing time, while in the middle it will be a battle of the untested. Sophomore Karrington Armstrong and freshman Hroniss Grasu battled for the spot during spring camp, but redshirt freshman Hamani Stevens returning from his mission adds a new twist to the interior position battles. Stevens has the potential to excel on the defensive side of the ball as well.
4. Defensive line - Defensive tackle Brandon Bair had 13 starts for Jerry Azzinaro during the Ducks' championship run, Zac Clark 12. Like Bair, defensive end Kenny Rowe started all the games in 2010. The reason the DL doesn't rank higher on the concern chart is the unit's spring performance. Despite 13-game starter Terrell Turner sitting out camp recovering from surgery, the group performed very well in live situations. At the edges, junior Dion Jordan, senior Brandon Hanna and redshirt freshman Tony Washington all appeared to be ready, and on the inside sophomores Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi and JC transfers Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert looked capable.
When the college football coaches are polled and they rank you the nation's third best team, it means something. It means that the top football experts in the country think that the Oregon Ducks will have a very solid team in 2011. And they will. The possible chinks in their armor will likely get a visit from resident master blacksmith Chip Kelly over the next month. Duck Sports Authority will be on hand to see how the answers to top questions heading into camp are answered.