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March 30, 2009
Where's the angst? As the most successful football coach in Oregon history, Mike Bellotti posted 116 victories. But when he stepped down in March, there didn't seem much (if any) concern in Eugene.
The response undoubtedly was a byproduct of Chip Kelly taking the torch from Bellotti. In two years with Kelly as offensive coordinator, the Ducks averaged more than 38 points per game each season and posted 19 victories.
If Kelly is equally adept as the head coach, even better times may be ahead for the Ducks.
Here's a look at Oregon as it prepares for spring practice.
Positions of strength
The Ducks were hit hard by injuries at quarterback last season, but now most teams would envy Oregon's situation. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli started most of last season after Justin Roper was injured early. Masoli is back. So is Roper. And so is Nate Costa, who had won the starting job in fall camp but tore ligaments just before the season opener and was lost for the season. Furthermore, sophomore Darron Thomas was a four-star prospect who played well when he got a chance last season.
Help is needed
The offensive and defensive lines were areas of strength last season. Now, they're points of concern. Three full-time starters were lost in the offensive line, including All-America center Max Unger, and overall six seniors are gone. Meanwhile, end Nick Reed, who posted 13 sacks in '08, is among three starters lost on the defensive front four. Restocking the lines doesn't figure to be an easy process. Two key starters in the secondary also are gone.
Keep an eye on
TB LeGarrette Blount: In recent seasons, the Ducks have had success with two backs. Blount rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a backup role last season and has first dibs on the starting job this season. At 240 pounds, he fits Oregon's need for a bruiser. But who will be the second threat? Look out for redshirt freshman LaMichael James, a fast and elusive runner with big-play ability who has drawn raves from coaches.
WR Chris Harper: Last season as a true freshman, Harper became the first Oregon player in eight years to run for a touchdown, pass for a touchdown and have a touchdown reception in the same season. He was recruited as a quarterback, but Oregon's depth at that position and need elsewhere resulted in a move to receiver. He could show up at receiver, running back and quarterback in '09.
TE Dion Jordan: Jordan, a redshirt freshman, was a four-star prospect as a wide receiver. But he has moved to tight end, where he has the height (6 feet 7) but not the weight (215 pounds) for the position. Kelly says Jordan is tough enough to make the move. At the least, he should pose some matchup problems for safeties.
His time is now
Junior Jamere Holland might be the fastest receiver in the Pac-10, but he hasn't been productive. Last season, he managed just four catches, though one covered 47 yards in the Holiday Bowl. Holland originally was a four-star prospect who signed with USC, but he transferred to Oregon in '07. It's time to make an impact this spring, take the momentum into the fall and prove he can be a legit deep threat for an offense that needs one.
Much of the attention this spring will center on Kelly and the new assistants he has brought in. But the progress (or lack thereof) made in rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines should be watched just as much. The Ducks' '09 season may depend on several unproven linemen trying to make a good impression on the new coaches.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.