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Ducks aim for quick fix.

Byline: Rob Moseley The Register-Guard

There were no major surprises Wednesday as Mike Bellotti announced the Oregon football team's 2005 recruiting class. No late additions, or last-minute defections.

Which was all just fine for Bellotti, who in trying to help the Ducks rebound from a 5-6 season had assembled a mix of junior college transfers and prep players he hopes will make an immediate impact next fall.

"I think we secured a class that will give maybe the most immediate help to this football program we've had in quite a long time," Bellotti said in announcing the newest class of 25 players - seven JC transfers, 15 high school seniors and three 2004 prep graduates who didn't play football last fall.

"And certainly in some areas we needed that help."

The group of JC players includes three linebackers, charged with easing the loss of seniors Jerry Matson and Ramone Reed. Two JC offensive linemen will help make up for the loss of four seniors on the line.

And two tailbacks signed on - including, yes, top-rated prospect Jonathan Stewart - as the Ducks looked to fill immediate needs as much as help the team over the long term.

"It probably was more short-term than it has been for some time," Bellotti said, and not just because of Oregon's sub-.500 season last fall.

"Our situation at linebacker, it wouldn't have mattered what our record was last year. We had immediate needs. At offensive line it was much the same thing. Those two areas along with tailback - where we graduated two - those would have been primary and tremendous areas of concern regardless of what we had done."

The biggest name is undoubtedly that of Stewart. Regarded by many as the top running back prospect in the country, he has previously stated his goal of having the same impact at Oregon as Oklahoma freshman - and Heisman Trophy finalist - Adrian Peterson had in 2004.

Which would be fine with Bellotti, though he quickly said that Oregon still has a senior with two seasons as the starter under his belt in Terrence Whitehead, who ran for 1,144 yards last season.

"Terrence is our starter; Terrence is our featured back," Bellotti said. "However, I think there's room for several tailbacks. In our best years, we've had two great tailbacks, or three at times."

By Wednesday evening, Rivals.com ranked Oregon's recruiting class at No. 28 in the country, while Scout.com had the Ducks ranked 30th.

The list of prep signees contained familiar names - Eugene's Matt Bramow; current Duck Matt Toeaina's younger brother Simi; Jeremiah Johnson, younger brother of ex-Duck Jerome - and also an unlikely position - Mark Sunga received a scholarship and will be expected to step right in as the replacement for Ryan Loftin as the long snapper.

Then there were the three holdovers from 2004: cornerback Willie Glasper and Portland athlete T.R. Smith, who signed with Oregon last February but delayed their enrollment until this winter to become academically eligible, along with a new addition, Derrick Jones.

Multiple recruiting services reported that Jones planned on visiting Washington State this weekend and would announce his college destination after that trip. But Bellotti spoke with Jones on Sunday night after the player returned home from an official visit to Eugene this past weekend, and got assurance that Jones would sign with the Ducks on Wednesday.

Jones had signed with USC out of high school but didn't qualify academically; he will have to redshirt next fall before having four years of eligibility left, Bellotti said. Once he gets to school, likely in the fall, Jones might compete with the track team, having run the 100 meters in 10.3 seconds.

"He's a speed receiver to basically replace Samie Parker in our offense," Bellotti said. "He just came in a year late."

Besides the junior college linemen and linebackers, receiver James Finley's signing was announced Wednesday, though he actually joined the Ducks during the midyear JC transfer period and is enrolled in school.

The Ducks have a bevy of young, talented wideouts - Bramow and Jones join a group next fall that will include senior Demetrius Williams, junior Kyle Weatherspoon, sophomores Garren Strong, Brian Paysinger and Cameron Colvin and redshirt freshman Jaison Williams - but few with experience.

Finley, Bellotti said, "joins Demetrius as guys we can count on."

And there's also a new punter, to replace departed walk-on David Dittman, Oregon's full-time punter in 2004.

Bellotti said he offered Dittman a scholarship before Christmas, but one that didn't take effect until the fall. After initially accepting the offer, Dittman decided earlier this month he would have to pass, and he left Eugene.

`I had to do a quick about-face' to find a replacement, said Bellotti, who eventually settled on JC punter Matt Dragich. `But I'm very pleased. ...

`(Dragich) had some desire to play in the Pac-10. We were very fortunate, because he turned down scholarship offers elsewhere to wait for us, until our situation cleared up a bit.'

The class was noticeably devoid of quarterbacks - Bellotti said the Ducks will likely try to sign two next year - but otherwise the Ducks signed a player at every position on the field besides place-kicker. About the only hitch of the day was in Bellotti's step - he had surgery Tuesday to repair bone, ligament and cartilage damage brought on by lingering sports-related injuries in his right knee, and he entered his press conference Wednesday on crutches.

Other than that, the afternoon was marked by the optimism typical of any signing day. The only difference this year is that Bellotti and his staff are hoping this class can justify that optimism just a little sooner than most others.

CAPTION(S):

C o l l e g e f o o t b a l l James Branaman / The Seattle Times Timberline's Jonathan Stewart signed on the dotted line Wednesday and officially became a member of the UO football program, bringing a top prep running back to Eugene. Stewart, who smashed the Washington state rushing record, is expected to see considerable playing time as a freshman. `Terrence is our featured back. However, I think there's room for several tailbacks. In our best years, we've had two great tailbacks, or three at times.' MIKE BELLOTTI UO COACH
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Title Annotation:Sports; Take the nation's top prep running back, add in several JC players and the recipe for immediate help is complete
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 3, 2005
Words:1042
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