Oregon turns up the heat.
Oregon began serious preparations for the 2005 football season Friday with optimism in the morning, a pair of practices with a split squad on a sizzling afternoon and generally good reviews from the head coach as it all wrapped up in the early evening.
`We need to increase the intensity and the learning curve, but I'm pleased,' UO coach Mike Bellotti said after the pair of two-hour sessions.
The expected turnout of 103 players - two under the NCAA limit as the Ducks await final word on a couple of eligibility matters - was off by only one as senior tight end Tim Day found out shortly before his first practice that his father had died Friday morning. Day left for his home in Las Vegas and isn't expected back until the middle of next week.
`It was unexpected,' Bellotti said of Gene Day's passing. `He'd been dealing with cancer, but they thought they had it under control.'
The two Ducks who still might be added are a pair of recruits signed last winter, junior college offensive lineman Pat So'oalo and incoming freshman receiver Derrick Jones. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound So'oalo completed course work this week and Bellotti said `we should know in a couple of days' on the final determination of his eligibility.
Jones' situation isn't likely to be decided so soon, and Bellotti said the speedy receiver, also a standout prep sprinter who originally signed with USC in the 2004 winter recruiting, might have to delay his enrollment at Oregon until `midyear,' meaning either winter or spring term. `He's continuing to work on his eligibility' with the NCAA, Bellotti said.
One other scholarship player, defensive end Devlin Bayne, has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Bellotti said Bayne won't join the Ducks until after the Sept. 1 opener at Houston, when the roster size can be expanded.
The players who are on hand, Bellotti said, offer a mix of veterans out to prove that last season's 5-6 record was definitely an aberration after 10 consecutive winning seasons, and a cast of newcomers `poised to help us,' Bellotti said. `Some of them immediately.'
The incoming freshman leading that list is tailback Jonathan Stewart, though Bellotti cautioned that he starts behind senior Terrence Whitehead, who could become Oregon's career rushing leader this season, and some other talented runners.
Stewart, like all the other 14 incoming scholarship freshmen, worked out in the first session Friday. For the first four days, the squad will be split roughly in half, with the least-experienced players going in the first session and the veterans, or primarily the first two units on the depth chart, working in the second session.
`I was pleased with the attentiveness of the early group,' Bellotti said. `They really did a great job, they've come here with a purpose and seemed to be focused.
`Our older group, I was not as happy with their energy although (later in the) afternoon was hotter.'
Wide receiver James Finley became dehydrated early in the second practice and was held out of the remainder of drills. Bellotti welcomed the heat, both as a conditioning tool and as preparation for the opening game in likely hot conditions, while again reminding players to monitor their fluid intake throughout the day.
The entire squad will practice together for the first time Tuesday, also the first day players will be in full pads. There is a scrimmage scheduled for that afternoon workout, the first of three scrimmages designed to serve as rehearsals for the opening game Sept. 1 at Houston.
In his session with the media before Friday's workouts, Bellotti said the offensive changes remind him somewhat of the 1989 season, when he first came to Oregon as offensive coordinator and instituted alterations with a largely veteran group that could adapt more easily.
Calling Oregon's redesigned offense a `radical departure' from recent seasons, Bellotti said, `I don't think any of us knows what it will be. I'm excited about what it can be.'
Whitehead and senior quarterback Kellen Clemens begin their third seasons as starters in the backfield, and Oregon feels it has great depth at wide receiver, augmented now by junior Jordan Kent's decision to attempt to add football to his two-sport assignment of basketball and track.
All that acknowledged, Bellotti also said `we'll be as good as the offensive line allows us to be,' and it is the primary question on offense.
Defensively, the Ducks have only one linebacker with significant experience, and Anthony Trucks is listed as the strong safety as the Ducks renamed what had been the outside linebacker position. The secondary has a question at rover, though both starting cornerbacks return as does free safety J.D. Nelson, who will practice for the next two weeks with a cast on his left wrist and hand.
After Oregon's first losing season in a decade, few areas aren't getting some increased emphasis. That 5-6 record of 2004 has been all but tattooed into Oregon's collective memory.
`They all understand we're on a mission this year,' Bellotti said. `Last year is there, I can't change it. We can certainly work to make sure it doesn't recur.'
Freshman tailback Jonathan Stewart (23) runs drills with Niles Mittasch (left) and Jeremiah Johnson in his first practice with Oregon on Friday. Veterans will participate in a separate session until Tuesday.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; The Ducks kick off fall camp motivated to improve from a miserable 2004 season|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 6, 2005|
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