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April 2, 2008
Here's the good news: Oregon without Dennis Dixon won its bowl game with a 56-21 romp over South Florida. The bad news is that the Ducks were in the Sun Bowl playing USF following a three-game losing streak/collapse after their star quarterback was injured and lost for the season. The Ducks have all offseason to prepare for life without Dixon, who blossomed into a Heisman candidate as a senior last year. They also have to replace star tailback Jonathan Stewart. Seven starters return on defense, including all-conference guys in the secondary and at end, but all eyes will be on the offensive backfield during the spring.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti will try to find some offensive playmakers this spring.
Offense—5: TE Ed Dickson, G Mark Lewis, T Fenuki Tupou, C Max Unger, WR Jaison Williams.
Defense—7: LB John Bacon, LB Jerome Boyd, CB Jairus Byrd, SS Patrick Chung, E Nick Reed, CB Walter Thurmond III, E Will Tukuafu.
Special teams—2: K Matt Evensen, P Josh Syria.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
This season will mark the third as starters for the trio of Chung, Thurmond and Byrd in the secondary. Chung and Thurmond were Rivals.com first-team All-Pac-10 performers last season. Led by Unger and two other returning starters, Oregon's offensive line should have plenty of depth.
HELP IS NEEDED
Second-year offensive coordinator Chip Kelly will look to work his magic with as many as six candidates for the starting quarterback job. Justin Roper may be in the lead after his performance in the Sun Bowl. Sophomore Nathan Costa will be held out of contact drills while sophomore Cody Kempt, freshmen Darron Thomas and Chris Harper and BYU transfer Cade Cooper try to muscle their way into the competition. At tailback, the Ducks are looking to replace Jonathan Stewart. Junior college transfer LaGarrette Blount will get a long look in the spring. Oregon needs two new starting defensive tackles.
KEEP AN EYE ON
LB Terrance Pritchett: Injuries to veteran linebackers have opened the door for several redshirt freshmen, and Pritchett may have the best chance to play in the fall.
QB Justin Roper: After passing for 180 yards and four touchdowns in the Sun Bowl rout of USF, Roper is the favorite to win the starting job. He must hold off five other talented options.
DE Kenny Rowe: Rowe was a pass-rush specialist as a true freshman last season, and he could make noise as an end or linebacker during the spring.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Oregon loses Brian Paysinger, Cameron Colvin and Garren Strong at receiver, leaving Williams as the best option at the position. He has shown flashes during his career, but he needs to put it all together as a senior to help out Oregon's green quarterbacks.
Oregon has been one of the top contenders in the Pac-10 in recent seasons, but the Ducks have major holes to fill on offense this spring. Look for an experienced defense to carry the way.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.