Personnel evaluation took center stage in the University of Oregon’s first prolonged scrimmage of the fall as first-year Head Coach Chip Kelly came away from the 1-hour, 45-minute workout generally pleased in the direction his football team is headed.
“This was an evaluation day, it wasn’t a situation to see who could out-scheme the other today,” Kelly said in reference to not being as concerned about how the Ducks’ offense fared against the defense. “We played things pretty basic, we were more concerned about who could block, who could tackle and who can make plays.”
Yet hard to ignore was the production from the quarterback position. While it has been junior Jeremiah Masoli who has generated much of the pre-season acclaim surrounding Oregon’s offensive expectations for the coming season, it was Nate Costa who raised eyebrows by completing 12 of 15 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Costa, who last played in 2006 prior to missing the past two seasons with knee injuries, also carried the ball seven times for 45 yards and a fourth score, although the officials were quick to blow the whistle anytime any of the quarterbacks were close to being tackled.
Included among Costa’s scoring strikes was a 49-yard completion to running back LaMichael James and a 20-yard TD to Jeff Maehl, who converted both of his receptions into touchdowns totaling 29 yards.
Masoli connected on five of 13 passes for 44 yards and two TDs, while accumulating an additional 4 yards on the ground.
“Who has been his No. 1 fan,” Kelly asked reporters rhetorically of his oft-forgotten quarterback, who entered last fall atop the team’s depth chart before suffering his season-ending knee injury late in fall camp. “I’ve told everyone from day one that I don’t count Nate Costa out if his knee is healthy.
“I feel 100 percent with our quarterback situation now than where we were this time last year.”
In addition to Masoli and Costa, sophomore Darron Thomas rushed for 21 yards on five carries despite watching both of his pass attempts fall incomplete. Freshman Daryle Hawkins completed his lone pass for 4 yards in addition to including a 24 scoring run among his 35 rushing yards.
Oregon’s offense generated its greatest success on the ground, with senior LeGarrette Blount ripping off a 34-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. He ended his afternoon carrying the football seven times for 52 yards.
But it was more of a day to get a look at a pair of redshirt freshmen who would appear to be in line for prominent roles for the coming season, as well as returnees Andre Crenshaw and Remene Alston. Crenshaw carried the ball eight times for 27 yards and James added 21 yards on the ground, including a 4-yard scoring run, to go along with his two catches for 54 yards.
“Kenjon Barner is a football player,” Kelly said of his second-year player who began fall camp listed as a defensive back but has yet to practice on that side of the ball this fall. “He can help us as a kickoff and punt returner as well at running back and receiver.
“LaMichael is a multi-talented kid with special talents,” Kelly added. “He had done nothing this fall that has surprised me. We were fortunate last year with Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette healthy that we could afford to redshirt him, but he could have helped us last year. He is going to be a dynamic player in this league before he is finished.”
Senior Rory Cavaille and junior transfer Lavasier Tuinei took advantage of a thinned corps of wide receivers due to bumps and bruises, with each grabbing four catches for 55 and 38 yards, respectively, while each caught one TD pass.
Defensively, Kelly applauded newcomers Terrance Montgomery, Bryson Littlejohn and Zac Clark, as well as returnees Josh Kaddu, Talmadge Jackson, and Scott Grady as players he feels are ready to make a presence.
“Terrance Montgomery just finds a way to get off blocks,” Kelly emphasized. “We know what players like Walter Thurmond, Casey Matthews and Will Tukuafu can do, it was more about taking a look at other players.”
Kelly also was encouraged about his team’s punters in addition to believing that his first group of offensive linemen are starting to jell. Incoming freshman Jackson Rice averaged 44.8 yards on five punts and Tim Taylor booted the ball seven times for a 38.0-yard average.
“Rice has a very strong leg and can be a real weapon for us,” Kelly said, while also acknowledged the improvement of Taylor during the off-season. “We are 100 percent improved in that phase of the game from the spring.”
Paramount among Kelly’s focus prior to the Ducks’ Sept. 3 season opener at Boise State is likely to be the needed improvement of the field goal and PAT aspects of their game. No fewer than three placements were blocked while a trio of candidates misfired on several other points-after-touchdown kicks.
“Sometimes it’s tough to evaluate the kickers when the process breaks down before you ever get to that point. The whole operation of our field goal unit needs to be cleaned up,” Kelly said in reference to his snappers, holders and the protection offered by the front line.
Oregon will resume practices Monday, with two-a-day workouts scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and single practices on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
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