Oregon 2003 Football Outlook
Aug. 26, 2003
Overview: No program in the Pac-10 has exhibited more stability in recent years than the Oregon Ducks. UO consistently finished in the upper reaches of the Conference, smoothly filling needs as they arose. After going 21-3 with a couple of Conference crowns the previous two years, it appeared as if Oregon was still on track in jumping out to a 6-0 record and a No. 6-ranking early in 2002. Then the wheels came off and the Ducks staggered in with a 7-6 mark and giving rise to more questions than usual heading into this season. Oregon's strengths look to be the lines on both sides of the ball, but there are issues to be decided at the 'skill' positions on offense and the secondary on defense.
Offense: Oregon returns eight starters on offense, but the three starters who were lost - running back Onterrio Smith, wideout Keenan Howry and tight end George Wrighster - all earned some form of All-Pac-10 accolades and were the Ducks' big-play performers. Senior Jason Fife started all 13 games at quarterback last season and passed for 2,752 yards and 24 TDs. However, a lack of consistency late in the season led to increased playing time for sophomore Kellen Clemens, and the battle for the starting job was still wide open entering the fall. The Ducks are not as deep at tailback as they have been in recent years with the departure of 1,000-yard rusher Smith. Terrence Whitehead is the top returning rusher, but he will be pushed by Chris Vincent, with Ryan Shaw also in the mix. Big (6-3, 240) Matt Floberg returns at fullback. Samie Parker, who led UO with 49 receptions for 724 yards and eight TDs last year and was fifth in the 100 meters at the NCAA Track and Field Championships, will be the main threat at wide receiver. The likes of Keith Allen, Kellen Taylor and Demetrius Williams will battle for playing time. Tim Day is a good combination blocker/receiver at tight end. The line is both talented and experienced and should be the strength of the Duck offensive unit. Dan Weaver anchors the line at center. Weaver earned second-team All-Pac-10 and first-team Academic All-District notice last season. He is flanked by two top-flight guards in Joey Forster and Nick Steitz. Adam Snyder and Mike DeLaGrange return at the tackle slots, with Robin Knebel and Josh Atkins pushing them for playing time.
Defense: The Ducks' usually sturdy defense gave up an uncharacteristic 409.3 yards per game last season and proved to be way too vulnerable to the big play. Oregon gave up 35 touchdown passes last year and must turn that around. Six starters are back and the outlook for an improved stop corps looks promising. The defensive line is one of the deeper areas for Oregon. Last year, youngsters Igor Olshansky and Haloti Ngata proved to be 300-pound building blocks for the defense. Junior Siavii may force his way into the lineup at tackle and allow Olshansky to slide out to end. End Quinn Dorsey will attempt to force his way into the starting lineup. The leader at linebacker is Kevin Mitchell, a second-team All-Pac-10 performer who registered 114 tackles last year. Jerry Matson is slated to line up at middle backer, although he could get a push from JC transfer Marcus Miller. David Martin will try to hold off Anthony Trucks for the starting outside backer position. Oregon hopes a year of experience will lead to quantum improvement in a secondary that was burned for too many big plays last season. Three of four starters are back. Steven Moore and Aaron Gipson are back at the corners, along with Marques Binns. All could be challenged for playing time by entering freshmen and JC transfers in the fall. The standout in the secondary is free safety Keith Lewis, a second-team All-Conference selection who had five picks last year. Marley Tucker is expected to take over at rover.
Kicking Game: Groza Award finalist Jared Siegel was one of the best placekickers in the nation last year. He was named first-team All-Pac-10 and second-team All-America after connecting on 20-of-24 field goal attempts. The Ducks need a new punter with incoming freshman Paul Martinez a likely bet.