No distractions for Ducks as spring begins

March, 29, 2011
3/29/11
4:38
PM ET
Oregon coach Chip Kelly isn't thinking about LSU, the Ducks' marquee season opener in Cowboys Stadium. Nor is he fretting the recent headlines that connect his program to recruiting services and so-called "street agents" that are raising some NCAA eyebrows.

You know what his focus is on this spring? Guess. Correct. Kelly's focus is on "winning the day."

"I know I sound like a broken record," he said.

LSU is "not even on the radar." And potential distractions due to L'Affair de Willie Lyles?

"I've never brought it up once," Kelly said. "Our kids aren't distracted by anything you guys write."

There are personnel issues that Kelly is paying attention to, and these are much like the questions fans have.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kirby Lee/US PresswireChip Kelly is looking for leaders to emerge this spring.
"The lines. Leadership. We lost a lot of good leaders," he said. "Who's going to step up?"

The Ducks lost three of five starters on the offensive line and three of four on the D-line. There are also two linebackers, two receivers and a cornerback to replace.

Still, none of these voids seems terribly worrisome. There appear to be capable -- and in nearly every case experienced -- players ready to step into starting roles.

Tackle Mark Asper and guard Carson York are returning starters on the line, while Darrion Weems has plenty of starting experience. "After that, it's up in the air. We'll be unproven there in at least two spots," Kelly said.

On the defensive line, end Terrell Turner is the lone returning starter, but he'll also be the team's only starter out all spring with a leg injury. The Ducks, however, consistently played nine guys last year and six are back. Two new faces to watch are Isaac Remington, a JC transfer in 2010 who redshirted, and Jared Ebert, a JC transfer from 2011, who will participate in spring practices.

"We're confident with six of the guys we have coming back, now we've just got to find out who those other three guys are going to be," Kelly said.

While Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger are gone at linebacker, Josh Kaddu is back, as are Michael Clay, Boseko Lokombo and Dewitt Stuckey. Also, Kiko Alonso, who sat out last year with a knee injury, will almost certainly be in the mix.

Josh Huff and Lavasier Tuinei are two experienced returning receivers. Kelly said it was "up in the air" after that, but pointed to a strong recruiting haul that included four freshmen receivers.

The Ducks lost cornerback Talmadge Jackson, but senior Anthony Gildon, who owns nine career starts, is back, and there are plenty of intriguing youngsters who could challenge him for the starting spot. Kelly said he wants four corners who can play.

And Kelly emphasized returning starters won't get a free pass -- even stars will be pushed to get better. With quarterback Darron Thomas, it will be working on fundamentals -- his footwork, throwing motion, getting set quicker, etc. And running back LaMichael James needs to become more of a weapon in the passing game.

"No one has ever arrived," Kelly said.

As for leadership, Thomas and James are two leading candidates, but the Ducks had 16 captains last year. Kelly believes in leadership by committee, and he's not going to make stump speeches for guys to step up.

"That will happen by how it shakes itself out. You can't force that," he said. "Leadership should be shared. You've got 22 starters. It's the ultimate team sport. Sometimes it's tough to put that on the shoulders of one guy."

Ted Miller | email

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