Pac-12: Spencer Paysinger

Pac-12 lunch links: Leaf has brain surgery

June, 1, 2011
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"Tsk, tsk," I said, not moving at all. "Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You're the second guy I've met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail."

Pac-12 in UFL draft

May, 3, 2011
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Five former Pac-12 players -- six if you include former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli -- were selected in the UFL draft on Monday.

Here's the list.

No. 4 Martail Burnett, DE, Utah (Virginia)
No. 13 Joe Toledo, OT, Washington (Omaha)
No. 24 Spencer Paysinger, LB, Oregon (Sacramento)
No. 41 Cameron Colvin, WR, Oregon (Las Vegas)
No. 52 Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon (Virginia)

Note: Former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli went 38th to Omaha.
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."
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The talk before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game is almost at an end, but here's a quick preview to tide you over before kickoff.

Our prediction comes later.

Who to watch: Cam Newton vs. the Oregon front seven. This sounds obvious but it has to be. Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the most dominant college football player in years. He accounted for 48 touchdowns. He's 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and runs with great speed and power. Can he consistently break contain against the Ducks and sprint into the open field? If the Ducks have a great day tackling, and if the first Duck doesn't miss Newton, then Oregon wins this game. Oregon knows what it's like to chase a big, fast quarterback after playing Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor in last season's Rose Bowl. Will that knowledge lead to enlightenment?

What to watch: The start and the finish. After a 37-day layoff, it will be interesting to see how sharp -- or rusty -- each team looks. Neither has been dominant in the first half this year, and both are no strangers to slow starts and falling behind early. Both are great at making halftime adjustments. And both are outstanding in the fourth quarter. Which fourth-quarter team gets a lead going into the final frame? Further, while some pundits have said Auburn's offense also likes to play at a fast pace, it's nothing like Oregon's. Just about every team Oregon has faced this year has wilted in the fourth quarter because of the Ducks relentlessness. Check out the Tigers defenders in the fourth quarter -- particularly tackle Nick Fairley -- are their hands on their hips? Are they breathing hard? If they are, and the score is tight at that point, count on the Ducks surging.

Why to watch: Heck, other than it's the national championship game and one of the toughest tickets in college football history? Start with Newton. Whatever you want to say about his off-the-field stuff, he's an outstanding player. And this is almost certainly his last college game. Then there's Fairley. He may end up the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft this spring. Auburn folks think he's going to dominate inside. If he does, the Ducks could be in trouble. For the Ducks, it's about the team, not individuals. Coach Chip Kelly's offense has had more than five weeks to prepare. What might his mad scientist offensive mind come up with? How fast can the Ducks play with all the commercial breaks? Will the Tigers defense wear down? And what about the Oregon defense? It's been overlooked all year. Then, when it gets to the title game, many pundits call them small and overmatched, no matter what the statistics say. Will Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and company make a national statement about Pac-10 defenses? Oh, and there's that, too. A victory over the SEC in the national title game certainly would please every college football fan who is tired of hearing about the conference's dominance. And a loss would further cement the SEC's reputation as the preeminent conference.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Oregon is No. 1 in the nation in scoring and No. 1 in total offense. Auburn is No. 4 in scoring and No. 7 in total offense, so the Tigers aren't so far behind.

But when you talk about the Auburn offense, it starts and finishes with this: Cam Newton.

When you talk about the Oregon offense, it starts with running back LaMichael James and then it goes on and on and on.

What's toughest about the stopping the Ducks offense?

[+] EnlargeOregon's LaMichael James
Craig Mitchelldyer/US PRESSWIREYou can point to LaMichael James and his 1,851 yards from scrimmage and 22 total touchdowns as the reason for Oregon's success. But he's not the only thing that makes the Ducks' offense go.
"Probably our tempo," center Jordan Holmes said. "We just keep going and going and going. Even when things aren't going as planned, we just keep doing our thing and eventually the defense gives way."

Agreed Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens, "It's always hard to emulate an offense going that fast." Added Tigers linebacker Josh Bynes, "Their pace is unmatched by anybody in the nation. I haven't seen a pace like that against any opponent this year."

No, it's not the tempo. The tempo is challenging, but Auburn's offense plays with fast tempo, too. So then what is the hardest thing for a defense to deal with?

"The misdirection," Oregon linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "[QB Darron Thomas] is really good at hiding the ball with his fakes and his play-actions."

But that's not really it, either. It's the pressure the Ducks put on a defense to maintain gap discipline while dealing with a fast-tempo offense that uses a lot of misdirection.

"That's where they get people," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "You can see people take their eyes off them, people missing gaps, and it's a touchdown, not a 4-yard gain anymore." Agreed Stevens, "It's their ability to exploit defenses. Anytime a guy mis-fits, it seems like a guy is always able to find that hole and hit it and it turns into a big run or big pass."

Oregon is a dominant running team -- 304 yards per game -- that isn't too shabby throwing the ball -- 29 touchdown passes, No. 16 in the nation in passing efficiency. And it has star players; see James, a Heisman Trophy finalist and the nation's leading rusher.

But when you talk about the Oregon offense in terms of its most potent weapon, it's really about how everything blends together. While even the Ducks can't agree on what makes the offense most difficult to stop, the buy-in is complete under coach Chip Kelly, the mastermind behind the scheme. The players' confidence suggests they see their offensive success as, well, inevitable.

"We are in a situation right now where our guys believe 100 percent in what they are doing," coordinator Mark Helfrich said.

That starts not with James, but with quarterback Darron Thomas. James calls the sophomore, first-year starter the "point guard of the offense."

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Rick BowmerOregon coach Chip Kelly is the mastermind behind the nation's No. 1 offense.
Thomas was expected to be No. 3 this year behind starter Jeremiah Masoli and senior backup Nate Costa. But when Masoli was kicked off the team, Thomas was a surprise winner in a close quarterback competition with Costa.

Even as the starter, early in the season he was expected to play the role of caretaker and distributor. He's become much more than that. His passing numbers were significantly better than Masoli's in 2009, and he earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors.

Oregon players thought Thomas was going to be good. Just not this good.

"He's done some things this year that have definitely surprised all of us," Holmes said.

Thomas' top target is Jeff Maehl, who doesn't look the part -- his haircut inspired more than a few "Jeff Spicoli" references from reporters meeting him for the first time. He caught 12 touchdown passes this year, a number of them fairly spectacular.

But he's one of nine Ducks who've caught TD passes.

Further, the rushing attack isn't only about James. Four other Ducks rushed for more than 200 yards. Thomas and backup running back Kenjon Barner combined for more than 1,000 yards and 11 TDs on their own. Seven different Ducks scored rushing TDs.

Then there's the offensive line. Oh, those poor, poor Ducks linemen. They just aren't big enough to get the job done.

"We are probably the smallest offensive line in the Pac-10," Holmes said. "We're outweighed by 10 to 40 pounds on a weekly basis. So [the national championship game] is no new thing."

That itty-bitty line -- average weight: 296 pounds -- led one of the nation's best rushing attacks while yielding only eight sacks, fifth fewest in the nation.

It's fair to say that Auburn's defense is going to win the "eye test" with Oregon's offense. The Tigers look better getting off the bus, as reporters like to say. But Roof thinks the Ducks look pretty good on film.

"On top of being really, really talented, they have a great scheme, they're well coached and they're very disciplined," he said.

That's the Ducks' best offensive weapon: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Oregon impressed by Stanford

January, 5, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Stanford's 40-12 whipping of Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl was meaningful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it made what happened in Autzen Stadium on Oct. 2 the best victory of the 2011 regular season.

Stanford, which finished 12-1, is almost certain to finish ranked in the top-four in the nation in the final polls. But that day at Oregon, the Cardinal got overwhelmed 52-31, despite taking an early 21-3 lead. Stanford, a big, physical team, couldn't keep up with the Ducks' across-the-board speed and offensive tempo.

Auburn has played a tougher overall schedule than Oregon, but the Tigers haven't beaten a team that will finish ranked as highly as Stanford will, particularly after Arkansas was exposed by Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. No Tigers foe will finish with fewer than two defeats.

And, yes, the Ducks were watching the Orange Bowl. And, yes, they were rooting hard for their Pac-10 rival.

"I was a Cardinal that night," linebacker Spencer Paysinger said.

Paysinger said his sentiments had added depth because he's friends with Stanford O-linemen Derek Hall and Johnathan Martin.

"For them to go all the way to Florida and rep the Pac-10 like that speaks volumes for them," Paysinger said.

In fact, there was no gloating from Oregon players about beating Stanford in Oct. 2. Instead, there seemed to be a lot of respect.

"Stanford, they have been playing as good as anyone lately," linebacker Casey Matthews said. "I mean, obviously people are going to say we beat them by 21, [but] it doesn't really carry over into other games. It's all about matchups and how teams perform and just their simple fundamentals. Last year, [Ohio State, which beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl] lost to USC and Purdue and we beat both of them. We can't really compare scores. Obviously seeing Stanford be that dominant is definitely exciting to see and for the Pac-10 as well. Hopefully we get a little more respect."

Video: Oregon's Spencer Paysinger

January, 5, 2011
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Ted Miller chats with Oregon linebacker Spencer Paysinger about the BCS title game.

Oregon players set own curfew

January, 5, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- To curfew or not to curfew? That is a good question for the teams playing in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

Auburn is taking a loose approach to nightlife. Oregon is not.

But the Ducks aren't angry or jealous. Their strict curfew is their decision.

Ducks coach Chip Kelly a few weeks ago went to his players -- the team has 16 captains -- and asked them to decided on a curfew.

"We said, 'Hey, it's a business trip for us. We don't want to be out until 2 or 3 o'clock, partying every night,'" senior linebacker Spencer Paysinger said.

So the decision was made: Oregon players must be in the hotel by 10 p.m. and in bed by midnight.

Why not have fun? Well, it seems that some Ducks feel like they might have had too much fun at the Rose Bowl last year, which turned into a loss to an underdog Ohio State team.

"We're more focused [this year]," Paysinger said. "This game is not as big as the Rose Bowl to us, in the sense that there's not a lot of pressure on us this year. In the Rose Bowl last year, we were caught in the headlights, being in Beverly Hills, having a bunch of things going on. Down here it's a lot more relaxing. We're taking the year of experience we had [at the Rose Bowl] and applying it to this."

More than a few observers -- reporters, bowl volunteers -- have noted that Auburn's players seem more loosey-goosey, while the Ducks are more reserved and business-like.

Guess we'll find out which approach works on Jan. 10, eh?

Pac-10 players of the week

November, 1, 2010
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Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl, Arizona State defensive end Junior Onyeali and Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer have been named Pac-10 players of the week.

Maehl, a senior from Paradise, Calif., caught eight passes for a career-best 145 yards and three touchdowns in the Ducks' 53-32 win at USC. Each of his three touchdowns came at times Oregon was trailing and gave the Ducks the lead. Over the past three games, he’s collected 26 receptions for 371 yards. Maehl has 148 career receptions and needs 14 more to reach the top five on Oregon’s all-time list.

Onyeali, a freshman from Denver, Colo., made his third career start in the 42-0 shutout of Washington State. He collected four tackles for a loss, including a career-high three sacks. He also forced two fumbles. The Sun Devils limited Washington State to 264 yards of total offense.

Fischer, a sophomore from Oro Valley, Ariz., helped preserve a Wildcat lead with his special-teams play in the second half of Arizona’s 29-21 victory at UCLA. The Bruins, who had just cut a 12-point deficit down to five points, forced Arizona to punt from its own 27-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The Wildcats called for a fake punt on fourth-and-3, which Fischer turned into a 29-yard gain to maintain possession and ultimately flip the field position on the Bruins. After that, UCLA started each of its final two drives from inside its own 30-yard line. The Bruins netted minus-6 yards of offense on those two possession. On the Wildcats kickoff coverage teams, he recorded two tackles in the second half. Each of Fischer’s kickoff coverage tackles kept the Bruins inside their own 30-yard line.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterback Matt Scott of Arizona, quarterback Steven Threet of Arizona State, running back Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State, quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford and wide receiver Randall Carroll of UCLA. Also nominated on defense were defensive end Brooks Reed of Arizona, linebacker Spencer Paysinger of Oregon, linebacker Keith Pankey of Oregon State, linebacker Chase Thomas of Stanford and safety Tony Dye of UCLA. Also nominated on special teams were punter Trevor Hankins of Arizona State, linebacker Bosko Lokombo of Oregon, kicker Nate Whitaker of Stanford and punter Jeff Locke of UCLA.

Video: Oregon's Spencer Paysinger

October, 22, 2010
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Oregon linebacker Spencer Paysinger talks about the Ducks' 60-13 win over UCLA, Oregon’s defense and next week’s game against USC.

Q&A: Oregon D-coordinator Nick Aliotti

October, 15, 2010
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Oregon has the No. 1 offense in the nation in scoring and total yards. There are no questions about the Ducks offense. So when folks question the Ducks chances to contend for a national title, they focus on the Ducks defense. Which, by the way, is pretty darn salty, too.

The Ducks defense:

  • Has forced more turnovers (22) than any other team in the country (No. 2 has 18).
  • Is No. 2 in the nation in redzone defense.
  • Ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency defense
  • Ranks 15th in the nation on third downs, with opponents converting just more than 30 percent of the time.
  • Ranks 16th in tackles for a loss.
  • Ranks 20th in scoring defense (16.33 ppg).
  • The Ducks have allowed just 13 total points in the second half (12 quarters)

Sure, Oregon ranks a middling 45th in the nation in total defense (338.5 ypg), but that's mostly because the Ducks offense works so quickly that the defense sees a lot of opponent possessions. Opposing offenses have run 446 plays against the Ducks. No defense ranked in the top-75 has seen more.

[+] EnlargeCliff Harris
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesStandout cornerback Cliff Harris has four interceptions for the Ducks this season.
The only defenses that have faced a comparable number of plays and rank ahead of the Ducks are Florida State at No. 28 (439 plays) and Auburn at 40th (423 plays).

Ergo: Coordinator Nick Aliotti and his troops are doing a pretty good job. He stopped by for a chat.

Give me your assessment of the defense so far: What are you guys doing well, and what are you unhappy with?

Nick Aliotti: I continue to love the way our kids are running to the ball and flying around and finishing plays. I'm loving their effort. I'm loving the camaraderie. Just the way they're handling themselves. They are fun to go to work with. They care about the game and that makes it fun. I'm not unhappy with a lot of things. The thing I most unhappy with is we, collectively, give up too many plays that, with all due respect, sometimes our opponents don't earn. We just make a mistake here or a mistake there. If you were talking about tennis it would be an unforced error. I think we're smarter than that and should be beyond that. Coaches, you know, always want better. That's the thing I'm most unhappy with if I have to pick a thing I'm unhappy with.

It seems to us DT Brandon Bair is playing great for you guys. Am I correct on that and why such a breakthrough?

NA: Brandon is a great worker first of all. It makes it easy to have a breakthrough when you have his kind of work habits. I think the biggest reason he's having this so-called breakthrough is just the way he works. He works hard all the time. I know it sounds like I'm saying the same thing over and over, but he works so so hard that he's going to have success.

Who else is playing well?

NA:Linebacker Casey Matthews is, week-in and week-out, playing at a high-caliber. Most of the defensive line: [DT] Zac Clark and [DE] Kenny Rowe. They are playing very steady. In the secondary, we're playing so many guys back there. Obviously, cornerback Cliff Harris has had some great success making big plays. But he's also made some mistakes. Also [LB] Spencer Paysinger. So Matthews, Clark, Rowe, Bair and Paysinger -- they've all been very consistent.

Fans love CB Cliff Harris. He's made so many big plays. Why is he not a starter?

NA: That's a tough question. I'll answer it the best I can. He's not a starter now because he needs to learn to go hard and do the things we ask him to do all the time. I think he'll get there. That comes across as negative and I don't really like that. But he's getting much closer to conforming to what we want. He's a really good kid and he really cares. He's getting closer to having a knowledge of what we want and conforming to what he needs to do.

The defense seems to assert itself in the second half: What's your secret to halftime adjustments?

NA: I wish I had some great secret and could pat myself on the back and feel like, 'Wow, I'm really getting this thing done.' We do make adjustments, just like anyone else at halftime. But our greatest secret right now happens to be within the players. We play a lot of guys. And we play hard. And the fact that we practice so doggone hard, and we play a lot of guys, and I think we're in really good shape -- I think that lets us play harder for longer than our opponents. If I had to guess what our secret is, that would be the secret to our success. Now we don't go in there [the locker room at halftime] and twiddle our thumbs either, but as much as I'd like to say it's about this adjustment or that adjustment, the real secret is the kids being in shape. We're fresh and I think we wear people down.

How does this defense compared to the best defenses you've had?

NA: I can answer that much better at the end of the season. I know you don't want an answer at the end of the season. I'll give you the best answer I can give right now. With a little bit more intelligence in the overall defense -- and part of that is our fault, because we need to impart that knowledge to them -- it could probably be a very, very good defense. One of the top ones I've ever had the opportunity to coach. But there's a lot of football left. We have to finish it. That's why I'm guarded to give them too much kudos at this time.

You've been around a long time [this is his 20th year with Oregon]. How do you feel about the Ducks being in the national championship race?

NA: I think it's great. I think it's exciting. And it's nice to be mentioned in that light. But I really don't much attention to it, personally. Because like I said, there's a lot of football left. Until we get to something like the last game and we have a chance to do something like that, then I would feel better about discussing that then. But right now, there is so much football left to be played. We need to continue to take care of our own backyard. Continue to get better. I am proud we are mentioned in that light. I really am. But it doesn't mean a lot right now. How we finish this thing and end up at the end of the season, that's what matters. If that's what we're talking about then that would be fantastic.

Pac-10 lunch links: Injury questions at Stanford

October, 7, 2010
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You start to play it and it's like somebody's nightmare. And then this woman comes on, smiling at you, right? Seeing you... through the screen. Then when it's over, your phone rings, someone knows you watched the tape... and what they say is, "You will die in seven days."

Hybrid: Stanford DEs become OLBs

August, 11, 2010
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While the 3-4 defense is making a national comeback, it's only making a small mark in the Pac-10. That mark, however, will be larger in 2010.

California is the only team that has run a traditional 3-4 for multiple years, and it only transitioned in 2008 because of a surfeit of athletic linebackers and a dearth of imposing tackles.

Stanford doesn't approach the Bears linebacker depth from 2008 but it, nonetheless, is joining its Bay Area rival in adopting a 3-4 in hopes of shoring up a unit that ranked eighth in scoring and ninth in total defense in 2009.

(Arizona State figures to run some 3-4 looks this fall because it's loaded at linebacker. Oregon likes to stand up its ends at times, but if you ask coach Chip Kelly about a switch to a 3-4 he will tell you your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries).

In fact, Stanford, which brought in veteran NFL coach Vic Fangio to coordinate the transition, is a good test case for making the switch because its transformation is pure: two defensive ends in 2009 are now outside linebackers heading into 2010. You want hybrids? We give you Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas. They've played both positions. And will play both this year as the Cardinal continues to use some 4-3 elements with Thomas and Keiser putting their hands on the ground.

Thomas was forced into action as a redshirt freshman last year when Erik Lorig got hurt and made eight starts. He finished with seven tackles for a loss and four sacks. Keiser, a junior, had 15 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He had six sacks as a redshirt freshman.

Thomas, at 6-foot-4, 239 pounds, will play the "Sam" strongside linebacker position, while Keiser will be the rush linebacker, which is more "end-like." Sophomore Shayne Skov and Owen Marecic will be the inside linebackers, while all three defensive linemen -- Matt Masifilo, Sione Fua (the nose) and Brian Bulcke -- are upperclassmen who've played defensive tackle their entire careers.

A big test is whether Thomas and Keiser will be capable dropping into pass coverage. If they only rush the passer, the defense becomes fairly predictable. Both are good athletes, but they won't be compared to UCLA's Akeem Ayers or Oregon's Spencer Paysinger or Washington's Mason Foster in terms of athleticism. Still, both should fortify a defensive perimeter that was often successfully attacked by foes in 2009.

In terms of the hybrid split, both appear to be around 60:40 in terms of being hybrid defensive ends:linebackers, though Thomas might be a 55:45.

It will be interesting to see how the Cardinal defense uses them and how often they stand up as linebackers or put their hands on the ground as defensive ends.

Opening camp: Oregon

August, 9, 2010
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Oregon opens preseason camp today. Here's a quick look.

Who's back: Nine starters on offense, eight on defense, P Jackson Rice

Big names: RB LaMichael James, LT Bo Thran, WR Jeff Maehl, DE Kenny Rowe, LB Casey Matthews, DT Brandon Bair

What's new: The Ducks staff returns intact for Chip Kelly's second year as head coach. They will be breaking in a new QB after Jeremiah Masoli was given the boot.

Key competition: The QB battle between senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas will be the conference's most-watched competition. Things also are uncertain at left cornerback, where freshmen Terrance Mitchell and Avery Patterson eclipsed the more experienced Cliff Harris during the spring. There's an "Or" between Dion Jordan and Terrell Turner on the depth chart at defensive end. And things are unresolved at kicker, where Rob Beard will try to hold off freshman Alejandro Maldonado, who has Lady Gaga in his corner.

Breaking out: The 6-foot-7 Jordan is an intriguing talent. James' backup Kenjon Barner, a dynamic athlete, will get plenty of touches. Maehl surged late last season and could turn in an All-Conference season. While listed as a backup, LB Michael Clay has consistently drawn raves. FS John Boyett, LB Spencer Paysinger and DT Brandon Bair also appear poised to be in the All-Conference picture.

Quote: Kelly on the QB competition: “It’s always a question mark when you lose your quarterback. We have two competent players in Nate Costa and Darron Thomas who will battle it out in preseason camp. Both are prepared and worked really hard for it. All of our offensive line, receivers and running backs are back. They will have a supporting cast around them.”

Notes: James and Beard will be suspended for the season-opener against New Mexico because of off-field issues... Talented backup LB linebacker Kiko Alonso was suspended for the season after he received a DUI... Receivers Tyrece Gaines and Diante Jackson were both declared academically ineligible and are not expected to return to the team... Receivers receiver Jamere Holland and Garrett Embry also were dismissed from the team.

Preseason position reviews: linebacker

August, 4, 2010
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Linebacker is not an easy position to rate in the Pac-10. It's fair to say that only Oregon is worry-free at the position.

There are plenty of good individual players: Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, California's Mike Mohamed and UCLA's Akeem Ayers are getting preseason All-American attention and Washington's Mason Foster looks primed for a breakout. But other than the Ducks, every team gives you reason to pause over the depth chart.

So what's the pecking order?

Great shape

  • Oregon: The Ducks are fast and deep and experienced. Casey Matthews was second-team All-Pac-10, while Spencer Paysinger was his equal in production. Josh Kaddu and Boseko Lokombo are impressive enough that returning starter Eddie Pleasant moved to rover. And sophomore Michael Clay might end up the best of the lot by season's end.
  • USC: Everyone read all about the Trojans problems at LB during spring practices, but that was mostly about a lack of depth. The bottom line is there are three returning starters from the Pac-10's No. 1 scoring defense, and sophomore Devon Kennard may be good enough to beat out Chris Galippo in the middle.
Good shape
    [+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
    Matt Kartozian/US PresswireVontaze Burfict had 61 tackles and two sacks last season.

  • Arizona State: Burfict may be the best middle LB in the conference, and Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons saw plenty of action as backups for a unit that ranked No. 1 in the conference in total defense. Still, there's reason to pause over the loss of Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel, two heady, productive players.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal switched to a 3-4 defense, and the lineup of LBs is impressive in terms of potential. Sophomore Shayne Skov is a budding star and Owen Marecic is a beast, though this will be his first season as a full-time LB after playing FB last year. It's possible Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser will be better OLBs than DEs. But we'll have to see.
  • California: Mohamed led the Pac-10 in tackles last year and, though two starters must be replaced, there's talent and experience on the depth chart, particularly if Mychal Kendricks breaks through. The Bears ranked second in the conference in run defense in 2009.
  • UCLA: The Bruins are breaking in two new starters next to Ayers, though MLB Steve Sloan started nine games in 2008. But Ayers may end up the conference's defensive Player of the Year, so he makes up for a lot of the issues here.
  • Washington: Mason Foster is as good a LB as any in the conference, and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who starts on the strong side is one of the Huskies' biggest preseason questions.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers are replacing their two best linebackers: Keaton Kristick and David Pa'aluhi. Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson both have significant experience platooning on the outside, though it remains to be seen how full-speed Pankey is after tearing his Achilles during the offseason. Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson are competing in the middle.
We'll see

  • Washington State: Though the Cougs are replacing two starters, they have plenty of experience. The problem is the run defense has been terrible the past two years.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats, you might have heard, are replacing all three starters. Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo are JC transfers who have never played a down in the Pac-10. Sophomore Jake Fischer is hardly a veteran. Things could turn out fine, but as the title says, "We'll see."

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