With just 10 starters returning from both sides of the ball, casual football fans might think this is going to be a down year for the No. 14 Oregon Ducks. But ask anyone involved with the program, and the only thing you hear is talk of how promising this season looks.
Most of the talk starts and ends with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who came into his own last year leading the Ducks to a 4-0 record down the stretch and a Holiday Bowl win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys. He’s slated to be the No. 1 passer on opening day at Boise State, and head coach Chip Kelly is raving about Masoli’s calmness under pressure and leadership skills.
“The best leadership is by example,” Kelly said. “And Jeremiah is a hard worker. He’s got a tremendous confidence in himself and that shakes down to the rest of the team.”
Masoli’s work ethic shined this summer in the blistering heat on the practice fields next to the Casanova Center. In 100-degree weather he was wearing a long-sleeved, black shirt day after day, throwing routes to receivers. He’s also noticeably leaner — but don’t worry, the 5-11, 214-pound junior is not any smaller.
“Physically I was just trying to drop some weight and get my body fat down,” he said of his summer workouts. “You know, get a little bit quicker on my feet and prepare mentally.”
It’s a scary thought for opposing defensive backs that Masoli will be even quicker than he was last year when he rushed for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns. But even his coach who is raving about his work ethic says he’s not going to just hand him the job — he’s got to earn it in the next three weeks.
“It’s going to be an open competition (at quarterback),” Kelly said. “Nate Costa and Darron Thomas will both have chances to get the spot, and that will push Jeremiah.”
This is all a part of Kelly’s new coaching style. He’s leaving things open for competition to let players surprise him and to also let everyone know you have to play your best every day to keep your spot. The players seem to be responding well to Kelly’s up-tempo practices and style, too, saying the first-year coach has been doing well in the transition.
“It’s been great,” linebacker Eddie Pleasant said. “It kind of feels like we don’t even have a new coach the way he’s handling everything. He’s set boundaries on how he wants things to be done and everything is falling into place.”
But defensive back Walter Thurmond III says there have been a few changes from Mike Bellotti’s style to Kelly’s.
“Coach Kelly and coach Bellotti just have different personalities,” Thurmond III said.
“Coach Kelly knows this is his first time and he wants to make a big impression and he’s doing a good job about that. The tempo is incredible; our practices are real fast. We want to go out and practice the way we play.”
Right now, the Ducks are more concerned with the new season. Most of the team has spent the summer running and lifting, but now that they are able to get back into pads, they are chomping at the bit.
“Everyone has put in a lot of work this summer trying to get better at their positions and getting into shape,” Thurmond III said. “Really, everyone has been working hard and kind of anxious to get into pads and start this thing for real.”