A Signee!

By Will Sherratt

After watching Drew Wiley, Matthew Humphrey and Josh Crittle (now reconsidering) leave the basketball program after the departure of Ernie Kent, the Ducks finally signed their first player of the 2010 recruiting class. Johnathan Loyd, a 5’9″ point guard from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas apparently liked what he saw during a recent visit to Eugene, as he formally committed to the Ducks this morning after a lengthy recruiting process.

Loyd received 12 offers from schools across the country, most notably from Florida and powerhouse Michigan State. He had also been on Dana Altman’s radar, Oregon’s new coach, since his time at Creighton.

The point guard will give the Ducks some much needed depth in the backcourt, especially after the graduation of the streaky Tajuan Porter.

In his senior season at Bishop Gorman, Loyd averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 assists per game while winning the 4A player of the year award in Las Vegas.

Loyd will come in and be asked to play alongside juniors Garrett Sim and Malcolm Armstead in the backcourt, in charge of running Altman’s famous high post offense.

That’s right, the Ducks have an offense now! It will be a breath of fresh air to see Oregon with an offensive game plan, as opposed to the ‘let Tajuan create’ debacle of the last two years. Loyd appears to be an undersized playmaker that has the leadership ability to step in and be a key contributor next year.

This is a win for the Oregon program. The long coaching search prevented the Ducks from having a legitimate shot at landing either Terrence Jones or Terrence Ross, two of the top prep players in Oregon this year. However, signing a player the caliber of Loyd this late in the process is a step in the right direction for Altman and the Ducks.

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Buehrle or Maholm?

By Will Sherratt

On opening day Mark Buehrle made what many are calling “the play of the year.” Everyone but Colin Cowherd thought it was an amazing play, as he even went as far as replicating it on SportsNation. Granted he wasn’t doing it at game speed and already had an idea of how it was going to be executed. Buehrle was in the heat of the moment, using total improvisation. Let’s take a look at the play…

He starts it all off by giving himself a chance with the kick. From there it’s an amazing combination of gloving it while simultaneously flipping the ball between his legs in the midst of falling down. No look for extra style points. How is it all topped off? Konerko with the bare hand. Ridiculous play all around.

Now for Mr. Maholm. He runs down the ball just like Buerhle but decides to dive at the last minute to track it down. Immediately after the dive he finds a way to glove it while rolling and flipping the ball to first at the same time. Like Buehrle’s, his was also a no look toss, although farther from the bag. Check it out…

Matt Cain also appreciated Maholm’s effort.

“That might be up there with Buehrle’s,” Cain said, referring to the backhanded flip that White Sox ace Mark Buehrle executed last week to get an out at first base. “Those two guys might be competing for best play of the year. That’s unbelievable, really. It’s one of those things you definitely can’t do on purpose.” (Thanks to Chris Haft for the quote)

Both were no look, glove hand tosses after tracking down the ball. Which was more impressive?

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USC Freshman Looks Frighteningly Bush-like

Posted by Michael van Bronkhorst

USC’s latest freshman phenom running back, Dillon Baxter of San Diego’s Mission Bay High, is off to a crazy start in his Trojan career. Baxter, who supposedly re-opened his recruitment and was looking at Oregon during the Carroll-to-Seattle, Kiffin-back-to-USC fiasco, has drawn lofty comparisons from many coaches and media types since the start of spring practice.

After Saturday’s scrimmage, Coach Kiffin said the freshman “looked like Reggie versus Fresno,” of course referring to Reggie Bush’s insane performance against Fresno State in 2005 when he went for 513 all-purpose yards. Let me remind you how silly Bush made the Bulldog defenders look that night.

The refs decided that Reggie didn’t get to paydirt on that run. He made sure later in the game.

For starters, if you don’t initially think that it is RIDICULOUS for anyone to compare a young freshman running back to a Heisman receiving, Super Bowl winning, take-your-breath-away sensation like Reggie Bush, please make arrangements to see your physician immediately. Seems like typical USC/Kiffin cockiness to me.

But I had to see for myself. I searched YouTube and finally found Baxter’s 50 yard touchdown run that everyone was talking about. And, um, I don’t really know how to put this, but, the kid looks damn good. Obviously not a Heisman winner yet, but watch out. Check out the run starting at the 0:47 second mark below.

Wow. Wow wow wow.

Look how he explodes out of his first cut almost instantly after catching the pitch. Great vision. Sets up a block with a great jump cut just inside the 50 yard line. Then my favorite, and most Bush-like move at the 40, cutting inside off the outside foot and swimming over the oncoming defender. Ridiculous. From there all he does is stutter step, shimmy shake, and twist a defender into the ground before walking in. I’ll be the first to say that this was just one play in a spring ball scrimmage against what could be a second or third string defense. But still…

As a Duck I’ll definitely have an eye out for this kid in the fall. I’d still take LaMichael James every day over Baxter, (well, except for Week 1) but I can’t help but admit that this kid has got some skills. I’ll wait to see what he can produce with a full season of Pac-10 carries before placing judgment.

At least it’s fun to think about what Baxter would look like in a backfield with LMJ had he decided to switch his commitment.

What do you think about the play, and the Bush comparison? Does any LaMichael run from last year stack up to this scrimmage TD? Link it in the comments, cause you know I would love to watch LMJ highlights during my class from 2-4!

Go Ducks.

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Giants Season Preview: 10 Questions for 2010

By Will Sherratt

As baseball season begins, these 10 questions (in no particular order) will be ones that the Giants will have to answer in order to improve on their 88-74 record from last year.

1. Will Lincecum and Cain continue to be one of the most dominant duos in baseball?

Laughing at all the hitters they make look like fools

Yes! Why shouldn’t we think so? These two have dazzled for the past few years in their own unique ways. Lincecum is a flashy phenom who makes professional hitters look silly on a consistent basis. Cain is a dependable pitcher who has an uncanny ability to dominate with his fastball, especially up in the strike zone. A constant victim of hard-luck losses, Cain has not realized the same success in the win column as his partner in crime, though he has still impressed in his young career. Last year these two were a combined 29-15 with an ERA of 2.68 for a team that was at or near the bottom of almost every statistical offensive category. As much as Giants fans believe the pair are unflappable, each season will present different challenges for players to overcome. Therefore, their success will have the biggest impact on how the Giants fare this year. If they can still find the mental toughness to pitch through what appears to be another anemic offensive showing in 2010, the Giants will once again find themselves in the thick of the NL West race.

2. Can Sanchez and Zito find consistency throughout the year?
Barring unforseen circumstances where Zito acquires a consistent low 90’s fastball and regains his knee-buckling curveball from his early days with the A’s, the southpaw will never live up to his contract. Similarly, unless he finds better control and mental toughness, Jonathan Sanchez will not live up to his potential. However, Zito and Sanchez are arguably as vital to the success of the team as anyone else on the staff. Although you can never assume anything, Lincecum and Cain both appear poised to have another great year. But if the Giants are actually going to make a run at the division both Sanchez and Zito need to be more consistent. They both had a much better second half of the 2009 season, which will hopefully transfer over into 2010.

3. Will Pablo continue to evolve?
Vote for Pablo!! It is still disappointing that the Panda did not have the opportunity to play in the midsummer classic last year in St. Louis. He stormed onto the scene in 2009 by hitting .330 with 25 hr’s and 90 rbi’s in his first full season in the big leagues. The league now knows about Sandoval, who will surely be an all-star in 2010 with those kind of numbers. It will be interesting to see if he can replicate that kind of production in a lineup that offers very little protection. He has thrived at every single level, punctuated by his emergence in 2008 as a 21 year-old kid. Hopefully Sandoval can once again thrive as the lone power threat in the Giants lineup.

4. Can Huff and DeRosa make the offense more potent?

Mark DeRosa gives the Giants great versatility

With a weak group of free agent hitters the Giants did not secure a legitimate power threat to complement Pablo Sandoval. Luckily they didn’t throw tons of money at Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, which would have left them handicapped when trying to fill other holes on the team. Whether fans like it or not, this team is not a Bay or Holliday signing away from going to the World Series, so Sabean and Co. brought in veterans (big surprise) to help strengthen the team in multiple areas. Mark DeRosa is a versatile player who can play either corner outfield position along with various positions in the infield. Aubrey Huff will hopefully bring more offensive production to first base, a position that has lacked strong offensive output since the J.T. Snow days. Both Huff and DeRosa are coming off tough seasons as they hit .241 and .250 respectively. Needless to say these two acquisitions will play a key role if the Giants become a respectable offense in 2010.

5. Can a strong defense help pick up some of the slack from a poor offense?
Especially for a team that lacks offensive firepower, the Giants will need to once again play solid defense to back what appears to be one of the best pitching staffs in the National League. Last year the Giants ranked seventh in the NL with a .985 fielding percentage. However, both the Rockies and the Dodgers had higher team fielding percentages, so the Giants will need to pick it clean in order to keep pace with their division foes.

6. Another strong year for the bullpen?
The bullpen was a strong area for the Giants in 2009 with the emergence of Sergio Romo and dominance from Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson. Affeldt led the league with 33 holds and Wilson was tied for third in the saves department with 38. Although Wilson has a knack for making nearly every one of his appearances into a high pressure situation, he also has proved to be a consistent performer and one of the most successful closers over the past couple of years. If Henry Sosa, Guillermo Mota and Co. can match their teammate’s performance, the bullpen will yet again be a strong suit for San Francisco.

7. How much of an impact will Posey and Bumgarner have this year?
Giants fan salivate over these two prospects, as they have both been rightfully billed as future stars in San Francisco. Both had stints in the majors last year, with mixed results. As much as everyone wants to see them in major roles this year, remember that they are just kids who have raced through the minor leagues. Giving them time to develop is not a bad thing, but rather something that will benefit them in the long run. However, both will most likely see time in the majors whether it is a midseason or September call up. The Giants brass will have serious decisions to make as to how long they keep these two studs in the minors, as they have the potential to be contributors this season.

8. Can Renteria redeem himself?
Two years, $18 million for a broken-down, has been shortstop. Ok, thats a little harsh, but it’s how Edgar Renteria performed last year. Granted he had shoulder problems that plagued him nearly the entire season, but he, like many other Giants hitters, severely underperformed last year. Renteria needs to continue to provide his veteran leadership while improving on his poor performance from last year. Mediocre defense and consistently stranding runners are not what got Renteria that contract. Was 2009 merely a down year for Renteria or was it the beginning of a rapid decline in production for the aging shortstop?

9. Healthy Freddy?

The Giants need to have a healthy Sanchez in 2010

Huge, huge, huge. If Freddy Sanchez can stay healthy it will go a long ways towards bolstering the lineup. Without Freddy the Giants are a much different team, as players find themselves in spots in the lineup that they may not be accustomed to. A former batting champion, Sanchez is perfect for AT&T park. He can take advantage of the huge alleyway in right center, something that the Giants can definitely use to their advantage. He is also a solid defender, a facet of the game that the team has to continue to improve upon to assist the strong pitching staff. A healthy Sanchez improves the Giants chances of winning the NL West astronomically.

10. Can they cure their road woes?
The Giants were a phenomenal 52-29 at home in 2009, the best record in the National League. However, that success was not duplicated on the road, as they posted a 36-45 record away from AT&T park. Playoff teams find ways to win away from home and for whatever reason, the Giants could never overcome their road issues last season. Even a .500 record on the road will give them a chance to be in contention down the stretch in Spetember.

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Players to Watch This Spring- Blake Cantu

Posted by Michael van Bronkhorst

In the days leading up to the start of Oregon’s spring practices, we will highlight some exciting Ducks players, whether young or old, and think about the great strides they could make throughout the offseason to help lead the 2010 squad back to the Rose Bowl.

Next up on my radar of young guns to look out for this offseason is Redshirt Freshman WR Blake Cantu.

This 6’0” reciever out of powerhouse football program Southlake Carroll High School in Texas (the breeding ground for former Missouri QB Chase Daniel and the starting QB for Alabama’s 2010 BCS Championship team, Greg McElroy), may still be unknown to many Duck fans. Cantu is a member of Oregon’s 2008 signing class, yet delayed his enrollment due to shoulder surgery and used a grayshirt in the fall of 2008 before redshirting last season. Blake turns 21 years old on August 1st, and should be able to provide some veteran leadership and maturity on the field even though his eligibility would suggest otherwise. Cantu has been around the program for about two years now, and I expect his knowledge of the system and familiarity with the program to open some eyes on the practice fields this coming spring.

His ESPN recruiting file praises Blake as “the ultimate do-it-all, catch-it-all possession receiver with great hands and sharp route-running skills.” He personally reminds me of a slightly larger version of Aaron Pflugrad, a receiver who routinely makes tough catches in traffic, and possesses good football instincts and the ability to recognize a defense well off the line. Coming out of high school Cantu clocked a slightly faster 40 time than Pflugrad, running a 4.48 to Aaron”s 4.52, according to Scout.com.

The play below, taken from Cantu’s senior season of high school, shows his quickness and precise route running in beating three defenders to the corner of the end zone, as well as his presence of mind to drag a foot in bounds while bringing in the ball. Not to mention his feel for the big moment during this state playoff game played at Cowboys Stadium.

I remember watching the skills challenge for the Under-Armour All American game a few years back and being thrilled that an Oregon recruit was actually involved. Cantu was recognized nationally for his skills in one of the top football regions in the country, and showed off his hands during the contest. After leading all receivers in yards during last year’s Spring Game with 111, including a long TD pass from Justin Roper (who?), I expect Cantu to prove his worth this offseason. I would not at all be surprised to see him fill a back-up role as a slot receiver, and continue to develop his timing and connection with Nate Costa and Darron Thomas during practice.

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Players to Watch This Spring- Cliff Harris

Posted by Michael van Bronkhorst

In the days leading up to the start of Oregon’s spring practices, we will highlight some exciting Ducks players, whether young or old, and think about the great strides they could make throughout the offseason to help lead the 2010 squad back to the Rose Bowl.

One of my favorite young Ducks, and the first player to watch this spring:

So. CB Cliff Harris

Harris came to the Ducks last year as a highly touted recruit that many believed could be an impact player right away. I was definitely excited about his reputation as a true cover corner and the potential to be a game changer on kickoff and punt returns. Unfortunately, his late arrival on campus due to clearinghouse issues cost Cliff crucial reps on the practice field and countless hours in the video room learning Aliotti’s schemes.

Then this happened:

By now, we’re all familiar with the terrible string of injuries that plagued the secondary last year. Talmadge Jackson III was thrust into a role as the primary corner, one that he was clearly not comfortable with OR ready for, and virtual unknowns like John Boyett and Javes Lewis were forced to step in and come up huge, which thankfully, they did.

The turmoil all but forced the coaching staff to burn Harris’ redshirt, which they did, giving Cliff his first action as a Duck in the sixth game of the year at the historic Rose Bowl stadium against UCLA. He went virtually unnoticed recording one tackle and one pass break up. By the way, it’s usually a good thing for a cornerback to go unnoticed during his collegiate debut.

Harris showed flashes of brilliance throughout the rest of the season, including the Washington pick above and a big 42-yard kickoff return on a reverse against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

What would’ve been Cliff’s biggest play of the year never came to fruition, as he couldn’t corral a sure interception return for a touchdown at home against Arizona State.

He was probably a little over-excited about that ball when it was thrown his way; all he could see was alternating shades of green. The great thing about all of these clips though, is that they showcase the incredible natural abilities of this special athlete. Harris has great top end speed, an instinctive feel for football, as shown when he left his man in the flat to make a play on the ball against Washington, and excellent abilities to drop, plant, and explode out of a break to make a play.

The most important part of the offseason for Harris will definitely be his work in the weight room. At many times last season teams would capitalize on Harris’ lack of size and strength and throw screens or short routes to his side of the field. Harris has the quickness to make initial contact, but relies on help from linebackers or safeties to finish the play. If Cliff can add to his high school frame during his first full offseason in Eugene, he should be a huge contributor in the revamped defensive backfield.

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Thomas needs to be the man in 2010 for the Ducks

By Will Sherratt

Now that all the dust has settled from the court hearings on Friday, the Oregon football program can hopefully begin its healing process from all of the offseason woes. As Chip Kelly mentioned in his press conference, the Ducks will be without the services of Jeremiah Masoli as they embark on their journey of rebuilding their reputation.

Kelly suspended running back LaMichael James and kicker Rob Beard for the season opener, while banning Masoli for the entire year.

James’s punishment may be a little heavy but it was something Kelly had to do. This situation is one that probably shouldn’t have ever been publicized and once it did, Kelly had to act. In no way am I excusing James’s actions. Harassing a woman should never be condoned. It was just an instance of something getting blown way out of proportion. Once an issue is taken to the courts and a player faces jail time he has to feel the repercussions by way of suspension.

The same can be said for Rob Beard’s punishment. His actions in the brawl were significant and something he too will hopefully learn from.

However, Masoli’s case is much different and brings up some intriguing points. His suspension was made even more severe because he lied to Kelly about the whole situation. He broke all of the trust that his coach had placed in him, something that will be extremely difficult to ever get back. Especially with the relationship that Kelly needs to have with his quarterback in order to run the intricate spread offense, I do not see much of a future for Masoli at Oregon. It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds.

Before Masoli’s major mishap, the succession plan was that Masoli would start in 2010, giving Darron Thomas two seasons at the helm. After the recent developments, that future is now the present. Thomas has to step in and lead this team in the absence of Masoli.

Thomas has the ability to take the Ducks to new heights

I know people will say, “well what about Nate Costa?” The 2010 squad is one with Rose Bowl and national title aspirations. Darron Thomas gives them the best chance to get there. He has the skill set to take them to that next level, it just depends on if he can realize his potential this year. He fits perfectly into the system with a strong arm and ability to run the football. He can provide more of a vertical element to the offense that will stretch the field and provide even more running lanes for the plethora of talented running backs. Fans got a glimpse of that potential in 2008 against Boise State when the true freshman replaced Chris Harper in the second half and threw for 218 yards and three touchdowns.

Costa is a good quarterback and valuable backup, but he lacks the game-breaking ability that teams need to reach the upper echelon of college football. A veteran of the system, his experience will be one of the most difficult things for Thomas to overcome. In his lone start last year Costa led the team to victory while going 9-of-17 for 82 yards and a touchdown. Granted the defense was stifling and the running game was on point, but a Pac 10 team needs a game changing quarterback in order to sustain success over the course of the year. Thomas’s upside is one that is too tantalizing for Kelly to pass on, as he possesses the ability to further transcend the position at Oregon.

Assuming that Thomas edges out Costa for the starting spot and leads the team to a successful season, where will that leave Masoli for 2011 if he chooses to use his redshirt? It would be an interesting problem to have and one that Chip Kelly has to be anticipating by leaving Masoli on scholarship. Needless to say, it is going to be a very interesting spring in Eugene.

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