Keith Lewis is a difficult guy to impress. Two weeks before
Oregon's game with Washington last season, the Ducks' free safety
told a Seattle radio station that the Huskies in general and star
quarterback Cody Pickett in particular were "overrated" (a
statement for which Oregon coach Mike Bellotti slapped him with a
gag order through the end of the season). Lewis can be just as
critical in his assessment of his own team, especially last
year's defense. "To be honest," he says, "we pretty much sucked."
After challenging for the national championship in 2001, the
Ducks were dragged down last season by a pass defense that ranked
third worst in the nation (291.2 yards allowed per game). Lewis,
who picked off five passes, was second-team All-Pac-10, but he
spent much of his time trying to cover for inexperienced
cornerbacks Steven Moore, Aaron Gipson and Marques Binns. "Our
cornerbacks were all first-year starters," says Bellotti. "It was
a trial by fire, and it's not surprising that they gave up some
big plays. But having gone through that will make them better
Just in case, Bellotti brought in plenty of competition for the
corner slots, including highly regarded freshman Ryan Gilliam and
a pair of junior college standouts, Rodney Woods and Marc Walker.
He also hired a new secondary coach, John Neal, after Mike
Gillhamer took the defensive coordinator job at Louisville.
According to Lewis, Neal's defensive schemes won't leave the
cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage as often as they were in 2002.
The Ducks are also counting on their solid front seven to take
some of the pressure off the secondary. Igor Olshansky and Haloti
Ngata are disruptive tackles, and inside linebacker Kevin
Mitchell (5'11", 220 pounds) is fast, smart and a big hitter.
"I like the talent we're going to put out on the field," Lewis
says. "We've got a chance to be good, real good." Considering the
source, that's high praise. --P.T.
COLOR PHOTO: DON RYAN/AP DUCK AND COVER Oregon's besieged secondary will get help from the line, where Ngata and crew cause quarterback havoc.
2002 RECORD 7-6 (3-5, 8th in Pac-10)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 15
KEY RETURNEES (2002 stats)
FS Keith Lewis (Sr.)
Thorpe candidate has eight career INTs
LB Kevin Mitchell (Sr.)
Fearsome hitter had 114 tackles and six sacks
DT Haloti Ngata (Jr.)
Prized recruit lived up to promise, with 3 1/2 sacks
K Jared Siegel (Jr.)
School-record 59-yard FG against UCLA
WR Samie Parker (Sr.)
Doubles as sprinter on Ducks' track team
Record in coach Mike Bellotti's eight-year tenure in games in
which the Ducks held opponents to fewer than 100 yards
Oregon's new uniforms include an optional cooling vest that
players can wear under their jerseys. The high-tech product, new
to the market, is filled with air from a compressor on the
sideline. The air circulates to reduce body heat in hot weather,
which Oregon often encounters playing on the West Coast.
Aug. 30 at Mississippi State
Sept. 6 NEVADA
13 at Arizona
27 WASHINGTON STATE
Oct. 3 at Utah
11 at Arizona State
Nov. 1 at Washington
15 at UCLA
22 OREGON STATE