Ducks look to shake controversy, focus on football

Ducks look to shake controversy, focus on football »Play Video
University of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas is interviewed during media day at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., Monday, Aug. 8, 2011.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — While questions swirled about his recruitment to Oregon, running back Lache Seastrunk set about preparing for the upcoming season with the Ducks.

Seastrunk reported to fall practice on Monday with his teammates, who are hoping to build on last season's success. But hanging over the Ducks is the NCAA investigation into a $25,000 payment made by Oregon last year to Willie Lyles and his Houston-based recruiting service for what appeared to be outdated information.

Lyles has said he had a mentoring relationship with Seastrunk, who came to Oregon last year, shortly before the payment was made. It would be an NCAA violation if Lyles guided a recruit to the Ducks.

"I know I haven't committed anything wrong so I'm going to keep focused on the task ahead and keep pushing to reach my goal," Seastrunk said, distancing himself from the investigation.

>> Watch raw interviews with Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and Chip Kelly

Oregon won its second straight Pac-10 title last season before falling 22-19 to Auburn in the BCS championship game. The Ducks finished 12-1 and ranked No. 3 in the final AP Top 25. The AP preseason poll comes out on Aug. 20.

Members of the media who cover the conference selected Oregon to finish atop the newly expanded Pac-12's North Division and win the first-ever league championship game this season.

"We have the same mentality all the time," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said, also pushing any controversy aside. "We have a vision for what this football program is supposed to be about, and we go out and compete against that vision every Saturday. That's how we measure ourselves, and that's what we're concerned with. We're not concerned with any outside influences, whether it be praise or blame. It's all the same to us."

Oregon opens the season on Sept. 3 against LSU at Cowboys stadium.

The Ducks return both running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas, integral to Oregon's trademark speedy spread-option offense. Both are just juniors. But overall the team has just 14 seniors this season, and only eight of those started last season.

Oregon is thin on its offensive line, down three starters from last year. And while James — a Heisman finalist — and Kenjon Barner give the Ducks the quickness they're known for, Oregon is still looking for depth at the position, according to Kelly.

That's where Seastrunk wants to make an impression.

"I hope, I hope. I got LaMichael and Kenjon in front of me so I'm just trying to learn and see what happens," Seastrunk said.

Kelly said a goal for the Ducks this fall is the development of the quarterback staff behind Thomas. Projected backup Bryan Bennett redshirted as a freshman last year. Marcus Mariota and Dustin Haines will also compete at the position.

The coach also said the defense needs to come together quickly to keep up with Oregon's frenzied offense.

"Really, one of our goals is to see if we can play faster than we did last year," Kelly said.

Cornerback and return specialist Cliff Harris has been suspended from the team indefinitely after he was cited for driving 118 mph on a suspended license in June. The car he was driving had been rented by a university employee.

At the very least, Harris will sit out Oregon's season opener against LSU and after that his status will be dependent on his adherence to the football program's rules.

Linebacker Kiko Alonso, projected to be a starter this season, was also suspended indefinitely after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of trespassing and criminal mischief. Alonso was arrested in early May after he broke into a home and fell asleep there.

Kelly said it's an "ongoing evaluation process" when it comes to those two players.

Quarterback Darron Thomas

Running back LaMichael James

Running back Kenjon Barner

Head coach Chip Kelly