New spring, new number for QB Thomas

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas had a surprise for the first day of spring practice. He’s now wearing No. 5.

Now that running back Remene Alston – the former No. 5 – has graduated, Thomas went back to his high school number, and receiver Josh Huff took over Thomas’ old No. 1.

The Jersey swapping was just one of the changes the Ducks will have to adjust to this spring. Less than three months removed from the loss to Auburn in the BCS championship game, Oregon was back at work Tuesday in the Moshofsky Center indoor practice facility.

”The part about this team is they love playing football,” coach Chip Kelly said. ”The past is the past and there’s nothing you can do about it. That was a great experience and we learned a lot of valuable lessons last year in how to prepare and how to do all of those things. The biggest challenge for us (is) we lost some great leaders.”

The Ducks, who went undefeated last year in the regular season, have lost three starting defensive linemen – Brandon Bair, Kenny Rowe and Zac Clark – and linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger, both playmakers and leaders.

In contrast, the marquee guys on Oregon’s offense return, except for wide receiver Jeff Maehl. In addition to Thomas, Oregon will have Heisman finalist LaMichael James and fellow running back Kenjon Barner.

Thomas and James anchor Oregon’s blurry-fast spread option offense. Last year the Ducks outscored their opponents 592-221 in the regular season, scoring an average of 49.3 points and winning by an average margin of 30.9 points to repeat as Pac-10 champions.

James, who moonlights on Oregon’s track team, led the nation with 153 yards rushing per game until Auburn held him to 49 in the title game. He set a new single-season record for the Ducks with 1,731 yards.

Thomas, a first-year starter in 2010, threw for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns. He ran for five more scores.

Kelly was already ramping up the speed at Tuesday’s workout.

”They were good; I liked the tempo. We still can practice faster,” he said afterward. ”Always, early you got to get used to getting back out there and getting lined up between the snaps.”

Notable newcomers included Colt Lyerla, a homegrown member of this year’s recruiting class who was listed as tight end but saw time Tuesday as a wide receiver, and linebacker Tyson Coleman of Lake Oswego.

”I just want every kid in our program to be a better football player when he walks of the field and continue to improve everyday,” Kelly said. ”Everybody needs to improve, everybody needs to get better whether you’ve started for a couple years like LaMichael James or if you’re Tyson Coleman who just got here yesterday.”

Among those at practice was former coach Mike Bellotti.

Oregon’s spring game is set for April 30.