by Rob Moseley
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Helmets and shoulder pads
Oregon continued its bye week practices today, moving outdoors with more typical fall weather for the morning, following Tuesday's rain storm. Once again Mark Helfrich was the only full-time coach in attendance, with the nine assistants all on the road recruiting.
Used to be, only seven could be out at one time, but that rule has changed so that all nine can be gone, so long as the entire staff isn't out recruiting beyond a set amount of days. (The limit is 42, but Oregon has 36 this fall through 2015 due to NCAA penalties.) That means players have to police themselves, helping organize drills and even — in the case of Hroniss Grasu and Marcus Mariota on offense, and Tony Washington and Derrick Malone on defense — calling plays when the twos and threes do 11-on-11 drills.
"We want the leadership to come from within and that's all part of it," Helfrich said, turning the challenge of absent assistants into a positive by requiring more and better leadership from players.
There's a particular pressure on the quarterbacks, then, to make sure everything's organized. With the ones sitting out team drills, that means Jeff Lockie, Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs are running the show this week.
"That's where you can improve your knowledge, your leadership, just how assertive they are in making sure things are right," Helfrich said. "Sometimes you'll get a guy who just has no idea what he's doing, and your knowledge of the system comes out, which gives you more confidence down the road."
Lockie and Rodrigues have had the benefit of appearing in each of Oregon's three games so far this season. Lockie is 4-of-6 passing for 31 yards and has two rushes for 16 yards and a touchdown, while Rodrigues is 2-of-2 for 30 yards and a score, with one carry for 28 yards.
"It definitely helps a little bit," Lockie said of that experience. "But practice is where you get better. Games is just applying what you learn in practice."
Added Rodrigues: "When we're put in the games, it's usually to run the clock out, so it's kind of hard to judge that way. But if we keep getting better, we'll get more reps in games and go from there."
Both agreed that the ability to take reps in front of a crowd, and without the red practice jersey that protects them from contact during the week, makes the game experience valuable.
"Any time you get game action, it's a great thing," Helfrich said. "There's a crowd, there's officials, there's a play clock, there's management things those guys have never had to do before in college. Both those guys have gotten extremely valuable experience."
Though Lockie has been first off the bench, Helfrich said the competition with Rodrigues as Mariota's backup remains ongoing. More certain is the role of Hobbs, the freshman from Texas who is on track to redshirt. He's been with the scout team the last three weeks, but now has another chance this week to run Oregon's own offense in practice.
"It's like a brush-up of everything," Hobbs said. "When we were going through fall camp, stuff started to click more at the end. The offense became, not easy, but a light clicked on. It was starting to flow, and me playing within the tempo got better and better."
Hobbs said the Ducks' Friday scrimmages for the non-travel roster have helped him stay sharp with Oregon's schemes. Thus, "it didn't feel like I was lost or nothing, at all" at the start of these bye-week practices, he said.
Highlights: The final period today was a red-zone drill for the twos and threes, 11-on-11. Lockie had touchdown passes to B.J. Kelley and Chance Allen, and Rodrigues threw one to Blake Stanton. … Michael Manns and Juwaan Williams broke up passes in the end zone; Williams had a bead on an interception until a fellow defender collided with him. … One sequence began at the 10-yard line rather than the 20, and the defense nearly held thanks to a quarterback hurry by Torrodney Prevot, a short run that Joe Walker stopped and a nice job by Bronson Yim of pushing a receiver out of bounds short of the goal line. But on fourth down, Kani Benoit bullied his way into the end zone for the score.
Other observations: The day began with field-goal attempts, and both Matt Wogan and Alejandro Maldonado connected from 39 yards out. … The receivers and tight ends did one segment of position drills in the red zone, and tight ends Pharaoh Brown and Davaysia Hagger each made one-handed grabs in the back of the end zone. … During the first 11-on-11 period of the day, two plays earned "air bumps" on the sideline. Benoit got to the edge for a long gain and was greeted by a leaping De'Anthony Thomas at the sideline, and Eric Dungy made a reception that led to a similar celebration with Josh Huff. …
A completion from Hobbs to Chris Tewhill drew praise for the protection of the offensive line of, left to right, Elijah George, Brandon Thomas, Brigham Stoehr, Evan Voeller and Matthew McFadden. … Helfrich thought the defense largely got the best of that period, though. On one sequence, Tyrell Robinson stuffed a run up the middle and on the next play fellow inside linebacker Isaac Ava broke up a pass. … Play of the day might have gone to Huff for a diving, two-handed catch of a Mariota pass in seven-on-seven. Reggie Daniels had an interception during that period, too.