By Rob Moseley
Venue: Moshofsky Center
When Oregon broke its preseason camp in late August, the Ducks had five scholarship tight ends. Four were listed on the two-deep for the opening game of the season, the exception being redshirt freshman Evan Baylis, who missed most of camp due to injury.
Through all the twists and turns of a college football season – some, for the Ducks, a bit atypical this fall – that depth chart has been turned completely on its head0. With Pharaoh Brown sitting out the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30 due to suspension, it seems more than likely Oregon’s starter against Texas will be the odd man out from the preseason two-deep, Baylis.
“He’s made so much improvement in the last six weeks of the season,” position coach Tom Osborne said. “Every week he’d get a little bit better. …
“The light bulb’s kind of gone on, and he feels more confident in what he’s doing. I don’t know what it is or what it was, but it did. Some guys, their maturity level, their confidence level, all of a sudden it just clicks.”
For Baylis, that happened sometime in mid to late October. Due to the missed practice time in August, he looked a bit lost in practices the first few weeks of the regular season. It was during that stretch that tight end depth was first stressed by the loss of Colt Lyerla, who left the team at midseason.
But as October wore on, Baylis started making plays more often in practice. That led to opportunities here and there in games, which fueled even better play in practice, which led to more opportunities in games … you get the idea. The momentum of Baylis’ season had changed completely.
“We get tons of reps in practice, and that helps you get back in the groove,” said Baylis, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound former four-star recruit from Colorado. “I just kept working. As the reps came, I just got better and better.”
Baylis was an early enrollee for the Ducks in the spring of 2012, prior to redshirting last fall. Though it didn’t result in immediate playing time, Baylis was repeatedly lauded during that spring by Osborne for the speed with which he picked up Oregon’s offense. That acuity paid dividends again this fall with Baylis’ quick ascension up the depth chart.
Through nine games, Baylis still hadn’t caught a pass. But he had a 25-yard reception against Utah, a catch for 15 yards at Arizona and then one of four yards in the Civil War, which Baylis started in a package that also included Brown.
That was prior to Brown’s suspension, the latest twist at a position that hasn’t lacked for drama this season, given Lyerla’s departure, true freshman Johnny Mundt’s early breakout and now Brown’s absence for the bowl game.
“I’ve always just focused on myself and what I can do to make myself better,” Baylis said. “At the same time, it affects you a little bit, just everyone around you that you’re close to – things change. I just try to keep my head down.”
Baylis has also been a regular special teams contributor, on kickoff returns most notably. Osborne said part of Baylis’ emergence at midseason stemmed from the toughness he showed on special teams carrying over to offense.
“Hopefully he can continue (to improve),” Osborne said. “Sometimes guys get better and then they plateau a bit.”
Highlights: With the Ducks rotating ones, twos and threes in and out very quickly, some mismatches developed throughout the day. During one 11-on-11 period, Marcus Mariota burned the No. 3 defense deep twice, on balls to Keanon Lowe and Eric Dungy. … The threes weren’t totally overmatched, though, with Oshay Dunmore stopping a run play behind the line of scrimmage. …
During another 11-on-11 period later in the day, Arik Armstead had a tackle for loss, and Taylor Alie connected with Dwayne Stanford down the sideline despite blanket coverage by Chris Seisay. … Stanford hauled in a deep ball from Jeff Lockie during seven-on. … Avery Patterson and Joe Walker had nice pass breakups over the course of the morning.
Other observations: The tackles for loss by Armstead and Dunmore illustrated a practice in which rushing yards were hard to come by, other than a couple times Ayele Forde and Kenny Bassett got to the second level. … Mark Helfrich described Friday’s practice as “a little bit squirrelly” with the Ducks coming off a week of finals, and said Saturday “was better in terms of focus.” … Oregon will practice again Sunday, under basically the same format as Saturday. There’s a day off Monday, followed by the start of hard-core Texas preparations Tuesday.