By Rob Moseley
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
As a high school senior, Jimmie Swain watched the 2014 BCS championship game, and saw how Florida State benefitted from a fake punt and a 100-yard kickoff return in its win over Auburn. Though the Tigers lost that night, they wouldn’t have even made the game if not for a touchdown return of a missed field goal by Alabama.
Those plays resonated with Swain, a highly regarded linebacker who also played special teams in high school. Now, Swain is in the mix to potentially play for Oregon as a true freshman, which looks like it could hinge in part on his role on special teams. “Two special teams plays changed the whole momentum of the (championship) game,” Swain said. “I think that’s an important role, and if they think I can help the team in that way, that would be something I’d love to do.”
Swain and other players possibly on the bubble to help the Ducks in 2014 will have a major chance to help their cause Thursday. Oregon will hold its second and final scrimmage of preseason camp, after which preparations will begin in earnest for the opener against South Dakota on Aug. 30.
“We’re looking for guys to step up,” defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. “We’re looking to see some guys elevate their game. The first scrimmage was, who will run around and hit? Now it’s, who knows what we’re doing? Because at some point soon, we’re going to (determine) the travel squad, and make the scout squad, and move forward.”
Nearly three weeks into camp, several true freshmen appear to be close to securing roles this season. Running back Royce Freeman and offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby have practiced regularly in the two-deep, and Charles Nelson has been in the rotation at receiver. On special teams, long snapper Tanner Carew is in line to replace departed four-year starter Drew Howell.
Defensively, the Ducks returned so many veterans that the two-deep has been tougher to crack for freshmen. But newcomers like Swain and safety Khalil Oliver have gotten regular work on special teams, opening the door for the possibility they might play rather than redshirt.
“I want to come out and compete every chance I get,” Oliver said. “But I also take it as a learning experience, if I don’t play this year. I see it as a way for them to save me, and come out and play the next four years. So by no means am I going to be completely disappointed if they do. But I’m looking to go out and play this year.”
A nice showing Thursday might help, though the entirety of camp performances will be judged. “I don’t think of (the scrimmage) as an audition, because the whole fall camp has been like that,” Oliver said. “Coaches tell us to treat every day like it’s a test, and that’s the way I’ve gone into every day.”
Pellum said he wants to see how well players know their assignments at this point, and Swain said that’s his goal. “It’s not so much a display of my own skills, but that I know the scheme and what we’ve broken down in film, and that I can actually apply that on the field,” Swain said. “So, Thursday I’m looking to minimize my mistakes and show them I know the scheme.”
Highlights: The defense started hot today, denying the offense in the red zone during the tempo period to start practice, and also generally getting the best of 1-on-1 passing drills. Reggie Daniels had a couple of really nice pass breakups, Troy Hill turned the tables by beating a wideout to a deep ball, and Stephen Amoako won a jump ball from Jeff Bieber. … The offense began to even things out in 7-on-7. Dwayne Stanford hauled in a pass despite really tight coverage by Dior Mathis, and Pharaoh Brown did likewise when matched up with Danny Mattingly. …
Play of the day goes to a couple local kids playing linebacker. Grant Thompson dove to break up a pass, tipping it toward Ivan Faulhaber, who made the interception. … During work for the kickoff return team, reigning scout team special teams player of the year Austin Daich showed why he deserved that honor, twice defeating blocks to tackle returners. … Thomas Tyner showed off his quick feet a couple times, side-stepping Arik Armstead to avoid a tackle for loss on a run, and scampering upfield for a long gain after collecting a short pass.
Other observations: The Ducks held two practices today, although the first was essentially a walk-through this morning in the Moshofsky Center, with players not even wearing helmets. … Speaking of helmets, the team was in its black game helmets this afternoon. … The best word to describe this afternoon’s vibe was “spirited.” The Ducks seem ready to stop hitting the same people after three weeks, and take on another team. Mark Helfrich has no patience for fights in practice, and nothing got that far, but it was a little chippier than usual. … Freshman defensive end Jalen Jelks followed up some nice reps in pass-rush drills with a tackle for loss in the next team period. He’s had a good week so far. …
I’m not sure what got under freshman offensive tackle Braden Eggert’s skin late in the day, but someone needs to bottle and sell it. He was upset about something after one play, and on the next rep absolutely cleared out a defensive end on a running play that went to Eggert’s side. … Receiver Charles Nelson had a huge block on an outside linebacker late in practice. It was a big hit by a small player, though he also was reminded afterward by Marcus Mariota that only certain practice periods are designated full contact. Impressive aggressiveness from a young player, impressive leadership from a veteran. … Some defenders did a little cross-training during position drills. The outside linebackers worked with defensive backs GA Cha'pelle Brown, while the DBs did sled work with Erik Chinander.