by Rob Moseley
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Format: Helmets and shoulder pads
Late in Monday's practice for the Ducks, a scout-team quarterback lofted a pass that was well overthrown. Erick Dargan coolly drifted back, leaped up near the goal line and intercepted the ball.
Moments later, the scout-team offense tried an underneath route. There again was Dargan, jumping the route and picking off another pass within minutes of the first. By practice's end he'd get at least one more, but even that wasn't enough — following the workout, Dargan, Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu were the last Ducks in the Moshofsky Center, catching passes being fed by an equipment manager into a Jugs machine.
Given all that work, you'd think the leading quarterback in the country was coming to town or something. And of course that's the case, with Dargan and the UO defense preparing to face California and freshman quarterback Jared Goff, whose 433.7 passing yards per game are most in the nation.
"When a team throws the ball like this, as a secondary we kind of feel like it's on us," Dargan said after his prolific practice. "Today we wanted to be a lot more aggressive. The ball in the air is an opportunity for our secondrary to make plays, and we're going to be up to the challenge."
As head coach Mark Helfrich was quick to remind media in his post-practice interview, however, "pass defense is an 11-man job." No doubt the defensive backs are champing at the bit to face a pass-heavy offense — junior cornerback Ekpre-Olomu has zero passes defended through three games, after leading the Pac-12 with 20 last season — but there's pressure on the linebackers and defensive line, too.
"It's a group effort, definitely," said drop end Tony Washington, who tipped a pass at the line on the first offense vs. defense rep of the day, a ball Ekpre-Olomu snared for the interception.
"When the quarterback's tossing the ball up, that's more opportunities for our three-technique (defensive tackles), nose guards, and drops and SAMs to get some pass rush and get some sacks, so that's exciting for us. But it goes hand in hand. The corners and safeties have to do a good job holding their man or their zone, and we have to do a good job getting after this quarterback."
Not that it's any different than any other week, but the defenders want to be sure that, come Saturday, they're all on the same page thanks to this week's practices.
"We all have to be in sync and play as one," Dargan said. "Whether we're disguising or playing the right call, we've got to communicate. Communication is key to our success."
Highlights: Dargan's final interception of practice came during the team "clutch" period to end the day. The defense won both scenarios, between the ones and between the twos. The offense needed to go half the field in under a minute to score a game-winning touchdown, but two plays into the drill Rodney Hardrick picked off a tipped pass with the ones. Jeff Lockie got the twos going with completions to B.J. Kelley, Byron Marshall and then Kelley again, but Dargan scored another point for the defense with an interception to end the day.
Prior to clutch, there was an entertaining 11-on-11 session against scouts on which Pharaoh Brown had a nice reception from Marcus Mariota, and Kelley hauled in a laser from Jake Rodrigues. Marshall and Thomas Tyner did some nice running between the tackles today, and Lokombo snuffed out a screen pass late in the period.
Other observations: The Ducks were coming back from three days off, and held a late practice to allow guys to return to Eugene this morning. "Everybody had a little spring in our step; hopefully that's an indication of being fresh and getting back to a game-week routine," Helfrich said. … He went on to say that, while the effort was consistently strong, "any time you're in an 'install' mode a little bit on a game week, you're going to have some execution issues, or a couple little hesitation (or) assignment mistakes, which we can clean up as the week go on. But the effort, which has been our guys' hallmark, was outstanding." … Darren Carrington is back with the scout-team this week, but he didn't let that faze him, putting together a couple of explosive catch-and-run plays on which he weaved his way through the defense. … Oshay Dunmore employed an impressive technique during punt-block drills — rather than just block a kick, he caught it off the punter's foot, and ran it back the other way.
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