by Andy McNamara
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Format: Full pads
With fall officially upon us and the first night game of the season ahead of them on Saturday, the Ducks stayed indoors, as has been their custom the past four-plus seasons, instead of practicing in Wednesday’s midday elements, which included cool temps, wind and the occasional rain shower. Not long ago, even in Eugene, this would be considered a violation of some unwritten “tough guy” code, but Mark Helfrich, like Chip Kelly before him, prefers a controlled environment to ensure all units receive maximum instruction and reps.
That level of quality is imperative for what is typically the team’s final day in full pads before game day – in this case readying for the Pac-12 Conference opener vs. Cal, a different opponent schematically than the Ducks have faced to date.
Since Rob Moseley covered UO’s defensive prep for Cal head coach Sonny Dykes’ “Bear Raid” passing attack the past two days, I spent most of the nearly two-hour workout taking in the Oregon offense, which despite being only three games into the schedule was in midseason form today.
Having been around Oregon football practices since 2005, I can verify that there have been occasional stretches where it appeared just catching a thrown ball from a quarterback was a huge deal. No more. This particular team makes the tough catch look routine, and today was no exception.
De'Anthony Thomas, matched up against Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in a 1-on-1 passing drill, could not fully shake the all-America candidate corner, but secured in a 20-yard TD pass with his right hand just as Ekpre-Olomu was locking up his left arm. Credit on the play also has to go to Marcus Mariota, who put the ball in the only possible window for DAT to make the play.
Blake Stanton, who was bumped up from the scout team to the regular offense thanks in part to his consistent penchant for making plays, showed why, making a tough over-the-shoulder catch on Jeff Lockie’s deep sideline ball during 11-on-11 drills.
And not to be outdone, De'Anthony Thomas left the entire Moshofsky Center buzzing during “clutch” in the final practice period of the day. The scenario had Oregon on the visitor 22-yard line, trailing by six with the clock winding down. On 3rd and 4, Mariota chucked the ball to the back of the end zone on what initially looked like a throwaway pass, but Thomas shifted into a gear that only he possesses and ran underneath it for the game-tying score.
Said fellow running back, and a former track star in his own right, Byron Marshall: “No reason you should have got that ball man,” as he celebrated with Thomas.
Highlights: The Ducks’ backfield depth was on display on consecutive plays during 11-on-11. Thomas used a sealing block by right tackle Jake Fisher, a la his 40-yd TD run at Virginia, to score from 50 yards on 1st down. On the next snap, Marshall took a pitch from Mariota and turned up field for a nice first-down run. Next, Thomas Tyner danced between the tackles and darted up field for what would have been a monster gain in full contact mode.
Helfrich called an audible at the end of the clutch period, summoning the offense from a Cottage Grove 7th and 8th grade football team that was taking in practice to face the Ducks’ No. 1 defense. The youngsters sprinted to their positions and ripped off a 10-yard rushing play before Terrance Mitchell flew in from his cornerback position to make the stop. The sight of the No. 5 scoring defense in the nation, all padded up, helmets on and showing blitz against a bunch of kids in jerseys was simply awesome.
Other observations: Eric Dungy and Chance Allen both made impressive receptions during individual drills … Ekpre-Olomu looks primed for a breakout performance after failing to record a breakup or interception this season … True freshmen Taylor Alie and Damion Hobbs continued to split reps at quarterback on the scout team, giving the UO defense a picture of Cal QB Jared Goff.