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Young centers getting valuable practice reps this spring
Release Date: 04/09/2014
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By Rob Moseley

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads

Midway through Wednesday’s practice, the fifth of 15 during spring drills for Oregon this year, the offensive and defensive linemen got together for pass-rush drills while the rest of the team ran 7-on-7.

On one of the first reps of the day, newly bulked up nose guard Sam Kamp shot off the ball, got into center Jake Pisarcik and drove the redshirt freshman backward several yards.

For Pisarcik, new to the center position this spring, it was probably a humbling few seconds. But the two went head-to-head a few reps later, and that time Pisarcik got off the line, set his field and held his ground, fighting Kamp to a stalemate. Moments later, Pisarcik faced off with the Ducks’ projected starting nose guard, Alex Balducci, and again held his own.

Within the space of just a few minutes, Pisarcik had shown tangible improvements.

“Every day I’m learning,” Pisarcik said after practice. “Every rep I listen to the coaches, see what I did wrong and fix it, try to get better.”

When starting quarterback Marcus Mariota opted to return for his junior season, it put off for at least another year the need to replace him, but the battle between Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues to be the backup remains an important storyline this offseason. Similarly, the decision by Hroniss Grasu to return for his senior season solidified the starting center spot for 2014. But with last year’s backup, Karrington Armstrong, having graduated, the Ducks need to identify a new No. 2.

The natural first option is Doug Brenner, a redshirt freshman who snapped on the scout team throughout last fall. To further provide depth at center, the coaching staff has tasked Pisarcik with learning the position this spring.

Last week, Brenner and Pisarcik asked Grasu to stay late and work with them. Pisarcik picked up tips on his stance, and how much pressure to apply to the ball before the snap, nuanced techniques he’ll need to apply at the new position.

“It’s tough having someone right in your face,” Brenner said. “You have to snap the ball; it has to be a good snap; you have someone hitting you before you can even get your hands up.”

“It’s different than guard, but I like the challenge,” said Pisarcik, who was good enough last season to make the travel squad as an emergency backup at guard. “I’m up to the new position. I’ve got good support from the coaches and other guys. They’re making the change a lot easier for me.”

Pisarcik has been a resource, too, as Brenner expands his own skill set by getting reps at guard this spring. But for now Brenner looks like the next best option at center behind Grasu, while Pisarcik gets up to speed with things like the consistency of his snaps.

Brenner has even worked with the ones at times this spring, getting familiar with a different group of teammates and working against the first-string defensive line.

“I have a lot of improvement to do, especially just as far as recognizing the defense and getting the right calls out,” Brenner said. “But I’m learning so much, trying to learn everything I can from my guards and from Hroniss. I can’t speak enough to how much the reps and experience with them is helping.”

Highlights: The were a couple of game-like scenarios today, a late-game clutch situation and an overtime drill, both of which went to the defense. During clutch, Mariota drove the offense into position for a field-goal attempt that was blocked by Kamp. When the twos got on the field, T.J. Daniel was a one-man wrecking crew, recording two sacks and finally a fumble recovery to end the scenario.

In the overtime drill, the offense finished with a flourish, as Ayele Forde made it into the end zone for a touchdown. Until then, though, the defense forced the offense to settle for several field-goal attempts. Reggie Daniels broke up a Rodrigues pass intended for Keanon Lowe early in the drills, and Stephen Amoako broke up a later Rodrigues-to-Lowe attempt. Juwaan Williams was in the spotlight a couple times at safety, absorbing some serious contact but making a tackle of Byron Marshall just short of the goal line, and later giving as good as he got in a collision with Forde.

Other observations: In his post-practice comments to the team, Mark Helfrich made note of a couple players showing more leadership through their practice habits,Marshall and outside linebacker Torrodney Prevot. … Johnathan Loyd fielded punts as well as catching passes today. He has “a long way to go,” Helfrich said, but clearly has some raw skills. … For the second practice in a row, Jalen Brown had some nice moments. He went up and plucked a deep ball from Rodrigues out of the air despite tight coverage at one point. … New JC transfer Haniteli Lousi was the last guy off the practice field, after spending some extra time working on individual technique.

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