By Rob Moseley
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
Today was a doubly entertaining way to cap the first five days of preseason camp, with Oregon not only in full pads for the first time but engaged in a competition day pitting offense vs. defense.
As can tend to happen this early in camp, the defense had a slight edge most of the way. And as can tend to happen in these competition days, the score narrowed late in practice, to the point that it was anybody’s day with a few reps left. A couple powerful carries by freshman running backs helped tie the score with four plays left, but the defense held on for a three-point victory, 108-105.
The defense built an early lead during position drills, including a passing scenario during which Tony Washington had a pick-six to contribute to an early 48-34 cushion. Guys like DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Rodney Hardrick were all over the place in an 11-on-11 situation focusing on run plays midway through the day, and Dominique Harrison had an interception in one of the last team periods to help the defense maintain a 96-91 edge.
The offense closed the gap to start the last period, as Marcus Mariota deked a defender before running to convert a third down, then completed another third-down conversion to Byron Marshall. Jeff Lockie and Devon Allen then connected for at least their second impressive completion of the day, Morgan Mahalak hit Ayele Forde a couple times and Kani Benoit ran for enough yardage to get the offense within 101-99.
Christian French broke up a pass, Hardrick brought down a back and French had a tackle for loss as the defense surged again. But then Royce Freeman burst through the line and knocked a linebacker on his rear, giving the offense new life. Taylor Alie completed a couple passes, one to Freeman, Ty Griffin connected with Johnathan Loyd and Benoit followed Freeman’s lead by trucking a defensive back to tie the score at 105-105.
There was time for just a few more reps, and the defense answered the challenge. Griffin was sacked, then threw incomplete, and Hardrick finished the day with a tackle for loss and then a forced fumble on the final two snaps.
“I love how we’re running on defense right now,” UO coach Mark Helfrich told the team moments later.
New defensive coordinator Don Pellum said he would reserve complete judgment until watching film, but said he liked the energy and attitude from the defense, while noting that pad level could be inconsistent at times.
“It’s starting to take shape, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Pellum said. “There were some good things today, maybe enough to kind of smile about, but then some other stuff to tighten it back up.”
Highlights: With the team in pads, a period was spent on a full-contact drill in which a ballcarrier had to advance – in tight quarters – past three levels of blockers, matching an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman, a tight end and a linebacker, and a receiver vs. a defensive back. Pretty simple stuff: The defense is looking to get off blocks and make tackles, the offense wants to sustain blocks long enough for the runner to get by.
Freeman slipped a couple arm tackles on one run, and ran over a safety at the end of another. Marshall and Benoit made it through the gantlet, and Charles Nelson ran through a couple guys grasping at his ankles. Hroniss Grasu and Johnny Mundt cleared the way for a Griffin run, and the trio of Matt Pierson, Koa Ka'ai and Austin Daich got Kenny Bassett into the end zone.
Other observations: Ragin continues to make plays all over the field. His eligibility situation for 2014 is still up in the air, but he can help this team if cleared to play immediately as a transfer. … During the 11-on-11 period working on the run, Thomas Tyner was about the only back able to break into the second level at any point. … I wrote down French’s number quite a few times today. … There was good back-and-forth in pass rush drills as guys took multiple reps against the same people. Sam Kamp and Doug Brenner, Brigham Stoehr and Spencer Stark and Grasu and Alex Balducci all were about even with each other. … Henry Mondeaux and Tyrell Crosby continue to look like they’ve been pretty comfortable making the jump from high school to college.