By Rob Moseley
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
The Ducks are in the process of settling into the rhythm of the season, with their opening game set for Saturday against South Dakota in Autzen Stadium (7:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). Coming out of preseason camp, that adjustment process allowed an extra day of preparation, with the team holding a “Monday” practice on Saturday, taking Sunday off and then returning Monday with the type of practice they’ll typically have each Tuesday during the season.
That meant full pads, though not much full contact, this afternoon on the practice fields. The special teams and offense/defense periods featuring 11-on-11 drills were highly focused, as the coaching staff has streamlined the playbook for what Oregon will use Saturday night. “Sharpen the sword,” Mark Helfrich told the team afterward. “Sharpen the sword.”
Offensively, the Ducks have advanced quite a bit from where they were to open camp, which is typical. Quarterbacks and receivers have their timing down, the offensive line is communicating crisply, and Scott Frost’s group is really able to cut the time between reps.
It’s all part of the process of getting game-ready. “Fall camp you’re just worried about how many reps you can get in, and all that,” senior receiver Keanon Lowe said. “Now we’re really focused on communication; being able to sub in efficiently with the different packages; and then we cut our playbook down to the plays we’re going to focus on and run in the game. It’s easier, but at the same time it feels like we’re going a lot faster, because we want to ramp that tempo up since it’s game week.”
Highlights: After practice, Marcus Mariota said one of the offense’s goals for 2014 is to get off to faster starts, and the Ducks were able to do so today. The first play of practice was a long completion by Mariota to Devon Allen, and Mariota kicked off a later 11-on-11 period with a touchdown pass to Dwayne Stanford. … Stanford was all over the place today. In 1-on-1 drills, he reached for a pass well over his head and tipped it in the air, then secured the ball for the catch. Later in 11-on-11, he used great body control to reach out and grab a pass Rodney Hardrick had deflected. …
Another guy who had a great day was Reggie Daniels. He broke up a pass early in practice that Tony Washington brought down for an interception, and was involved in several other plays over the course of the session, both against the run and pass. … Troy Hill showed great speed in running stride for stride with the fleet B.J. Kelley before breaking up a pass in 1-on-1s. … Torrodney Prevot, T.J. Daniel, DeForest Buckner and Hardrick had tackles for loss in a drill focused on run plays.
Other observations: Byron Marshall had a second straight strong practice, reaching out to haul in a deep ball from Mariota at one point and knifing through the scout-team defense on a run later on. That said, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman had their moments as well; based on today it would be really hard to guess which guy will start Saturday. … The tight end spot also is too tough to call right now, and there’s a good battle at right guard between Jake Pisarcik and Cameron Hunt. Also, Stetzon Bair continues to look solid this month, and could share reps with Daniel on the No. 2 defensive line. … Erick Dargan caught some grief from teammates when a ball slipped through his hands, but he made up for it minutes later by hauling down an interception.
Kenny Bassett looks like the fourth running back in the rotation at this point. … Jimmie Swain practiced with the scout defense but was heavily involved in special teams drills and didn’t wear a scout-team jersey. He looks like a guy the Ducks could travel and keep ready if needed, on defense or special teams. … That so many guys blossomed at receiver this month may be no better illustrated than by the fact Kelley took reps with the scout team. He and Ty Griffin made a really nice connection during 7-on-7 against the defense. … In kickoff drills, Lowe and Darren Carrington had long returns, and Juwaan Williams was in on a couple tackles.