By Rob Moseley
Venue: Autzen Stadium
Format: Helmets, jerseys and shorts
Today was Oregon’s walk-through for Saturday’s conference matchup at Colorado. Along with running through plays offensively and defensively for various situations, there’s much special teams work to be reviewed.
That includes the kickoff team, which may or may not have the services of returner De’Anthony Thomas this week, depending on how fast he recovers from his ankle injury. Thomas is not only the Ducks’ starting running back, but he’s the No. 4 kickoff return man in the Pac-12 so far, averaging 23.2 yards per return.
In Thomas’ absence, after being injured on the opening kickoff against Cal, cornerback Troy Hill joined Keanon Lowe with the return team. Hill returned one kick, for 19 yards, after bringing one back 17 yards against Tennessee in the Ducks’ previous game.
“They gave me the opportunity because they believe in me,” Hill said today. “Now I’ve just got to go out there and help my team out.”
Hill had two kickoff returns as a redshirt freshman in 2011, one of 17 yards against Missouri State and one of 36 yards in the Civil War. But he fumbled on the return against the Beavers, a chief concern when relying in the return game on defensive players less accustomed to handling the ball.
Two years later, Hill appears to have put those concerns to rest. He’s firmly in the mix among Oregon’s options to return kicks, along with receiver Josh Huff, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, and others.
“Troy’s one of a bunch of those guys, they’re just dynamic,” UO coach Mark Helfrich said. “The thing you just worry about with all those guys, corners especially, is just taking care of the ball. But he’s a conscientious guy and has gotten better in that regard.”
“I can’t let that happen again,” Hill said. “I want to keep the ball for my team. Defense doesn’t get many opportunities to get the ball, so I want to keep my opportunity."
Hill said he returned in kicks in high school as well. He’s obviously enjoying the chance to do so again, whenever it presents itself.
His mentality as a returner?
“Score -- be fearless and just score,” Hill said. “I know my team is going to do their job, so I just want to find my cuts and go.”
Other observations: As usual, no highlights for this report. Would be hard to do without feeling like the game plan was being exposed. Plus, the tempo is so methodical that it’s more like chess pieces being moved around a board than actual football. “If you’re going half-speed, you’re going too fast,” one assistant said. “This is an assignment check.” … To that end, players not at the line of scrimmage for a rep still are expected to get signals from the sideline and walk through their alignment and assignment. Everybody was doing so best I could tell, and it seemed like Colt Lyerla was particularly engaged in the process. ... Today’s practice was conducted under chilly but sunny skies. In fact, probably a pretty close approximation of the conditions expected for Saturday’s game in Boulder.