By Rob Moseley
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Format: Full pads
Each day when practice ends, Mark Helfrich gathers the Ducks at midfield for some final thoughts. Then the team huddles up, and a player selected by Helfrich – usually as a reward for something he did on or off the field – gets the honor of breaking the huddle.
This morning, after Oregon’s final full-pads practice before Thursday’s game at Stanford, that honor went to junior guard Hamani Stevens. Before calling Stevens up to break the huddle, Helfrich told the team Stevens had just enjoyed the best practice of his career.
“I can’t wait to watch you play,” Helfrich told Stevens as the rest of the team looked on.
Entering a matchup with the physical defensive front of Stanford, that’s good news for the Ducks. Stevens has started all eight games already this season, and doesn’t appear to be resting on his laurels.
One of the strongest players on the team, Stevens is starting to demonstrate a consistency of effort, both with the way he keeps blocking each play through the whistle, and by maintaining his level of play over the course of the season.
“I think I put more effort into finishing blocks today, and really just getting after it,” Stevens said. “All week there’s been an emphasis on finishing. It’s all on us, on the O line, to win this game. This is our last day to get after it, get physical and lay it all out there.”
Stevens is one of the oldest players on the UO roster, having redshirted on the 2008 Holiday Bowl team before taking a two-year church mission. He made 20 appearances as a reserve the past two seasons, and stepped up his play when a starting job was on the line this offseason.
“He’s headed in the direction of his potential, which is, he should be a physical finisher,” Helfrich said. “That’s something that, once you do it a couple times and see, ‘Hey, that feels pretty good,’ hopefully that becomes contagious for others, and a habit for him.”
Stevens said the responsibility of starting has absolutely been a motivator this fall.
“Definitely, yeah,” he said. “Being one of the five guys out there, it carries a lot of responsibility, having to show up and be an example, to lead the O line. If you’re not leading by example, no one’s going to follow you.”
Stevens has been so reliable through eight games, he’s become one of the unsung contributors on the team, rarely drawing attention to himself. For an offensive lineman, that’s OK, as he’s not drawing many penalties or blowing many assignments.
“I feel like that’s a good thing,” Stevens said. “I feel like throughout every game I’ve tried to do my best. There’s always room to improve, but as far as competing, I think I’ve done pretty well.”
Today in particular, his head coach agreed.
Highlights: From the department of broken records, it was another sharp day throwing the football for Marcus Mariota. In two different 11-on-11 periods, he did a nice job of extending plays with his feet by rolling to his left and then squaring his shoulders for a touchdown pass, once to Keanon Lowe and once to Pharaoh Brown. Mariota also had touchdowns to Bralon Addison and Daryle Hawkins during a red-zone period.
During one-on-one drills in the red zone, Kani Benoit did a nice job of shaking loose from a linebacker for a touchdown grab, and Tyrell Robinson had an interception. But the best play of the drill was by Thomas Tyner, who reached back over the shoulder of a defender for an underthrown pass and tipped the ball forward to make the catch.
Other observations: Cody Carriger was in on a couple of turnovers, intercepting a pass in seven-on and recovering a fumble forced by Joe Walker late in the practice. … Andre Yruretagoyena has become quite the utility guy up front. I’ve seen him practice at left tackle, left guard and right guard regularly over the course of the season. … If he’s not in on a play, Oshay Dunmore is doing pushups. Like, all the time. …
Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues each had a touchdown pass to Brown. Lockie’s was an absolute frozen rope with Brown running in the open field, and Rodrigues’ was into a small window when Brown was well covered. … I like watching Darren Carrington practice. He's a big-time playmaker, and he also plays with an edge. Sometimes he gets under guys' skin, but he doesn't back down from anybody. ... In case you missed it, Oregon’s next home game, against Utah on Nov. 16, will kick off either in the early afternoon (at 12:30 or 1 p.m.) or 5 p.m. depending on the result of the Stanford game.