By Rob Moseley
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Helmets, jerseys and shorts
Each of Oregon’s three new junior college transfers found a different way to describe their first major college practice, Tuesday morning as the Ducks kicked off their 15-session spring drills.
“Oh man, it was epic,” defensive lineman Tui Talia said.
“Fast,” offensive guard Haniteli Lousi offered.
“It was something else,” cornerback Dominique Harrison added.
For most of the team, Tuesday’s start to five weeks of spring practice was about knocking the rust off. And to be sure, there was some rust. But for Talia, Lousi, Harrison and a few others – notably freshman receiver Jalen Brown and sophomore linebacker Johnny Ragin III – this was their introduction to Oregon football practice, and it was a whirlwind.
The Ducks hit the practice fields just before 8:30 a.m., going outdoors on a cool but dry day in Eugene. They wrapped it up around 11 a.m., and for the most part it resembled an in-season practice, with position drills, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods, time devoted to special teams and a few “teach” periods sprinkled in, for slowing things down and learning new schemes.
“You’ve got to get used to the pace,” Lousi said. “I came out slow, gotta pick it up. I should be good by summer. … It’s all a learning process. I’m glad I came in spring, so that I’ve got a lot more time to pick up the offense.”
Talia said practice involved more running than he was used to, as well, but that Oregon’s defense is “slowly coming to me.” He said Oregon’s offensive linemen were “big, hard to move,” certainly a step up from what he saw in junior college. But at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, Talia didn’t look out of place physically in the trenches Tuesday.
Coaches threw the newcomers into the fire, with all three JC transfers getting second-team reps. Lousi started out at left guard, Talia played one of the defensive end spots and Harrison worked at corner across from Troy Hill.
“It kind of woke my game up, shook me up,” Harrison said. “But it was good though. I’m learning the signals, learning the calls. It can only get better from here.”
(Click here for a video interview featuring Brown’s thoughts on his first day.)
The Ducks are scheduled to put pads on Friday, when things should get more intense for the linemen.
“Seeing those guys for the first time just move around was encouraging,” UO coach Mark Helfrich said. “Then when we get closer to reality, we’ll evaluate them a little bit more.”
Overall, Helfrich saw a lot to like and a lot that needs correcting, to be expected on the first day of spring.
“I thought we came out with great spirit; first day, that better be the case,” Helfrich said. “A lot of details we’ll certainly iron out the next few weeks. A lot of mistakes, which is great this time of year, but a bunch of guys making plays.”
Highlights: For my money, the player of the day was cornerback Dior Mathis. The senior was working with the first team, in the spot vacated by Terrance Mitchell, and he broke up several deep balls when tested down the field. … Ironically, the play of the day might have been one on which Mathis was beaten, through little fault of his own. Mariota zipped a deep ball that Mathis leaped to tip away, only to have it fall into the waiting arms of receiver Bralon Addison. …
Defensive end DeForest Buckner had a possible pick-six late in the day, anticipating a screen pass and stepping in front of it for the interception. He made it a ways downfield before the play was blown dead; had it been a full-pads, live-hitting situation, it would have been interesting to see how many offensive players it would have taken to bring down the massive Ducks defender. … Cameron Hunt scored one for the offensive line, pushing linebacker Derrick Malone well down the field on one rep and pancaking him.
Other observations: Along with Mathis, some of the new faces getting first-string included receiver Dwayne Stanford, tight end Evan Baylis, defensive linemen Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci, outside linebacker Christian French and safeties Erick Dargan and Tyree Robinson. … The No. 2 defensive line, in the spotlight after three seniors graduated from the two-deep, included Talia and T.J. Daniel on the ends. In the middle was Sam Kamp, who is listed at 287 pounds this spring, up from 266 last season. …
With Drew Howell graduated, the Ducks need a new long snapper. During punt drills today, walk-on defensive tackle Jonathan Kenion joined returning walk-on snapper Connor Johnson at that spot. For placekicks, Tyler Johnstone and Hroniss Grasu joined those two. … Matt Wogan and walk-on Ian Wheeler handled punts, with Alejandro Maldonado having graduated and Dylan Ausherman no longer with the program. … Jake Pisarcik and Doug Brenner switched between center and right guard with the No. 2 offensive line. …
Along with Ausherman, Brett Bafaro and Eric Dungy, walk-ons David Kafovalu and Blake Stanton also are no longer with the team as of this spring. … Former UO center Jordan Holmes attended practice, and caught up afterwards with Grasu. Holmes helped mentor Grasu in 2010, Holmes’ final season and Grasu’s redshirt year.