By Rob Moseley
Venue: Autzen Stadium
Oregon’s first scrimmage of this preseason, last Tuesday, didn’t really get going until Steve Greatwood jumped on his offensive line. Mark Helfrich wanted to see a better sense of urgency in today’s second scrimmage, and took steps to make it happen.
The day began with the Ducks going through their normal pregame warmups, a dress rehearsal for the real thing in just over a week. But with nobody in the Autzen Stadium stands, that energy couldn’t be recreated. So the Ducks made their own energy, kicking off the scrimmage with a full contact Oklahoma-style drill.
Once the team finally went 11-on-11, the offense hit the ground running. Just a couple plays into the scrimmage, Jeff Lockie cut loose with a ball deep down the field – so deep it didn’t look like Devon Allen would quite get to it. But the national champion in the 110 hurdles turned on the jets, reached out and hauled in the pass for a touchdown, kicking off the day in big-play fashion.
“Our intensity right off the bat was markedly different than it was last week,” Helfrich said. “That was a positive sign.”
Some of the most established veterans got limited reps, if any, so this was a good chance to get a sense of how freshmen and others might contribute. The first period of the scrimmage was dedicated to the kickoff team, and freshmen Jimmie Swain, Justin Hollins and Charles Nelson were on the field for the first rep. Coaches will spend the next 36 hours, prior to the next practice Saturday, determining which freshmen will be on the travel squad and which will be on the scout team to start the season, and they’ll have plenty of film of newcomers from today’s scrimmage to watch during those evaluations.
Freshmen were among the day’s most consistent contributors, with Royce Freeman breaking free for a couple long touchdowns, Khalil Oliver intercepting two passes and making a couple other touchdown-saving tackles, and Nelson returning a kickoff for a touchdown. Freeman broke a few tackles during the scrimmage, a good news/bad news deal, as is always the case in practice.
The good news is, Freeman looks ready to make opponents miss this season, too. And though he’s not the fastest back on the roster, nobody caught him from behind. “That’s a train moving,” safety Tyree Robinson said after one of Freeman’s long runs.
Veterans on the sidelines made an effort to coach up the young guys. “That’s not good enough, Nacho,” senior Erick Dargan told freshman Glen Ihenacho at one point during kickoff drills. A few minutes later, Ihenacho made a tackle on the punt team. Dargan took a few steps out on the field and yelled twice to get Ihenacho’s attention, then clapped his hands to show his appreciation for the improvement.
Highlights: Along with the plays mentioned previously, Zac Schuller hauled in a beautiful deep ball from Ty Griffin, with Oliver making the tackle to prevent a touchdown. Lockie and Nelson connected on a touchdown pass, and Kenny Bassett ran for a score. Thomas Tyner had a great block in pass protection to give Lockie time to find Dwayne Stanford downfield, and Jake Fisher got several yards upfield to throw the final block on one of Freeman’s touchdown plays. B.J. Kelley hauled in a touchdown pass from Taylor Alie.
Defensively, Reggie Daniels had an interception in the end zone, and Sam Kamp picked off a ball that Stetzon Bair tipped at the line, one of several passes Oregon’s long defensive line was able to disrupt. Joe Walker had a couple tackles for loss, and Helfrich afterward mentioned the play of freshmen Austin Maloata and Jalen Jelks up front.
Other observations: Defensive coordinator Don Pellum was on the sidelines, after being in the booth for the first scrimmage. I’ve yet to hear what he’s decided to do for games this season. … Aidan Schneider has been pretty good as a placekicker the last week or so. Could be some competition there for Matt Wogan. … Conversely, Ian Wheeler looked great punting the ball today. I’m assuming that job is his; it should be noted, though, that there are eminently more qualified individuals making such decisions. … Along with some of the missed tackles, penalties were another issue at times today. So those figure to be points of emphasis for the coaching staff entering game week.