By Rob Moseley
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
Recently, a post on ESPN’s Pac-12 college football blog – essential reading if you follow a conference team – posited that 2014 figures to feature a pass-happy Pac-12.
The premise, based on analysis of conference rosters, was that “Experienced QBs plus questionable running games plus questionable pass defenses equals big passing numbers.” Which is reasonable enough.
Among the points made was passing mention (no pun intended) of Oregon’s Byron Marshall, the top returning rusher in the Pac-12 for 2014. Of the running back position conference-wide, it was stated that “The Pac-12's top four rushers from 2013 are gone and most conference teams are uncertain at the position. In fact, (Arizona State’s D.J.) Foster might be the only certain No. 1 option this coming fall.”
To which it might be said: Et tu, Pac-12 blog?
Whether it’s by those covering the conference, or even hardcore Oregon fans, "Forgetting Byron Marshall" seems to be a consistent theme. Yes, Thomas Tyner had an impressive true freshman season, and incoming recruit Royce Freeman is an intriguing prospect. But based on preseason buzz about the playmakers the Ducks boast, you could hardly tell they return a running back who rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, while essentially missing two full games late in the season due to injury.
“It’s cool; I never really cared what other people thought,” Marshall said. “I just want credit where credit is due. That’s definitely a big motivation this year, to go and prove that I’m the best running back in the Pac-12, and one of the best in the nation.”
This spring, Marshall looks primed for even bigger things. There’s been little sign that his spot on the depth chart is in jeopardy so far, and his quickness in the open field consistently jumps out.
“He’s quicker, his speed’s improved – he’s getting better all the time,” UO running backs coach Gary Campbell said.
Marshall said he couldn’t recall his times from winter conditioning tests a year ago, so wasn’t sure just how much he improved over the past 12 months. But that he improved is apparent on the practice field.
“I worked a lot in the winter this year, trying to work on my feet and get that little burst,” Marshall said. “I want to have a big year, so I’m trying to put in a lot more work.”
Among the improvements Marshall is working to make is the diversity of his talents. Like De’Anthony Thomas before him, Marshall wants to become an option for reps at slot receiver as well as running back.
By the sound of things, Marshall is willing to put in the effort to get there -- and not just during scheduled practices.
“It’s coming out here and working,” Marshall said while standing on the practice fields following Wednesday’s workout. “You’ve got to work in the weight room, that one extra rep. You’ve got to come back at night, when no one else is in (the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex). You’ve got to be out here when no one else is here.
“All the work that you do with the team is fine; everyone does work with their team. But I think greatness comes for the people who do extra, and you’ve got to find the extra time to do extra work.”
Highlights: Practice ended with a clutch scenario in which the offense needed a field goal to win, and Matt Wogan drilled a 39-yard attempt to give the No. 2 offense a conversion. Jeff Lockie suffered some bad luck when an apparent completion to Johnathan Loyd in the red zone was broken up by Chris Seisay, but karma evened out a couple plays later when Kenny Bassett hauled in a tipped ball for a fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive. … The defense otherwise had a very strong day, including forcing the No. 1 offense to settle for a 42-yard field-goal attempt that was pushed just to the right. In both cases, timeouts were called to “ice” Wogan. …
Over the course of the morning, Chance Allen and Keanon Lowe each made a catch with a defender draped all over them. On the other side of the ball, Michael Manns and Juwaan Williams had nice pass breakups during team periods. … Lowe’s tough reception came on a “touchdown” drive directed by Jake Rodrigues. Kani Benoit finished it off with a short run; he was stopped just shy of the goal line by Tyree Robinson the play before, then powered through another Robinson hit for the score. … Robinson had an interception during seven-on, ending an otherwise impressive drive for Damion Hobbs. … Joe Walker also had a pick in seven-on, reaching out with one hand to break up the pass, then snaring it after it had deflected into the air. … Hamani Stevens, Arik Armstead, Doug Brenner, Tui Talia and T.J. Daniel stood out to my untrained eye during pass-rush drills.
Other observations: Good stuff from Mark Helfrich in the post-practice huddle with the team. Former UO DB Anthony Newman, who had a long NFL career, dropped by practice as he occasionally does, and apparently mentioned to Helfrich that he always learns something new when he’s here. Helfrich used that as a teaching point for his players, that even a guy who has had the most distinguished of careers can pick up new things. You never stop learning, in short. … Former UO offensive linemen Jim Adams and Eric Reid also attended practice this morning. … The Ducks got rained on for a few minutes early in the workout but the overcast skies held off after that.