By Rob Moseley
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Unlike NFL teams, there’s no preseason games for which college programs need to prepare as fall camp continues. But that doesn’t stop them from getting themselves game-ready.
Any time the Ducks break into 11-on-11, there’s a specific down-and-distance scenario in play. Today, the fourth day of camp, the UO football team worked on a goal-line situation in which the offense was backed up near its own end zone.
That meant potential scoring plays for the defense were available, and indeed the UO defenders came through a couple times. DeForest Buckner recorded a tackle for a safety, and Rodney Hardrick, Stetzon Bair and Joe Walker had stops near the goal line that also might have been good for two points had it been a live, game situation. Johnny Ragin III, who is consistently making plays this week, returned an interception for a touchdown.
Given the number of reps the Ducks take, there’s back and forth in any drill, and the offense dug itself out of that hole several times, too. Marcus Mariota completed passes to Darren Carrington, Koa Ka'ai and Devon Allen, and also ran the ball on one play. Royce Freeman had a couple of nice runs with the second string, as did Kani Benoit with the threes.
Though Benoit got to the edge on one play, this didn’t seem like the type of situation in which backs were looking for the home run. It was more of a chance to put their pads down and get hard yards between the tackles, to give the offense a little more breathing room.
“It’s definitely a task, because it’s bigger linemen,” said Freeman, who is in his first week running against a college defense. “It’s something you’ve got to get adjusted to, but it’s something that, we did a pretty good job today.”
Freeman and the other newcomers continue to have more thrown at them as the week progresses. The Ducks did some work on their kickoff return team today, and Freeman took some reps as a blocker along with fellow freshmen Khalil Oliver, Jimmie Swain, Henry Mondeaux, Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins, with Charles Nelson among a big group of possible return men.
“The coaching staff is helping me get situated and adjusted,” Freeman said. “… It’s definitely a change, but the other backs have welcomed me and showed me the ropes.”
Highlights: Early in the day, there was an entertaining period of one-on-one battles between receivers and defensive backs. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu broke up a pass from Mariota to Dwayne Stanford, and Tyree Robinson and Chris Seisay also had pass breakups. Carrington got a step on Troy Hill and hauled in a deep ball, and Allen won a couple of reps, beating a safety deep and shrugging off a cornerback at the line.
Keanon Lowe and Erick Dargan went back and forth, each winning once head-to-head. The highlight of the drill was probably a battle between Nelson and Dior Mathis. The freshman got a step on the senior at the line, but Mathis used his speed to close the gap. As the ball arrived, Nelson leaped up and looked like he might secure the catch over Mathis’ head, but the corner reached out and broke up the pass for an incompletion.
Other observations: Junior safety Issac Dixon, so far competing for reps with the twos, showed some good leadership the first time practice went into an 11-on-11 period. He walked over to JC transfer Dominique Harrison and said, “If this period’s about anything, it’s running. Anyone that gets caught loafing, it’s two up-downs apiece.” … Hardrick had another tackle for loss during that period, and Morgan Mahalak did a nice job of getting an outside linebacker to buy a run fake, then rolling out and completing a pass. …
Stephen Amoako had two interceptions during 7-on-7, and nearly added a third during the final team period of the day. Glen Ihenacho did make a pick during the last period, and Arrion Springs nearly had one when he anticipated a screen pass, doing a great job of jumping the route but having the ball slip through his fingers. … During pass-rush drills, Mondeaux had a couple impressive reps for the second day in a row, and Jelks beat his guy a couple times. Jake Fisher (twice), Matt Pierson and Doug Brenner had wins for the offense, while Buckner and T.J. Daniel did so on defense.