I’ve been to a ton of these over the last twenty-some years, and this practice did not stand out or provide much beyond what you have already read from the good updates we have been getting. For the first day of pads…I was disappointed as the players appeared lethargic to me at times, although we did get some notable plays. The most difficult part for me was seeing the damn field; on the practice field your view is constrained by the other spectators and the team standing in front of you. Thankfully the Scrimmage on Tuesday will be in Autzen where I can get an elevated view to see things more accurately. You would think that Chip Kelly would be so grateful to me for bringing so much attention to him and the team with the 3-4 defense announcement that he’d put me up on one of the Hi-Lifts they use for filming. (yeah, right!) Since one website owner told me that the Coach called him personally a couple of times about the Defense Reports I wrote—it suggests that perhaps Chip might hang me from one of them! Isn’t any publicity for the team good publicity?
It was in the low 90s, but we had a nice breeze that cooled at just the right times; the sunshine hue was still in the late-spring lemon brightness, as opposed to the darker golden hues that will materialize in a month or two. We had the music blaring in the background, although not quite as bad as in the past. This is a time for a ton of coaching to be done, and the players have to hear the coaches. I did not sense a serious urgency of some years in the past, but I did not sense complacency either from being the Pac-10 Champion. It was like these guys are working hard to get better, to finish the job of a championship and a Rose Bowl win. Ah, my blustering in August!
I knew this first exposure to the 2010 team would be difficult to watch because of all that I learned over the summer. I want to watch the defensive alignments and see the Zone Blitzes as they occur. I also wanted to watch the Offensive backfield alignment to see the hint toward Inside or Outside Zone Read, and watch the blocking for the kick-step that occurs on the Outside Zone Read play. I also wanted to watch the QBs for their Zone Reads, the passes, and their composure. Folks….you can’t watch it all, and with the constrained view…I could hardly see anything at all a good bit of the time.
Some of the drills are fascinating, and few might be new. The Wide Receivers have a machine that sends bullet passes to them from scarcely ten yards away to improve their reflexes, and another group is standing two yards apart and tossing a football quickly at each other’s feet, up high, to the side, etc. It too has the point-blank rapid reactions as the intent, and the WRs were having fun trying to get one past their colleague.
The Offensive Line practiced staying low and exploding upwards in the “Bust Block” described in an earlier report, both in front of them and to a DL on the side. They also practiced the “Plaster-and-Peel” blocks where they double team a D-Lineman, and then the guard peels off to block the LB. It was interesting to see the coaching of the tiny steps, the precise footwork they must engage in while doing it in half-second increments. Then they took a big ball and were blasting each other with basketball passes at close range. I was wondering…what the heck are they doing? Then I saw how they were catching the balls with their hands in tight to their body and using quick reactions to catch and adjust close to the body. Then it hit me that this was preparing the hands for the quick movements needed in pass blocking. In the last report I wrote of how Kaiser held off the talented USC DE with quick feet, quick hands, and then some agility during his bull-rush. That doesn’t just happen; Coach Greatwood prepares his troops superbly for battle!
You have heard it often, but for us veterans of these practices—the speed element on defense begins to turn your head and consider how fast the defense is compared to distant years. We had fast guys on defense before…but this many of them? Look at Kaddu when he’s getting into formation on defense…geez he looks like the prototype stud OLB at one of the SEC powers, and his speed was evident when he stayed with a RB step-for-step in pass coverage. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago…maybe six or seven years ago when we had problems recruiting LBs, and in particular great LBs. This year we have one open spot at the Strong Side LB, or SAM and the candidates are Kaddu, BoLo, and Littlejohn. Wow. When you have three talented athletes like them competing for one spot….you are knocking on the door of being an ELITE program. It’ll happen!
OK. We’ve heard that Brandon Williams at TE passes the eyeball test, and yes when he’s got his shirt tucked up to show his washboard abs he does look studly. But will he play like a stud? So far….I didn’t see it. I liked how freshman Curtis White got separation and open to catch the ball with his hands outward like Ed Dickson did, which makes sense. (White has Ed’s #83 jersey) At TE….Paulson catches everything, he’s reliable, and he gets open. He has been in the TE shadow of others in the past, and I hope for a monster year for him. He deserves it with the way he blocks on the outside for our running game!
Oh yeah. Ricky Heimuli IS big. Holy Crap! Stand behind him and try not to think of “Mongo”. He has a big future racking up the TFLs with his size as just a freshman.
I have been worried about the depth at WR, and I’m feeling much better with what I saw today. We KNEW that Blake Cantu was talented, and he’s back to that form catching bullets to his side after his cut, or a shoestring grab before it touches the ground. He SHOUTS “Mr. 3rd Down” in future years. Justin Hoffman plays like a starter, and gives another reliable vibe; how he gets open is unknown. I don’t sense blazing speed, but football smarts in separation. (It bears further watching) The big surprise of the day for me was #30, Nick Cole. He was doing a Cantu/Hoffman imitation, and I saw him make at least THREE big catches in the passing drills with tight DB coverage. I have great respect for our secondary in terms of talent and coaching by John Neal; if you get open and make the tough catch against them—you’re good.
Maehl is becoming an animal, a highlight every time the ball comes to him. He made two huge bomb catches back-to-back in the passing drills and shimmied his body into position to shield the DB, and make the catch in a sometimes awkward contorted shape in mid-air. Later, he caught a ball that was thrown behind him but he stopped his momentum as best he could, and dove backward at waist level to catch the ball and haul it in with one hand! Overall….three times he made me gasp, “how did he catch that?” He is entering the stratosphere of elite WRs at Oregon…the Parkers, the Williams, the Howrys, the McLemores, etc. He looks to be unstoppable this year!
Super Bowl Coach Tony Dungy was positioned in the defensive backfield and must have been pleased to some of the interceptions that took place in front of him. Two by Terrance Mitchell and Boyett really stood out to me. (BTW…his son, #19 is a good looking prospect at WR. Eric doesn’t give me the impression that freshmen usually do—there is some savvy there. He is an intriguing player to keep an eye on)
Lache Seastrunk looks like a very fast fluid player…who doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing. He’s not in formation, or he thinks he can bounce or juke every play while being rescued with his speed. He has to take some knocks to learn the speed at D-1. In some respects his build reminds me more of a WR, than RB, but he’ll fill out. He has fast feet, quick moves, and astonishing speed in open space. I saw him try to dart and bounce outside on an Inside Zone Read, and then he cuts inside, and then bounces outside again to get BURIED for a loss. He’ll learn!
The best play of the day….I could not see but for the last third; Brent told me that LaMichael took the handoff for a power-play where there was no hole. Apparently he stopped on a dime, planted and exploded outside and beat Paysinger to the corner. (a former WR who is a fast LB) James was down the sideline and gone for a TD. I saw him turn the corner and was impressed with the burst in the first ten yards which gave him the space to outrun the secondary. Has he added another gear in acceleration?
What about the Quarterbacks? Well, they don’t impress. I was thinking about the reports by others from prior practices where they didn’t set the world on fire, and wanted to compare those reports to my observations of today. My conclusion? They throw fine in the 7-on-7s, or other passing drills. They are all accurate, and in particular, I liked Costa’s passes for being zippy, yet catchable with a nice spiral that is quite accurate! How about when the defense lines up across from them? Now all three QBs are sporadic, and I was trying to put my finger on where I saw that? Oh yeah. Remember Spring Scrimmages? I wrote that the QBs were never comfortable, always under pressure, and rarely got a good pass off. It was that observation that started my research into our new (16 months that nobody reported) defense because our QBs couldn’t get settled. So, my friends…I believe that the QBs performance thus far is more about the defense that led the league in overall categories last year, and less about the QBs themselves. I believe that other great QBs from Oregon’s past would look haphazard with Eddie Pleasant rounding the corner to blast him as he released the ball. This is fast veteran defense that takes no prisoners; it is making our QBs better and our Offensive line better. If we can score on these fierce defenders, then we will do well this season.
Breathe easy my friends, and oh yes, We Love Our Ducks!