It can be difficult to discern exactly what to make of a football team after taking in the 15th of the allotted 15 spring practice sessions. Some say that you can’t put too much into any of it, what with kickoff of the first game still four months away. Others simply can’t ignore the intrigue of how a play like a well-timed diving interception by a defensive back, or a perfectly placed pass, or ridiculously long run from a QB might transfer in the heat of conference play.
Say this about the annual event, the spring games are always entertaining, and this one was no exception. They are the one little oasis we get amidst the vast desert of the off-season. The game also signals a sort of closure for an early segment of what has evolved into a year-round football calendar.
What made this game even more special than in years past was that this was also the first time the public or the media were allowed to consume and observe the Rose Bowl Champions, and did they ever. A Duck football-starved crowd of over 44,000 fans (a Pac-12 spring game attendance record) turned out as if it were an important conference game back in the old days. In fact, prior to the expansion, Autzen Stadium from 1988-2001 only had a listed capacity of 41,698.
We know that fans love the opportunity to come out and support their Ducks on Saturdays in and around the Autzen grounds. The support to Food For Lane County and public showing of appreciation for our military troops is a growing part of the appeal and experience as well.
But the game is really just a glorified scrimmage period that in the greater scheme of things is completely meaningless…or are we able to glean anything worthwhile or telling from the action on the field?
As Allen Iverson once said, “You wanna talk about practice?!?”
If you watched the game closely, you probably have several plays or moments that still come to mind. But it might only be one or a select number of things that leave any real lasting impression until fall.
And unfortunately, the fall is quite a long ways off.
When faced with that sad reality- if you’re like me- then you probably DO want to talk about practice. After all, since the were closed to the public and media this year, this was the only one anybody actually got to see.
As the countdown to the September 1st showdown with the Arkansas St Red Wolves inches along, here are some items to take away from the spring game through the long summer months (if it ever gets here), and what to forget or throw away as the weather man becomes a more friendly face to see.
Take away: Who said replacing LaMichael James would be easy? Despite the predictably reduced work load by Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, the Ducks look like they could use another play-maker here. The question will remain who? Can the incoming freshman make an impact, or will Ayele Forde or Kenny Bassett step up? Could a receiver like a Josh Huff or touted freshman Bralon Addison help carry the load if needed?
Throw Away: The body of work by Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. While DAT did have a nice carry up the middle and an impressive catch along the sidelines, he saw very limited action. He still looks pretty fast though, and we as fans can see just how fast when he runs the anchor leg of the 4×100 at the Oregon Twilight meet tomorrow evening.
Is there any question that Kenjon Barner will be called upon to handle more than 1 carry for 1 yard come September?
Take away: Oregon looks to have some talented receivers after all. Blake Stanton, Rahsaan Vaughn and Darryl Hawkins might just be your 2012 starting group. Eric Dungy and BJ Kelley had some big moments, too. The group of three redshirt freshmen certainly got a lot of press, and might still be making headlines in the fall. Out of those three, BJ Kelley had the best day with a touchdown and a decent return. Tacoi Sumler had a nice grab along the sideline, and his reported high school 4.24 40-speed simply sounds like it would be able to find some open field in the Oregon offense. At TE, true freshman Evan Baylis played and looked an awful lot like Colt Lyerla out there wearing #32 and making a few tough catches. Christian French has a good sized athletic frame for the position, and he showed the ability to get open…not so much on being able to secure the ball though.
Throw Away: Any secret reasons why Josh Huff, and Colt Lyerla did not play. After the productive performance by the ball wranglers that did play, the Ducks seem to have several quality options, projected starters aside. Ignore any substantial weight thrown at dropped passes and timing miscues by a variety of receivers and tight ends.
Take away: With the usual suspects relieved of their projected return duties in the fall, we watched at least four different players return kicks and punts. While nobody really stood out, there would seem to be a number of capable athletes on the roster. We all know about De’Anthony Thomas, but an interesting player to watch will be WR Josh Huff. CB Ifo Ikpre-Olomu had the best overall day in the return game, and BJ Kelley showed some flash as well.
Throw Away: The notion that Oregon may struggle in the return game. By Spring game standards, there were a lot of points scored which meant many opportunities for returns with the primary candidates held out. While there were no overly spectacular returns, there were lots of auditions and no fumbles or catastrophic failures either.
Take away: This is a deep group of players with better size and skill across the board than in recent seasons, and might yet prove to be as good or better than any season. With the addition of JC tranfer OT Kyle Long in the fall, Oregon will have many massive and talented players who are conveniently very adept at paving huge holes for this offense. An underlying key is that Oregon has had such great consistency in the coaching staff and is the only staff in the nation to remain intact over the last three seasons. That means better cohesion as a group with player assignments, the coaches system, and the nuances being taught. This is a distinct advantage over a program replacing a coordinator or position coach as there is less time explaining and implementing new concepts, and more time and reps to hone game plans and improve on the little things. Look for the two-deep to be an absolutely locked-in wrecking crew come fall.
Throw Away: 4 Sacks, and 49-negative rushing yards. When split in to two teams, the line should be expected to have a few bad or inconsistent plays. (The defense is pretty good too)
Take away: Oregon truly has a very scary defense lined up for opponents this season. In addition to the returning players, starting up front we saw some great plays from DL Jared Ebert, and Arik Armstead. At linebacker Tyson Coleman had a fumble recovery and of course the pick-six touchdown return. Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu each had athletic interceptions. By the way, spring “practice” or not, Ifo just looked like a beast. A lightning-quick, ball-hawking beast with a new-found sophomore swagger.
On the last line, in relief of John “tall building” Boyett (reports from Wisconsin indicate that Montee Ball still has a bit of an awkward and somewhat laboring gait and also suffers from persistent nightmares involving attempting-and of course failing-to leap him in a single bound), on more than one occasion, especially safety Avery Patterson was seemingly in the right place at the right time. His decision to lay off of what could have been a big hit allowed Marcus Mariota to break into the open field.
Throw Away: Surrendering 55 total points. Mariota’s 82 yard run, but not the speed he showed in the open field. “Only” four combined sacks as several defenders pulled up short instead of laying out the guys in red jerseys.
Here is what Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti had to say after the game:
Take away: Look at it as a Costa/Thomas win-win type of situation from 2010 but with better arms, faster legs, and simply more physical talent. Reflect on that for a moment, as that is really something that should not be taken lightly considering the individual and team accomplishments during the collective tenure of those two now former greats. Rest easy, Duck fans. Oregon will be just fine with whoever winds up winning this battle and earning the starting spot.
Throw Away: Bryan Bennett’s self -described “bad day” with two interceptions and a fumble really wasn’t that bad. No doubt that the two-hand touch took away some big opportunities on the ground for Bryan. Mariota’s 82 yard run likely would have been about a 12 yards-and-a cloud-of-dust play without the red jersey on, but then again who knows what would have happened against a really weak rival defense, like an Oregon Shh-tate or the Washing dawgs?
Here is a post-game interview with Marcus Mariota:
And a post game presser with Bryan Bennett. I love his confidence in this video despite being clearly upset with his performance that day:
Here are some always entertaining thoughts from head coach Chip Kelly:
Have about 13 minutes and want to watch an excellent game highlight summary over the off-season? Here is some more remarkable video work from the talented Mr Mike Wines: