Oregon Football Practice: The Ducks Lay an Egg

FP2 for practice

I could not believe my eyes when I got the email announcing an open practice for Oregon football season ticket holders a few weeks ago. No professional cameras allowed? This means that media are not having their usual place in this practice — hmmmm. I was thrilled and simply could not wait for the days to count down until I could watch Bralon Addison go against Ugo Amadi.

Wow — this is just like the old days of doing an old scrimmage report! There was no cost to watch the emerging dramas across the team and now we get to see Vernon Adams in action? This was quite a gift to the fans from coach Mark Helfrich!

They wanted us there in our seats by 1 p.m. for a 1:30 beginning of practice, and fans were quite accommodating, as reams of them were pouring into Autzen at 12:15! While this was not the Red Wedding, it felt like a betrayal of trust on a small level between the head coach and the fans.

We saw nothing in this practice; not a single play of offense against defense in pads, and as if to tweak the fans further — the players wore the straw hats that many of us brought to stay cool. They were not even in shells, and walked through plays and completed minor drills. Grizzled Ol’ Coach and I admitted we had nothing to take from this practice.

How can you feel ripped off when you got something for free?

This was nice...

Charles Fischer

This was nice …

It is almost as if coach Helfrich said, “You’ve been crying to have an open practice? You got one. How do you like them apples?” I think Mark took more out of the Chip Kelly playbook than we thought with this move.

Some of you will get after me for my opinion, but I thought it was ridiculous to go to the trouble to have us there … for that unless there was an ulterior motive. But hey — I got my mug with the trophies, the highlight of the afternoon!

Our observations, however limited: 

I never thought I would see the day when looking at positions groups and you would see so many defensive linemen! GOC (Grizzled Ol’ Coach Mike Morris) thought that we truly were four deep, and players redshirting would have played in the two-deep years ago. It was cool to see the long flowing blonde locks of Rex Manu going through drills knowing the young-gun is over 300 pounds with that strength?

“Now that is a boat-load of talent right there. We have never seen so much among just the punt-returners,” the GOC noted as he pointed to the group at mid-field.

We saw Taj Griffin, Kirk Merritt, Bralon Addison and Charles Nelson in one place! Unbelieveable. It is insane the weapons — the young weapons — on this team.

The starters on the interior defense were appearing to be Tui Talia, Alex Balducci, and Henry Mondeaux (no Buckner?) along with ILBs Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker, as it was good to see the familiar along with the new starters who are going to make their mark – even if they were just walking through defensive assignments in shorts and jerseys.

With the limited reps for Vernon Adams? It was noted by FishDuck.com Recruiting Guru Mark Flores, that VA’s quick turn of the shoulders and rapid release was something to behold. I was glad to see how Adams was running the new Inside Zone Read (that Oregon moved to a while back) as proficient as the other QBs. He has run the Zone Read before!

This is what the Grizzled Ol' Coach thought of the practice...

Charles Fischer

This is what the Grizzled Ol’ Coach thought of the practice …

I do not write about injuries or formations, but I can tell you that I saw something that covers what little weakness we have on offense, while accenting our strengths. Thanks to coach Mike Morris for the catch and it is something we’ll discuss once we see it in the games.

Mysteries about Merritt?

Last year Oregon had some special play packages designed for Pharaoh Brown because he was an extraordinary talent at tight end. There have been whispers from other coaches I consult with that the same might be occurring on behalf of Kirk Merritt, because of his phenomenal talent. Through the practice the GOC wanted to see Merritt on the field and even pleaded aloud to anyone in earshot to “at least put him on defense with that talent!”

He had barely said that when the No. 1 offense lined up with Kirk in the slot as a receiver! As a true freshman? Whoa!

This is a young man who has a body profile of a Josh Huff at 5’11” and 205 lbs., yet won the National Sparq Championship from among the nation’s elite talent? He shouts touchdowns!

Oregon’s Stealth Weapon for the Spartans is …

Did the Ducks throw a blanket over the next amazing RB/WR talent from among the redshirt freshmen and prevent us from seeing his speed and running skills?

Taj Griffin has the closest highlight video I’ve seen compared to DeAnthony Thomas, and while he does not have the millisecond-cuts that Thomas has, Griffin instead has this stunning ability to cut 90 degrees and explode in acceleration like no back in video I’ve seen. He has been healing from an injury and even in February, while still in rehab, coach Helfrich said Taj was the fastest player on the team! (That is a pretty high bar!)

It was rumored that Royce Freeman thought Griffin was the fastest player he had ever seen on a football field. Holy Crap! A coach who consulted with me more than a week ago thought that the vision of Taj was not noted by many compared to his speed.

He runs the Inside Zone play extremely well by pressing the line-of-scrimmage and bending back against the blocks with his superior cutting and acceleration. The biggest surprise about Griffin is how well he breaks tackles. I would take a running back who is average speed and breaks tackles as opposed to a speed back going down with an arm tackle.

Let me see if I got this right; he runs Oregon’s base play with authority and has that blinding speed? Spartans look out!

Are you cooled down yet, Charles?

While I have been considered a member of the media the past four years, I have been a season ticket holder for 30 years now and went as a fan. I did not see anything barring the media, although there would have been nothing to report. Much of what you see above was for a Coach’s Comments article that I was thinking of doing until I saw this dud of a practice.

I understand that some of you are going to hate on me because of my criticism of the lame practice opened to the public. I get that. But remember that I defended this head coach and the staff mightily after the Arizona loss and got some hate mail for that, too. I am calling it as I see it; the people I really feel bad for are those who drove from Portland to waste their time. I can honestly say for the first time ever that if you did not see that practice, you did not miss a thing.

But – I still love my Ducks!

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)

Top Photo by Charles Fischer

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • Godux

    I can understand your disappointment, but I’d be a bit more disappointed if Helfrich was willing to trot out anything useful for a ‘silent scout’ of any of his future games. You probably saw what most Duck fans would like to; the physical presence of the players. Their size and speed are not things you can really see on paper.
    I used to write sports for the Emerald. MANY years ago, have been a season ticket holder when I lived in Oregon, and can only imagine what they are brining on to the field in the next few years. I went to Oregon when you could walk in half- time (for free), had a lot of great unoccupied seats to pick from, and still not see your dreams come true. You got a look at what is going to be a top ten (very possibly a top 4) team even though you didn’t see any meaningful action.
    But, yeah, I can see where you might have hoped for more. On the other hand, I don’t think the Ducks laid an egg as much as you got scrambled eggs for free when you really wanted Eggs Benedict :)

    • It is pretty easy to run basic stuff or obvious plays we have done for years with a scrimmage. Having ONE open scrimmage like that in the Spring and Fall would do the trick for the fans….I mean who pays the bills?

      This is too easy NOT to do and they choose not to, and I don’t think it is right whether it is us or any college team.

      When practices were always open….how many would voluntarily go to a practice like yesterday? Almost NONE.

      How many would go to a scrimmage? THOUSANDS.

      He knew what the fans wanted and ran the scrimmage in the morning session? Geez.

      • Godux

        I kind of agree with you but still see his primary job as making max use of his time. A vanilla scrimmage for the fans might not fit into that, especially with the limits on contact these days. That’s probably a carry-over attribute from the Chip Kelly Oregon practice theme where time does not get wasted on the traditional things that used to happen. I’m kind of a get off my lawn guy but …
        I’m guessing the current version of the ways things are done is doing just fine with fans paying the bills and being glad to do so. What they having been putting on the field on game day has been well worth the wait.
        I can remember getting into closed practices back when I was in school and, in hindsight, I have to wonder why they were closed.
        I’m really not questioning what you wanted to see, as I’d like to see the same things, but maybe it’s a good thing it doesn’t fit into the plan like the old days when calling it a plan was a little bit of an overstatement to begin with.

  • duckusucker

    You needn’t apologize for having a strong, fair opinion: that’s why we love reading your copy and your other writers!
    Here’s some guys you may have missed talking about; if they were absent, that’s also newsworthy:
    Malik Lovette: his potential appears as high as Merritt’s.
    Don Mattingly: he has the size, mobility, hitting power, and nasty to be a standout LB and played quite a bit last year: where is he this year???? Haven’t read ONE word about this intriguing talent.
    Juwaan Williams: he appeared to have a bright future; he has the body type of Carrington, just what coach Neal now looks for in his corners: has he been injured, or is he fully participating? I think he’s mostly been used on special teams, to this point. He came as a freshman with sky-high expectations…

    • Juwaan Williams was at the corner position yesterday, but because of no actual plays–could not tell if his skills match up.

      Lovette was there and just looking at him–I was trying to recall who he reminded me of, and then it hit me. Add some weight to him and he would resemble Latin Berry…for the veterans here–remember that great name?

      I got some football gossip out of it, but not what we wanted…

      • duckusucker

        Nothin’ on Mattingly, eh? I remember when there were all sorts of “best Alonso-like guy” comments were common. Appears now that Joe Walker is “the man.”
        So, did you see Mattingly, suited up anyhow?

        • GOC saw him and said he looked studly…other than that? Nothing. Sorry, but I need to actually see some plays!

          • duckusucker

            “See some plays.”
            Say, Charles… know anyone with a drone? :-)
            That may be the only way!

  • Famous Duck

    The practice, IMO, was subdued. Even relaxed. Dress was casual. Not what I expected from our disciplined Ducks. Hardly any impressive hustle.
    Hmmmm? What is going on here at Autzen, thunk I.

    So I went down and watched the coaches coach Vernon on play calling signals. I went right down to the wail and watched and listened from about twenty yards. The session lasted about 15 minutes and I learned more than I ever had while watching many practices in the old days at the Mo Center.

    Later, I saw Vernon and the Four DATS in the same backfield….the first time any of the public got to see that! And it was free.

    And the coaches and players thanked US for being there.


    Starting to leave Autzen, I walked along the line of smiling gifted young men. I noticed Royce Freeman. As a man. A student. A guest in Eugene. And now I was leaving his venue. His invited guest. It seemed so right to me. They were just nice young men saying ‘Hi’ and ‘Thanks.’

    I walked back across the bridges over the waters smiling at the rock creations in the river. I’ll be back. This is an amazingly confident team.

    • Famous

      Oh, and dija see that new kid punt that seventy-two yarder?

  • Lynn Murphy

    I respect your opinion Charles and have always appreciated your work. I am sorry to say though that this is coming off as a bit whiney. I never got the whole deal about why fans thought they were entitled to see and have access to practices. What do you really learn???? I get why MH has continued to have them closed. Back in the day there were too many people there and it was a major distraction to the players and the coaches.My two cents.
    I have seen several comments about this since yesterday and everyone of them sounds like the same thing, ‘ we’re season ticket holders and they owe us’. I just don’t agree and I am a season ticket holder too.
    Thanks for your work, you do an excellent job.

    • You must not have seen my scrimmage reports in the old days when the practices were open; everyone loved them, and they were informative to the public and fun. The fans out of town used me as their eyes on the field and we were able to draw some conclusions about the team before the season.

      I’m OK with whiney…

    • David Currie

      Disagree. Not whiny at all. This is a public institution w/ a tradition of fans being able to watch. Then they put in this fake practice?

      • Bill Wilson

        Should we just mail the play book to our oppents? Come on guys!

        • Bill…we have been running the same offense since 2005. Every opponent has every play we have ever run in a software program that not has them all, but broken down by down and distance situations. We have the same on ourselves in order to do a “Tendency Analysis” and break with the same play routines at particular places on the field.

          Do we add to this vast playbook? Sure. But the few new plays added can be run on every other practice the Ducks have but the one we attend.

          • Bill Wilson

            Maybe the coach is hiding some of that secret talent we have. Maybe he is trying not to push them too hard to fast. Hell, I don’t know but the coach must have a plan. For sure I appreciate everything you are doing for the fans. I have been following you for several years now and in fact I learned a bunch about the zone read from watching your videos. Hope you don’t feel like you got gipped too bad and maybe coach will give you a whole boat load next practice. Go Ducks and thanks for your contributions.


  • Howard the Duck

    I couldn’t agree more. The email I got promoting this claimed it was a “scrimmage ” to begin with.
    I found it somewhat enjoyable to watch though. It was nice to go through and shake hands with the players afterwards.

  • Chris Andres

    Nice to hear from you again Mr. Fischer. Glad to hear you got see the practice, however minute it was. Here’s to another fine year of Duck Football from afar for me.

  • Bill Wilson

    Is there really a need to open our playbook to the world? I am sorry that the media gets the shaft yet again. Hef is getting even with you for using those awful words, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE? Take those 4 words out of the press vocab and it will be mighty quiet in those pressers.

    • Bill, you are not getting it. There are no secret playbooks anymore; every team in the conference has every Oregon play for the last ten years of the Spread Offense organized in software that allows them to know all our plays and how to prepare for them.

      And since most now are Spread Offense teams themselves…they RUN the same plays as we do!

      Our coaches know our plays and the opponents know our plays….and the only ones who don’t understand are the FANS. We are reason they are out there–shouldn’t we learn a little about them too?

      Perhaps this article link will help…..