Oregon Football Practice Notes: The Fish Reports Are Back!

Today was very special to me, as it was the first true open spring practice that felt like what we experienced years ago. The traditional parts of spring practice kept popping up to remind me of – “remember this?” I look up to see the osprey bringing food to the nest on top of one of the lighting poles and hear the blare of music during drills as in the past. Yep … it felt good to know that I would be able to write a “Fish Report” again, as I did for so many years in what now seems the distant past. (Here is the last spring Fish Report before this site began!)

But how could it feel so … weird?

Believe me – it felt great to be at a practice where you sensed the openness and sharing of the team with us, the fans –  unlike the atmosphere of secrecy in the recent past. Yet there is still an odd feel to it, and it is unavoidable; none of the coaches are familiar faces. I don’t know these guys and while they had smiles on their faces and were coaching wonderfully – it just felt strange. To walk over to the offensive line and – no Steve Greatwood?

It is part of change and adaptation that we’ll get over, and it is understandable that it does feel weird since Oregon has not had a complete change of coaching staff since 1977. It is a feeling that will decline, but I will not deny the reality of it.

I’m sloppy, not the players

My writing form for this first Fish Report in a very long time will not be in a crafted writing format, as what we ask of our writers; it will be more herky-jerky and bullet points. Why? Because so many thoughts are just random impressions and personal insights that do not have enough information to create more reasoning, explanation or analysis. Overall … I thought this was a pretty darn good first practice in pads, and  coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum (who will be writing a Coach’s Opinion article tomorrow) thought so as well.

Of course, the writing might be blamed on freezing in the downpour of rain, or the pelting of hail between the sun and warmth being present. Yep, typical spring weather in Oregon!

FishDuck.com was correct in our projections

Gary Breedlove

Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt wants another Pepsi.

Many of the plays outlined here were being practiced and used in the semi-scrimmage today, such as the Jet Sweep Series and the upcoming analysis of the Toss Read, to be presented by coach Eric Boles on Tuesday. What we spoke of concerning Oregon utilizing elements of the Colorado defense in our recent analyses were on display today as well, and even coach Ruskin commented how …

“[T]his is like watching the South Florida offense play the Colorado defense!”

Defensive tidbits to ponder …

The photographer for FishDuck.com, Gary Breedlove, could attest to the “wired” behavior of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, as Gary tried to keep up with him to take some important pictures for our archive. Leavitt would sprint sideline to sideline, and then from one practice field to the other! The Ducks DC did not like how fast the defensive squads would take the field, and he would send them back to do it again and faster!

Coach Joe Salave’a was a wild man and passionate for his defensive line group. Heck he was yelling and waving his arms – while his players were just stretching! There is palpable energy on this defensive team.

I love how true freshman corner Thomas Graham stayed stride-for-stride down the sideline with Darren Carrington and knocked away a long bomb from the star receiver. The newbie was not intimidated by the moment, as both he and freshman nose tackle Jordon Scott were on the first team at the start of practice. Scott has a nice push at the line of scrimmage, and while he has some major body sculpting to do – the raw talent is evident. I am not sure how long these freshmen will remain as starters, but it is clear that Leavitt is firing a warning shot across the bow to the veterans on the Ducks “D.”

Other defensive impressions?

  • The defensive backs seem to be more physical in fighting off blocks and scrambling to make the extra effort to rip the ball away as receptions are being hauled in.
  • I sensed confidence from the defense … like they are confident in their assignments and what they are doing. Obviously it spilled over into their aggressiveness, as well.
  • Jonah Moi made a great pick and run-back, but boy he is bigger and has a studly swagger to him. This new defensive confidence is spilling over into the actions of the players.

Is the offense THIS good?

Normally it is routine for the defense to run roughshod over the offense in the early days of spring. The most extreme example was the spring of Akili Smith’s senior year where that offense was stuffed until the very end of that first scrimmage/practice. Yet I thought the offense today had to make outstanding plays to create yardage against this defense, and that is what they did with the new Willie Taggart Oregon offense.

Gary Breedlove

Coach Joe Salave’a at Practice.

It is really a filthy tactic to put Charles Nelson in the slot with the entire field to work with; how can a defensive back recover in time from his cuts? On one play he jutted his body inside enough to make the DB commit, and then Nelson planted the foot and exploded outside to run a flag or corner route. Justin Herbert had a beautiful long-ball spiral waiting for him just before the goal line as Sir Charles easily caught it and cruised in for the score.

It was done so quickly and effortlessly that it got me to thinking about our passing game in the new offense. Regardless of the quarterback – I believe passing the ball will be easier due to the multiple threats that coach “T” has lined up in every play. Truly, Oregon is attacking five areas at once on many plays and we will explain that in future analyses. The bottom line is multiple run threats open up play-action passes, and mistakes by defenders (a simple slip is six points) will make it easier.

Of course, the threat of the battering ram of Royce Freeman commands the attention of any defense, and he made the players in green regret any gaps left open on the playside or from slashing to the backside.

Interesting wrinkles for us to study …

Coach Taggart has taken the traditional Inside Zone Read components from the Chip Kelly/Mark Helfrich offense and added his version of a Power-Running game from the Spread, while reading defenders on nearly every play and attacking multiple places on the defense on every snap! I can see how it will be a hard to stop this offense – especially if we are running as quickly as the South Florida Bulls did last season.

It was interesting to watch the quarterbacks actually practice throwing on the run in a roll-out or bootleg; it is clear that a mobile QB is essential in this offense even for the passing game! This aerial attack hit all sectors on the field as I saw screens, bubbles, intermediate post routes and then the aforementioned deep flag route. This could come from the pocket, from roll-outs, or from play-actions! (Keep in mind that I witnessed all of this in the first day of pads!)

There’s no place like home …

Gary Breedlove

Coach Mario Cristobal

Geez … it was so noticeable how comfortable Malik Lovette looked at receiver again. His routes looked polished, his acceleration creates gaps immediately, and he cuts on a dime. I was happy for him not just because of the superb plays he was making, but because it seemed he was happy being back as a receiver. He also had some carries as a running back on the Jet Sweep Series we referred to above. Great talent shows us early, and he is on the pleasant surprise path for us fans.

It had to be of great comfort for the offensive linemen to continue the zone-blocking they were accustomed to from the past. I noted several drills where they practiced the double-team and then one peels off to block the linebacker. Coach Ruskin commented of how he liked the style of coach Mario Cristobal, and this group of sophomores had a very good day today in alternating forms of weather to contend with.

My friends – I am not supposed to go over 1,000 words, but I flew by that some time ago, as I cannot help but share my excitement and love of our beloved Ducks with my friends on this site. Do look for some killer articles this week, as we will have three articles by coaches this week in addition to a player talent evaluation article, and as always – some tasty recruiting news!

Next Sunday you will get my impressions of the open practice in Portland followed by another Coach’s Opinion article about Oregon Football on Monday like this week.

It is spring … with blossoms and hail, with sunshine and ospreys, and with an incredible open Oregon football practice; all is right with the world again.

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo by Gary Breedlove

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