Oregon Spring Game: “The Defense Is BETTER”

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

The offense scored points only through extraordinary efforts, the defense made a bunch of stops and was a ton better and both sides showed us energy that has been needed for a long time in our beloved Ducks. The world in Eugene is right again.

I was delighted with so much of what I saw, but it was pretty incomplete, as so many of the blitzes I noted in the Eugene and Portland open practices, as well as quite a bit more of the offensive playbook was absent in this Oregon Spring Football game. Talk about vanilla? Our packages and play selection defined it!

A Time of Bluebirds, or Boo-Birds?

Springtime in Oregon is pretty incredible with all the blooms and blossoms being accented on such a beautiful day in the mid-60s at Autzen Stadium. During a time of brightly colored birds returning — we hear the usual Boo-Birds who like to deprecate Spring football, insisting that nothing can be learned or surmised from what we witness. You have read them on the message boards this last week, as the wounds of a recent 4-8 season bring those howls out that much quicker.

Away games can be difficult wearing these shoes because if they click their heels? The player disappears and reappears in Eugene!

They are full of … baloney.

Heck, some of the interviews on the Pac-12 Network telecast were enlightening as to the differences from a year ago, let alone the play on the field. I am tiring of uniforms in every damn hue but our official school colors, but I did really like the shoes on our warriors. They were pretty cool to me …

More Learning on Offense…

In some respects it felt like more learning was taking place on offense with new passing routes/patterns and blocking schemes. I am going to save much of my observations for the analysis on Tuesday this week, and Coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum will have some expert commentary tomorrow morning for you. But there is one thing that has bugged me about rookie quarterbacks, and they all have to go through the learning curve — even Saint Marcus.

Plenty of time for the receivers to get open; don’t run!

Both Travis Jonsen and Braxton Burmeister are prone to taking off from the pocket before the need actually occurs. Note how the QB, to the left, has tons of time to set, lets his blockers do their job and keeps his eyes downfield, yet at this moment he is tucking the ball to take off running and gains all of three yards. (Not worth the hit in a real game.) He will move the team better with a longer pass, and that patience for an extra second is available with the right footwork and pocket presence.

But then — they would no longer be newbies if they could do that. I must be patient, but it is something I’ve noticed over umpteen spring and fall practices over the last 30+ years.

Justin Herbert looks so more experienced than his sophomore status would imply, and I like how we clearly had more pocket passing plays and more roll-out bootleg passes that fit his style than what the other QBs played. It seemed with Jonsen and Burmeister the RPOs or “Run-Pass-Options” were more evident for them to utilize their fleetness of foot. More Zone Reads, and Quarterback Power plays (we’ll cover in another article) were used when the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks were running the offense. I like how the plays were called to fit the personnel, and not the other way around.

BIG Improvements on Defense — Wow!

Three beaten blocks on one play!

I liked a lot of what I saw on defense in attendance and watching again on TV; yes, I know that Herbert threw for a ton of yardage and TDs, but everyone expects a bit of that. But the real questions most fans had, dealt with the defense since their performance will determine how far our beloved Ducks will fly in 2017. I noted great technique in defeating blocks and better pursuit angles taken by linebackers.

The screenshot above illustrates this well; note how the running back (dotted yellow line/arrow) does not have the opportunity to bounce outside due to Hunter Kampmoyer (the lower right red arrow) containing the perimeter that direction. The RB can’t bounce to the left as you see the lower red arrow of A.J. Hotchkins has that outside containment, and the upper right red arrow on Gary Baker shows that he has beaten his block and has the inside gap taken. As you might imagine — this play was buried, and watching the technique used to beat the blocks was exciting. (Grizzled Ol’ Coach will explain all of that later.)

The ball is ripped milliseconds after it is caught. Great timing and technique!

I really liked how you rarely saw receivers wide open and how most passes were fiercely contested by the defensive backs. Whether it was a big hit by Arrion Springs on Tony Brooks-James, or a perfect upward strip technique by freshman Thomas Graham to break up a catch by Malik Lovette — you saw tough competition and a snarly attitude coming at the receivers.

Even the linebackers got into it as Blake Rugaff (left) broke up a pass to the Tight End that looked like a sure first down … and since it was third down? It forced a punt!

Do we have a long ways to go? Sure, but this was a mandatory step to be taken in improvement in order to show in the “wins” column later this fall.

In my opinion, the defense accomplished some massive first steps this spring to bring pride, toughness and technique to a squad that, I believe, has a ton of upside to it. I saw players making defensive plays yesterday whose names were absent most of the last football season, and again — we’ll cover that more in-depth later.

It was important to convey to those who could not see it, that the re-shaping of our defense that you hoped for is happening, and between the new energy, new talent and new techniques, I see the potential emergence of a unit that can help Oregon be a contender for the Pac-12 Championship this fall. (There … I wrote it!)

“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo from Pac-12 Network Video

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