We really have no idea what to expect from a Mario Cristobal-led Oregon team, as we certainly hope the Las Vegas Bowl was not an accurate indication of the future. Hence this spring has as many questions for me about the coaches as it does about the players. Below I consolidate eye-witness reactions to the Spring Scrimmage at Portland’s Franklin High School from other fans and our friends at Duck Territory and ScoopDuck, and I invite your feedback as to any early indications or conclusions.
Please note; I was planning to attend, but upon hearing of an impending downpour (no problem with my poncho arrangement) and then winds with gusts up to 50 mph forecasted–I stayed home. I assumed that in windy conditions–scrimmages don’t go well, but this one did not have the dire weather that was anticipated after all. I can’t help it … I’m an old wimp who did not want to drive four hours and take the chance of seeing bad football.
The defensive backfield is going to remain a work in progress, as our cornerbacks are not going to remind anyone of Molden-Wheaton anytime soon. I do love how Defensive Coordinator Jim Leavitt is already showing how aggressive he is going to be with safety blitzes, as Brady Breeze, Mattrell McGraw and Ugochukwu Amadi all recorded sacks. I am not sure I can ever recall three sacks by safeties before in a football scrimmage, so this was one note I made from the multiple reports to remember and watch for in the future.
I love what I’m hearing with the development at linebacker, in particular inside linebacker, as the depth of real talent is beginning to show. QB11 at ScoopDuck mentioned that OLB La’Mar Winston is looking bigger, and Justin Hollins is looking stronger this spring already. Many of the fans and site moderators commented on the emergence of linebackers Keith Simms, along with Isaac Slade-Matautia, who is showing great speed and play recognition. Very exciting to see more depth and talent at linebacker compared to the thin green line of the past.
One of the best surprises reported from Portland was the quality depth surfacing on the defensive line. Gary Baker played well at the 5-Tech defensive end spot opposite Jalen Jelks, and those two, alongside Jordon Scott, were quite stout inside against the No. 2 offense. Hearing that Bryson Young and Popo Aumavae showed well, as did new transfer DJ Johnson, makes us all exhale a bit when reflecting on the future of the D-Line.
The biggest factor in the improvement of the defense is one I completely forgot about and was brought up by a player who is a junior, when he pointed out that he’s had three defensive coordinators in three years (Pellum, Hoke, and Leavitt), and having the same coordinator for a second year is naturally going to make them all better. It was one of those “duh” moments for me in how obvious it was, and yet indeed have already begun seeing the benefits. I am really looking forward to the next step up for our Duck Defense!
On Offense: My Fears and Hopes Confirmed…
With Cristobal, we really don’t know if what he has said will actually materialize, and one fear I had did emerge with the scrimmage. As you know–I am in favor of running the Zone Read where the running lane for the QB is in the open field, down the backside of the defense, is and rarely actually used as a weapon (just enough to keep the defense honest). What I oppose, philosophically, is running the quarterback between the tackles, as the potential for injury increases dramatically.
This video above was provided by FishDuck.com writer, Oregon football historian, and professional writer Brian Libby, who was at the scrimmage and shared this with us. My friends … that play above is a Quarterback Power, that is run between the tackles and is the play that Taylor Alie was injured on in the Cal game this last fall.
I do not feel that having the threat of the QB run is justified enough by threat of injury to Oregon’s most important player. Multiple reports indicated that the back-ups are simply not ready to win games yet in place of Herbert, so I hope the offense adjusts to account for that!
The reports of the passing by Justin Herbert referred to almost stunning efficiency, without the benefit of throwing to a Bryon Marshall or a Dwayne Stanford–who always got open in the past for our beloved Ducks. Instead Herbert was throwing into very small windows at this scrimmage, in the rain, but did so impressively.
This touchdown pass above by Herbert to Brenden Schooler is amazing (thanks to Brian Libby again!) and it was exciting to see such passing skill and the surprising improvement by a now veteran receiver. This was one of two touchdowns caught by Schooler, thus his confidence along with his body were strengthened in the off-season.
The biggest takeaway for me was Coach Cristobal aggressively throwing the ball downfield. With his statements about the trenches and the running game–I was worried about Oregon not utilizing one of the best Pro-Style QBs in the country. That worry has largely been squelched, and I am quite jubilant about it. Oregon is going to have a balanced offense!
Yet in the morning Eugene Register-Guard, it was reported that star linebacker Troy Dye told the media that,
“I see a big change. We’re a lot more physical, we’re a lot more demanding of being physical…”
So the changes in the trenches have taken place and the players are noting it! When I consider the improvements at receiver and the defense overall, the depth growing at defensive line and linebacker, the aggressive passing attack and toughness in the trenches becoming evident, it would appear that the Cristobal changes are occurring right before our eyes. Whoa Doggies I can’t wait for the Spring Game!
“Oh how we love to learn about our spring Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Top Photo from Brian Libby Video