Mark Helfrich gave the Oregon Ducks the day off today after a productive full-pads practice on Thursday afternoon following a morning walk-through.
Getting some air time: B.J. Kelley skies for the football, photographed at practice during his freshman year before the 2012 Rose Bowl win. Receivers coach Matt Lubick has some tough decisions ahead of him in the next two weeks, settling on a rotation among a dozen fast, talented candidates (Alex McDougall, Oregon Daily Emerald photo).
New Sports Illustrated Cover Boy Marcus Mariota was especially sharp in 7-on-7. Rob Moseley of goducks.com reported that Chance Allen and Blake Stanton made a pair of athletic receptions to help him. Moseley says Allen, a tall, smooth redshirt freshman from Missouri City, Texas, has stood out in the last several days. The 6-2, 195-lb. wideout had a 20-yard touchdown catch in the spring game, a beautiful double move on a Z-out route, with a perfect toss by Jake Rodrigues.
Interviewed after practice by Duck Sports Authority’s A.J. Jacobson, Lubick says he’s excited by the progress of the receivers after 11 days of fall camp. He praised Josh Huff for his leadership. “He plays every rep. He’s always been a passionate player but I think his hunger is one more notch higher going into his senior year, knowing that we’re depending on him.”
Asked about newcomers Darren Carrington and Devon Allen, Lubick said they’re both competing hard for early playing time. The two have a ton of ability but they’re still getting used to the system. “When you’re thinking about everything it’s hard to play fast,” Lubick said, “But when they know what’s going on it’s exciting to watch them play.”
“They’re getting as many reps as the ones and twos, which is the beauty of how we run practice.” “They’re both competing for a chance to play.”
All through the roster, the blistering pace of an Oregon practice pays huge dividends. Conditioning takes place on the fly, so there’s rarely a need for the extra period of wind sprints that ends drills on most teams. Young players get invaluable extra reps. The pace becomes second nature, allowing the Ducks to execute with poise on game day. Players get used to thinking fast, adjusting quickly, processing information under pressure.
Another added benefit is that if Oregon ever trailed in a game, the tempo ensures that they are never out of it. This is an offense accustomed to scoring in two minutes or less. In 2011, the Ducks trailed USC 38-20 with 3:13 to go in the third quarter, and had a chance to win at the end. They put together scoring drives of 2:16 amd 1:27 in the fourth quarter, added a two-point conversion, and drove down to the USC 18 on the last possession. The urgency to score quickly in a pressure situation is something the Ducks have become adept at, every time they have the ball, in practice or on Saturdays.
There is also a duel among the field goal kickers. Each day includes some pressure kicks and another opportunity for Matt Wogan and Alejandro Maldonado to show their progress. In his post-practice interview, Helfrich revealed Wogan nailed one from 51-52 yards earlier this week. His added range could be a huge weapon for the Oregon offense, allowing them to get points out of a drive any time they reach the opponent’s 35. Especially important at those times with just a few seconds left in the half or at the end of the game.
Helfrich conceded the possiblity of using both kickers. “That’s not something we would eliminate. That’s a possibility,” Helfrich said. “Don’t have a preference. The guy to make the field goal, that would be the preference.”
Wogan’s ability to blast kickoffs through the end zone is a huge weapon for the defense. Helfrich loves touchbacks, the idea of starting opponents on the 25 versus the aggressive and opportunistic Duck defense. “If you can get a touchback we’ll take that every time,” Helfrich said, “Line it up and we’ll put all our chips in.”
Eliminating the possibility of a big return and advantageous field position is defensive gold, especially when Nick Aliotti’s unit pressures and pursues so well.
Byron Marshall continues to get love as he bids to stabilize the Ducks running back rotation. The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif featured him in a story yesterday. Boseko Lokombo said Marshall was the hardest to tackle among the Webfoot tailbacks, a hard, physical runner.
Gary Campbell noted that Smash is playing with increased confidence and shows good hands out of the backfield, which also paves his way for an expanded role. “I could see him moving out and running out of some of the same sets that we put in for De’Anthony,” Campbell said. “In fact, (offensive coordinator Scott) Frost has mentioned that he’s as good as the wide receivers in terms of running the routes and catching the ball.”
Marshall’s eager for the challenge. “I want to make plays,” he told Greif, “but I really like to win.”
Marcus Mariota’s getting the expected amount of grief from his teammates over the SI cover shot. “I haven’t been call anything else but ‘Cover Boy’ since then,” he said. He’s an athlete that doesn’t seek the limelight but takes it in good humor, a very healthy attitude in a player who’s going to continue to get a lot of it.
It will build his teammates’ respect and appreciation of him as he continues to handle it that way. The Ducks are blessed to have stars like Mariota and Thomas who unfailingly share credit.