Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
Several members of Oregon’s national champion track and field program were on hand for Friday’s football practice, many in different roles than they were at the end of the 2015 season.
Junior sprinter Charles Nelson is focusing on offense this spring, after moving to safety at midseason last fall. Javelin thrower Jhet Janis has moved the other way, from receiver to safety. And then there’s hurdler and receiver Devon Allen, who attended spring practice for the first time Friday, mostly watching from the sidelines.
Allen, the 2014 USA Outdoor champion in the 110 hurdles and recently crowned NCAA Indoor champion in the 60 hurdles, will be limited all spring as he tries to help the Oregon men’s track and field team repeat as NCAA Outdoor champions. And his goals on the track extend to the international stage.
“I’m going to focus mostly on track for this term,” said Allen, who caught seven touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2014, and was limited to nine receptions in 2015 while recovering from knee surgery. “We’ve got the Olympics coming up, and I want to do what I can to put myself in the best position for that.”
Allen said his class schedule will keep him from attending football practices on Mondays and Wednesdays for the remainder of spring drills. But he’s attending meetings, and watching practice film each day.
“I’m pretty seasoned,” he said. “There’s some new stuff that’s getting thrown in there, so I’m learning that. But everything else is a refresher, so I feel pretty good about the offense.”
Allen plans to run next at the Pepsi Invitational, on April 9 at Hayward Field against fellow NCAA Outdoor team title contender USC along with Washington and Penn State. Also entered in that meet are Janis in the javelin, and running back Tony Brooks-James and receiver Kirk Merritt in the sprints. USC’s contingent will include two-way football star Adoree Jackson.
Absent from that list, at least for the time being, is Nelson. He ran track during the recent indoor season but for now is concentrating on football – and on the offensive side of the ball.
“Coach Lubick told me to focus on offense, go outside (to receiver),do all the other things,” Nelson said of his winter regimen. “Just start trying to remember the plays on offense. So that’s what I’ve been doing.”
That said, secondary coach John Neal and defensive coordinator Brady Hoke continue to needle Nelson about what an asset he could be at safety. It’s all in good fun for now – but Nelson is maintaining an open mind in case those jokes become reality.
“I have to,” he said. “That’s what happened last year, so if it happens this year I’ll be more ready for it.”
Highlights: The pads were on for the first time, and as usual the intensity ratcheted up a notch. During the first team period, Evan Baylis was wrapped up by a defender, then had another come in and pop the ball loose just at – or after – the whistle. That got everybody’s blood flowing, and on the next play Henry Mondeaux broke through the line to tackle J.J. Jones for a loss. In that same period, Dillon Mitchell couldn’t hang onto a pass and De’Quan McDowell picked it off. On the same series, McDowell came up and stopped a run play at the line, a nice sequence for a guy typically practicing with the second group at inside linebacker. …
The last team period of the day was in the red zone, and the defense generally held up well. Jimmie Swain flushed Dakota Prukop on the opening series, a defensive stop. Travis Jonsen connected with Mitchell to move the ball with the twos, but again the defense kept points off the board. Finally, Terry Wilson put the ball in the end zone, on a catch-and-run by Kani Benoit. Prukop wanted to respond in kind, clapping his hands yelling, “Ones, let’s go!” It took a couple plays, but eventually Royce Freeman fought his way into the end zone despite being met at the goal line by Eric Briscoe Jr. and Fotu Leiato II. …
The McDowell interception wasn’t the only turnover on a tipped ball today. In 7-on-7, Baylis bobbled a pass that Arrion Springs intercepted. He raced up the sideline the other way, but Prukop caught him about 10 yards short of the end zone. In the same period, a pass deflected off Johnny Mundt and Malik Lovette hauled it in; again Prukop pursued the play, and might have saved a touchdown. Jonsen had a ball tipped at the line by A.J. Hotchkins that T.J. Daniel caught, and Tyree Robinson picked off a Wilson pass that a tight end couldn’t handle. “We’ve got great energy,” head coach Mark Helfrich told the Ducks afterward. “Now we’ve got to fine-tune things.”
Other observations: Gary Baker got some reps with the first defense at tackle with Austin Maloata over the course of the morning. … Among the program alumni on hand this morning were Samie Parker, Terrance Mitchell, Hroniss Grasu, Jake Fisher, Jordan Holmes and recent grads DeForest Buckner and Tyler Johnstone. … Defensive backs Austin Daich and Tyler Reid, who both initially joined the team after attending walk-on tryouts, have taken retirements. …
Today’s playlist was a departure from the usual mix of Drake, Drake and then a little Drake mixed in. There was Eighties rock (Joan Jett, RATT, Rush),and Nineties club music (“What Is Love”, “Rhythm Is A Dancer”). At least some of the credit, or blame if you prefer, apparently goes to Matt Lubick. “We’re changing the culture around here,” he joked aftward.