Football Practice Report: April 11 –

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By Rob Moseley
Photo: Andy McNamara

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads

Friday’s scrimmage allowed the new-look UO defense to show off what players are calling a more aggressive style, yielding a bunch of sacks and pressures that helped limit the offense to one touchdown until very late in the scrimmage.

While it was an encouraging day for the defense, it probably wasn’t as much fun for the offensive line. That group is trying to jell without three 2015 starters, while also contending with what one young offensive lineman Friday called “a lot of crazy stuff” from the rebuilt defense.

On Monday, offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said the scrimmage yielded “a lot of rough edges” to be smoothed out over the remainder of this month, and the rest of the offseason.

“In the case of last Friday it was one step forward, two steps back a lot of times,” Greatwood said. “It’s all good, because the defense is throwing a lot at us. It’s not just lining up and blocking X’s on a piece of paper. Now we’ve got to be able to adjust and see, and it’s going to make us better in the long run. But it can be frustrating right now.”

This would be a challenging month for the offensive line even without all the new looks it’s seeing from the defense. Junior Tyrell Crosby is working at the left tackle spot vacated by Tyler Johnstone, after starting on the right side the last two years. Redshirt freshman Jake Hanson is a leading candidate to replace Matt Hegarty at center, and Shane Lemieux spent last week in the left guard spot where Matt Pierson was the starter last season.

Lemieux said he’s making sure to get the seat next to Crosby’s in meetings, too, to learn from the Ducks’ standout tackle. For his part, Crosby said helping bring Lemieux up to speed can help his own development.

“He’s new, and I have to help him a little bit,” Crosby said. “But that helps me, because it makes me recognize stuff also.”

That demonstration of leadership is a welcome sign. Greatwood said this year’s group is athletically ahead of last year’s, which also had to replace three starters in the spring. But with Johnstone returning from an injury and Hegarty on board as a graduate transfer, the newcomers last year were a mature group of veterans not afraid to raise their voices. This year’s group is still finding its way, including Crosby.

“You don’t have to be a rah-rah guy,” Greatwood said. “But I need a guy that’s going to be a decision-maker out there. Be confident in what he sees and get everybody on the same page.”

The line will benefit from the return to full participation of Cameron Hunt, who was limited as spring practice opened earlier this month. And the Ducks anticipate the addition of Zac Morgan, a graduate transfer from Dayton with the potential to have the kind of impact Hegarty did last season.

For now, though, Greatwood is trying to get the current group up to speed – and soon.

“My patience level for mistakes we were making week one,” he said, “isn’t nearly as good as it was week one.”

Highlights: The opening tempo drill was highlighted by a couple long Tony Brooks-James runs with the second unit. He had a long touchdown run in the final team period as well to bookend his day. After practice, UO coach Mark Helfrich noted that, as the Ducks transition into the second half of spring drills, they’re getting past the installation phase and should be able to cut it loose a little more. “This is where we start to accelerate,” Helfrich told the team. The head coach cited Brooks-James and also Arrion Springs as guys who showed Monday like they’re turning that corner. “What was Tony Brooks-James doing?” Helfrich asked rhetorically. “Playing full-speed.” Brooks-James said afterward it helped to be playing at his natural position, running back, rather than in the slot, where he’s been taking reps this month. …

The most entertaining period of the day was probably a 7-on-7 period in which the offense was tasked with driving the field, rather than running plays from the same spot. Dakota Prukop connected with Dillon Mitchell to move the chains on a third down, but on the next third-down attempt Springs stopped Kirk Merritt short of the marker. Travis Jonsen then took the field and completed four straight attempts, the last a nice leaping grab in traffic by Dylan Kane inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Jonsen hit Kani Benoit for the touchdown. Given the chance to respond, Prukop answered in kind by completing 9-of-10 attempts, the last a short touchdown pass to Casey Eugenio. …

In an early position drill, Ugo Amadi broke up a pass, with the ball caroming into the air and off his helmet before being intercepted by Mattrell McGraw. A few minutes later, the horn went off to signal a transition between drills, but players were lined up for one last snap of 7-on-7. “This is for the championship right here, gotta stop ‘em!” assistant coach John Neal said. Amadi stepped up again to break up a pass, this time with linebacker De’Quan McDowell swooping in to complete the interception just before the ball fluttered to the turf.

Other observations: Before the snap on what ended up being his touchdown pass to Benoit in 7-on-7, Jonsen had to pause and tell a receiver to back off the line, so as not to make a tight end ineligible. That’s a small thing, but it demonstrated Jonsen’s awareness; Friday’s scrimmage featured a touchdown pass taken off the board because of an illegal formation. … Kane, a converted safety, was the receiver in question. Monday was his sixth practice since moving over from defense, and he definitely jumped out more today than any other practice the last two weeks. Presumably he’s starting to get his feet under him in the new role. … The captains in the middle of the Ducks’ stretch lines before each practice are Jeff Lockie, Hunt, Torrodney Prevot and T.J. Daniel.