Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
UO coach Mark Helfrich set a physical tone Monday, the start of Oregon’s second week of spring practice. The first period of the day was 10 minutes of 11-on-11 reps, there were two different full-contact drills later in practice, and the session ended with four snaps of “live” football in which defenders were allowed to tackle to the ground.
The tackling wasn’t always sure, but the defenders finished strong. On the series of plays to close practice, the ones got the first rep, and linebacker Johnny Ragin III broke into the backfield to force a fumble. A.J. Hotchkins stopped a run at the line of scrimmage with the twos, and Darrian Franklin followed in kind with the threes, giving the defense three straight stops in short-yardage situations.
“It felt nice,” said Ragin, who has typically been with the first group at inside linebacker alongside Danny Mattingly this spring. “We got a couple third-down scenarios in. It was nice to get the pads popping a little bit.”
The first full team period most days involves run plays with some play action thrown in to keep the defense honest. It’s usually in the middle of practice after position drills, but today Helfrich made it the very first period, after a weekend off since Friday’s practice.
Jimmie Swain and Ragin stopped run plays in the first series of the first period, and Hotchkins teamed with De’Quan McDowell to bring down running backs on consecutive plays later in the period. In the final sequence of the drill, Ragin wrapped up Royce Freeman for a tackle for loss.
“I feel like we’re bringing it every play,” Ragin said. “We’ve just got to work on running to the ball a little bit, after every play. It’s still early in spring ball, so we’ll get that down as it goes on. But I feel like with the install and everything, we’re playing very aggressive and it’s good.”
On the final play of the opening team period, a tight end dropped a pass just before Fotu Leiato came up from behind and thumped him good. It was a big hit, but not what the coaches want to see.
“Wrap up,” Helfrich yelled out. “That’s a missed tackle.”
In the middle of practice, the Ducks did their special teams “tube” drill, with a returner running in a narrow stretch of field, and a blocker trying to hold off a coverage player. There were a few instances of guys beating the block but then not wrapping up the runner. But there were also some guys who did finish plays in coverage, including Swain, Ragin, McDowell, Franklin, Troy Dye and Eric Briscoe Jr. The latter three are big-framed freshmen who can run, and they showed potential today to be assets on special teams if needed.
Overall, Ragin sounded pleased with the progress so far for the defense under new coordinator Brady Hoke.
“We’re definitely doing some different schematic things,” Ragin said. “But I just feel like we’re more aggressive as a whole.”
Other highlights: Along with the tube drill, the Ducks did their version of an Oklahoma drill, with a ballcarrier trying to get past not one but three levels of one-on-one blocks. Kirk Merritt, Cameron Hunt and Johnny Mundt were all involved in multiple reps that ended with the runner reaching the end zone. McDowell got in on a couple tackles in that drill, too, and converted offensive lineman Elijah George twice came off blocks at the first level, grabbed the runner and hauled him down. …
Late in the day, the offense was put in the position of needing to go 10 yards in two plays. Dakota Prukop and the ones converted on their first two tries, thanks to runs by Freeman and Kani Benoit. Travis Jonsen and the twos also moved the chains on their first rep, a run by Taj Griffin. But the defense followed with a stop against that same group, as T.J. Daniel tipped a pass at the line and Torrodney Prevot hauled it in. With the first group back on the field, Paris Bostick got in on three straight tackles, from his outside linebacker spot. Typically Swain has been there with the ones, followed by Jonah Moi with the twos, but Bostick certainly took advantage of the reps he got in that drill.
In drill work early in the day, Ty Griffin had a nice leaping interception of a Prukop pass. In 7-on-7, Prukop led off with a deep ball on which Charles Nelson made a great leaping catch. Later in that drill, Jonsen found Nelson behind the defense for a long gain, and the next rep was a similar completion to Merritt. New QB coach David Yost said last week the deep ball was an area for Jonsen to work on, so those completions were a welcome sight.
Other observations: Dwayne Benjamin, who recently completed his senior season with the men’s basketball team, participated in practice today. Playing receiver and wearing No. 80, Benjamin participated in position drills but largely watched team periods, with guys like Dwayne Stanford and GA Matt Noyer in his ear helping him recognize plays. Benjamin made a nice adjustment on a deep ball in one early period, when he was expecting it to his inside shoulder but the ball ended up at his outside shoulder. He struggled to hold the point of attack in the Oklahoma drill, getting pushed back a couple times by defensive backs; switching to football obviously will require an adjustment period, so it will be fun to track Benjamin’s progress the next few weeks. …
Redshirt freshman Shane Lemieux practiced up with the first unit at left guard in some team situations today. Jake Pisarick, Evan Voeller and Doug Brenner figured to battle for time at the two guard spots come fall, but perhaps Lemieux can play himself into the conversation as well. … With the newer quarterbacks continuing to get reps, veterans Taylor Alie and Jeff Lockie jumped in to run some receiver routes today. Alie has done so at times in the past as well; at one point today somebody missed the memo about needing to line up in the slot, so Alie raced off the sideline in order to facilitate getting the play snapped. The play ended up being a screen to his side of the field, and he managed to put a solid block on a defensive back.