Football Practice Report: March 30 –

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By Rob Moseley
Photo: Andy McNamara

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Helmets only

After starting center Matt Hegarty was injured, and Oregon was struggling to snap the ball in the second half of January’s Alamo Bowl, Jake Hanson could only watch and agonize for his teammates.

The freshman spent much of last season snapping with the second unit on offense. But he was held out as a redshirt, and knew the coaching staff wouldn’t burn that designation for half of one game. This offseason, however, with Hegarty having graduated, Hanson is looking to make his mark.

“I took the mentality that I have a serious chance to win a starting job, so I have to work like I’m a starter,” said Hanson, typically the first center in the rotation for the first two days of spring practice this week. “So I was working hard in the weight room, with my technique, picking up cues of the offense, trying to keep fresh with that. Just getting stronger and better.”

Position coach Steve Greatwood tends to mix and match extensively in spring camp. With Cameron Hunt sitting out full-speed drills the last two days, the first group on the field generally has been Hanson at center with tackle Tyrell Crosby and guard Doug Brenner to his left, and tackle Evan Voeller with guard Jake Pisarcik to his right.

But Pisarcik, Brenner, Hunt and redshirt freshman Zach Okun have snapped in drills as well. Greatwood said he hopes to identify a general pecking order this spring, and so far Hanson seems to be holding up well among the centers.

“I see him growing into that role very well now, and being a leader,” Greatwood said. “He’s a leader by the way he prepares and the way he works right now. I think the kids, old and young, trust him.”

Hanson was moved to center in preseason camp last fall because of his potential for reading defensive fronts and getting the offensive line adjusted. He had never snapped before, and his initial efforts were “very iffy,” he recalled Wednesday. But it only took a few days for Hanson to clean that up, and now he feels “pretty solid” getting the ball back to the quarterbacks.

Greatwood said he only tracked one errant snap by any of the centers in Tuesday’s practice, and they seemed clean Wednesday as well. Greatwood said, too, that Hanson – relatively soft-spoken in interviews – hasn’t been afraid to raise his voice on the field this week.

“He did it a few times out there today, which made me happy,” Greatwood said. “He’s competitive. He wants to do well. So you’ve got to appreciate that.”

Hanson’s classmate Okun also has impressed their position coach this week. His conditioning has improved, Greatwood said, “and he looks like the kids we recruited out of high school.”

So the competition for the starting job at center remains a battle, and could be all the way into preseason camp come August. But so far this week, Hanson seems to be off to a solid start.

“Identifying better, communicating better with my fellow offensive linemen – that’s where I lacked the most last season,” Hanson said. “So I’m just trying to build upon that, get better and hopefully win a starting job.”

Highlights: After some first-day jitters Tuesday, quarterback Dakota Prukop seemed more efficient today at what new QB coach David Yost terms “finding completions.” Prukop worked the ball to Taylor Stinson, Charles Nelson and Johnny Mundt to drive the field with the offense in the opening tempo drill. During a 7-on-7 period later on it was more of the same – seeing the field, reading the defense and hitting open receivers. … That said, there were a couple times defenders made plays when Prukop tried to thread passes into tight windows. In the first full 11-on-11 period, Kirk Merritt couldn’t secure the ball as it arrived, and Arrion Springs won the fight for possession. There was a similar play later on, a pass to Royce Freeman that was a bit high, allowing Ty Griffin to get in on the play and ultimately win a wrestling match for possession. …

Freshman Terry Wilson had a couple eye-opening moments during a 3-on-2 drill, which forces quarterbacks to read coverages and get the ball out quickly. Wilson probably made the best read by any quarterback in the drill to find Casey Eugenio streaking up the field. Moments later, he split two defenders by threading a ball into a receiver between them. … Wilson also was picked off a couple times too, however. In 7-on-7, Khalil Oliver appeared to bait him by hanging off the shoulder of a receiver, then cutting in front for the turnover. In a late 11-on-11 period, Springs came up with another interception, also of Wilson. …

The Ducks will put pads on for the first time Friday, the next practice on the schedule. Still, they’re doing plenty of work in the run game already. Travis Jonsen broke free for a long gain late in practice, and Freeman had several highlights. Defensively, redshirt freshman tackle Gary Baker bottled up Freeman at the line on one rep, and Chris Seisay came up from the secondary to make a tackle for loss in the same period. A.J. Hotchkins had a tackle in the backfield during a later 11-on-11 period.

Other observations: Redshirt freshman Dylan Kane, previously a defensive back, worked out at receiver this morning. … The Ducks added two players today who participated in a walk-on tryout earlier this week – offensive lineman Charlie Landgraf, who attended Jesuit High in Portland, and receiver Kyle Buckner. … When the punt team was on the field, the guys fielding punts were Charles Nelson, Malik Lovette, Dillon Mitchell, Kirk Merritt and Casey Eugenio. … Afterward Mark Helfrich lined up the team for extra conditioning, then offered the chance for a player to make a field goal and get his teammates off the hook. Safe to say Jonah Moi and Rex Manu won’t be the Ducks’ emergency kicker this season, but Darren Carrington put one through the uprights, to the team’s great relief.