September 5, 2017
Venue: Siuslaw High School
Format: Full pads
After a bus ride of a little over an hour to the Oregon Coast on Tuesday morning, the Ducks filed into the grandstand of Siuslaw High’s football field and strapped on their pads for practice.
Following pre-practice stretch, UO coach Willie Taggart looked to spark the team as it practiced for the first time since opening the season with a 77-21 victory over Southern Utah. He called for a “bull-in-the-ring” drill, with an offensive player and a defensive player essentially sumo wrestling amid a circle of teammates.
The first rep was a hotly contested battle, but the energy from the rest of the team was lacking. Taggart likes juice. The Ducks, as practice began Tuesday, weren’t demonstrating any.
“I know we’re in a different place,” he told the team after stopping the drill with a shrill tweet of his whistle. “But it’s not gonna change who we are or what we do. Understand that.”
The next two players in the ring were true freshmen: receiver Johnny Johnson III and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir. They stood each other up, pushing and pulling for an advantage, driving each other out of the circle and continuing to battle. It was hard to tell who “won,” but Taggart’s directive had been followed — the rest of the team jumped and shouted encouragement to Johnson and Lenior, and again on the final rep when Matt Mariota gained an advantage over Isaac Slade-Matautia.
Hazardous air quality in Eugene, owing to forest fires around the state, spurred the change of venue for Tuesday’s practice. Originally, UO staff had considered going north to Corvallis to escape the smoky air, but they changed their minds after consulting with a representative from Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA).
“He thought it was pretty dicey to go north,” said Dr. Greg Skaggs, the athletic department’s director of athletic medicine. “The coast is reliable, because the smoke hits the marine later and goes over it. So you’re much safer over here.”
Conditions Tuesday ended up being suitable for Oregon State to practice as scheduled in Corvallis. But by that time, Oregon officials had already made the decision to head west.
Director of football operations Sharrod Everett made a scouting trip to Florence on Monday afternoon. He toured the field, which hosted Siuslaw’s opener last Friday, with Vikings coach Jamin Pool and athletic director Chris Johnson.
On the drive back to Eugene, Everett called Taggart and recommended the Ducks practice Tuesday in Florence. Then he called and reserved lifts for the Ducks’ video crew, and a generator for the equipment staff.
Equipment, video, athletic medicine and sports science staffers drove to Florence early Tuesday to ready the field for the team’s arrival. Building the round-trip to the coast into the Ducks’ schedule — which included weights and team meetings later in the day — was an easy fix.
“Everything’s still right on par,” Everett said. “We just pushed it back.”
Staff stayed on guard into the night Tuesday, ready to find out early Wednesday if the Ducks will practice again on the coast or be able to remain in Eugene. Forecasts called for smoke to dissipate at some point Wednesday, though it could return around the time of Saturday’s game against Nebraska, a situation being monitored by the Pac-12 Conference and the Ducks in case contingencies are necessary.
In the meantime, the Ducks are working with LRAPA to obtain an air quality monitor for use in the Moshofsky Center. At this point its air is contaminated as well; when the smokes clears later this week, workers will seal the building the best they can, then monitor the air to see how long it remains at healthy levels after smoke returns to the area.
The hope is that the Mo will be usable for a couple days during subsequent smoky spells, allowing the Ducks to practice in Eugene until the smoke clears again. But as they showed Tuesday, they can easily take their show on the road if necessary.
“We want to make sure our guys are healthy, and can get a good practice in,” Taggart told media prior to Tuesday’s trip west.
Taggart also used the experience to harp on the concept of “sudden change,” which can happen in a game after a turnover or big special teams play. He wants the Ducks to be able to handle adversity of all kinds.
After all, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal said, “If this kind of stuff distracts you, God help you in Autzen Stadium or somewhere on the road.”
Other highlights: In the first 11-on-11 period of the day, Tyree Robinson picked off a pass with the No. 1 defense. The No. 2 offense got moving with a long pass from Taylor Alie to Ryan Bay. … In 7-on-7, Justin Herbert zipped a pass into Charles Nelson, who held on despite being blanketed by Thomas Graham Jr. “You’re good!” defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt shouted to Graham. “Next play, next play!” Later in the drill, Malik Lovette caught a deep ball from Alie, and maybe pushed off Lenoir a little to gain position; on the next rep, Lenoir stuck on Lovette’s hip and knocked a pass away.
Other observations: The Suislaw High field is natural grass, a preview for the Ducks of games this season on natural surfaces at Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford. … Two NFL scouts made the drive to the coast so they could scout the team despite the venue change. … Three or four dozen local fans showed up to watch practice from outside the fences around the field; they were asked to respect the team’s wishes that no video or photos be taken during 11-on-11 periods.
Head coach Willie Taggart
Co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo
Co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal