September 6, 2017
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
The first extended team period of Oregon’s practice Wednesday – held in Eugene after air quality improved dramatically over the day before – involved the offense drilling run plays and play action passes. After the first series for the No. 1 defense, safeties Tyree Robinson and Nick Pickett ran off the field and reunited on the sideline.
Once there, the senior Robinson began drilling the true freshman Pickett about adjustments the defense had made, and more. It was a lot of, “OK, and how would we have reacted if the offense had done this? And what about if they’d done this?”
Soon after, Billy Gibson ran to the sideline after the No. 2 defense had taken a series. Robinson turned to him and began the test anew, for Oregon’s other true freshman safety who played in last week’s opener over Southern Utah.
In all the Ducks used nine true freshmen against the Thunderbirds, including receiver Johnny Johnson III as a starter on offense. The new class was more prominent on defense, where two linemen, two corners and the two safeties all played significant roles – and figure to do so again this week when the level of competition takes a big step up and Oregon hosts Nebraska on Saturday (1:35 p.m., FOX).
Safeties coach Keith Heyward said Pickett played around 50 snaps of the opener, and Gibson was on the field for around 40. And it sounds like more of the same is in store this week.
“It didn’t shock me; we prepared them that way,” Heyward said. “I wasn’t shocked at all; I was pleased – first game, big crowd. And this is even bigger.”
Gibson had four tackles in his collegiate debut, and Pickett had two. Their classmate Thomas Graham Jr., more of a known commodity entering the fall after his breakout spring camp, led the newcomers with five tackles, and his fellow cornerback Deommodore Lenoir broke up a pass late in the game.
Up front, true freshman Austin Faoliu started at nose tackle, and classmate Jordon Scott was his backup. Neither made the stat sheet, though that’s hardly an indictment of players at a position more relied up to tie up blockers and free up other defenders to make plays.
“They didn’t stumble,” position coach Joe Salave’a said. “That’s a great thing. Those guys have a different temperament about the game.”
Presumably some growing pains are still in store. But overall, coaches have seemed quite pleased with the impact of the freshman on Oregon’s defense through one game.
“We’ve still got a ways to go,” Salave’a said. “But it’s always good to make the corrections after a win.”
Other highlights: That freshman-laden defense had a really strong day. In the “insanity” tempo period to open practice, Ty Griffin popped Kani Benoit pretty good to break up a pass. Then in that run/play-action drill, Jalen Jelks, Troy Dye and Blake Rugraff all stopped run plays near the line (admittedly, in a somewhat predictable play calling situation). … In a later team period, Justin Hollins, Sean Killpatrick and A.J. Hotchkins all had interceptions, and Ugochukwu Amadi and Fotu T. Leiato II broke up passes. Daewood Davis did have a long catch-and-run for the offense, and Justin Herbert completed chain-moving passes to Dillon Mitchell and Charles Nelson late in the period.
Other observations: During 7-on-7, the linemen do pass-rush drills, and the offense performed well in that scenario. Logan Bathke drew raves from coaches and teammates for one rep against Gus Cumberlander, and his fellow redshirt freshman Jacob Capra held his ground against Faoliu. Coming off the opener, O line coach Mario Cristobal said he felt good about his five starters plus veterans Doug Brenner and Brady Aiello, and was looking for a couple more dependable regulars. Capra and Bathke are good candidates, so signs of progress from them are most welcome. … Malik Young worked with the No. 2 defense in several situations.
Head coach Willie Taggart
Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt
Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a