I attended the Ducks' third practice on this beautiful wednesday. A crowd that I estimated to be 90+ or so lined the northeast quadrant of Kilkenny Field in the heat to watch the third day of Oregon football 2010. The cliffnotes for the day after the jump.
- I know you're all tired and skeptical of the praise, but Bryan Bennett had another day of debauchery. Sorry if it's getting old to hear. Early on he had a few misfires in drills at the start (prompting him to show very frustrated body language; hitting his helmet with his hands, looking down, digging cleats into the turf), but after a few drills he got his rhythm and accuracy back. During team offense -- he operated the third team offense in place of Hawkins; make what you will of that -- he had three excellent runs on zone reads. He not only was accurate passing and keeping the tempo up, but was making the right reads and taking them far. He had one run that he took to the house from about 40 yards out. Looked a lot like the Clemens keeper at UH '05. I don't remember exactly, but it might have been the very next play that they ran a zone read keeper-plus-option (the Barner Civil War option play) to the opposite side that Bennett kept for a gain of about 15. He had a third run off an inside zone read a few plays later that he kept for a first down.
- I was very hesitant to believe that LaMichael James could get any faster over the offseason. If anything, I was worried he'd lose a step. Not so. James busted out for the first time this fall on a few sweep plays, one of which he took around the corner and split through about four incoming defenders to take it the distance. Looked similar to the UW touchdown run but with more defenders on his side. It was amazing how quickly he went from searching blocks in the backfield to waving goodbye to the entire defensive backfield. He also appears to have switched helmets to a Revolution Speed helmet. (Suck it, CaDuck!)
- Lache Seastrunk does not have bad hands. But he doesn't have good hands. Wildly inconsistent hands. So far a lot of the runningbacks' practice reps have been leaks out of the backfield or circle routes into the middle of the field, which have been particularly potent for James and Barner. Seastrunk has been deadly when he catches the ball off those routes, but downright frustrating when he gets ahead of himself and pulls his hands in too early before actually catching the ball. He also has drawn criticism from the coaches for not holding the ball high and tight. Lastly, he might have some playbook knowledge issues. Every single play during team offense in which he stood next to Bennett, Bennett had to direct him exactly where to stand, sometimes having to correct him twice or thrice to the exact spot he needed to be. I'm confident this will be shored up over the course of the next year, should he see time at the tailback position and not as a TZR.
- Josh Huff has been getting a lot of snaps at slot. The coaches have really been trying to get him involved and have been encouraging him greatly. He looks like a dangerous player on the perimeter with a real hunger to get the ball down the field and use the blockers in front of him. He's had quite a few drops. We all know what it's like to have a receiver that wears number 4 be a huge threat but drop a lot of balls. The coaches have been extremely positive towards him afterwards, though. I overheard Chip Kelly reassure Huff after one drop today, "You've been out here, what, two days? You'll be fine Josh." I'm a huge fan of how Chip Kelly treats his players.
- Jeff Maehl and Justin Hoffman have been the two most rock-solid receivers so far. Two drops between the two of them. That's it in the past three days. Maehl looks physically extremely mature compared to the past few years. He's not the tallest guy but he looks like a fully developed senior receiver. He might have put on some muscle. They've been throwing a lot of deep balls to him and he's been beating the coverage every time. We underestimate his speed.
- Eric Dungy only had two stars next to his name and was seen as some sort of compensation from the University for his dad's support of LeGarrette Blount last year, but he's more than that. He's gotten a lot of passes his way so far and has been catching most of them. Doesn't have bad speed either. Could be a great contributor. Plays a lot like Maehl did in his underclassman years. He's got great instincts with the ball -- he knows whether or not the play after the curl route is on the outside or the inside. Runs crisp routes and attracted praise from the coaches for that.
- Six bullets and no talk of the QB competition? Buh? Well, there's not much to say on that from today. Costa again looks like the starter. He's got far better touch passes and the playbook seems to be at its maximum when he's in the gun. However, today he threw at least one interception. And this was a real interception. I've been defending Costa's picks that you all read about the past two days, but those were in situations where they were both unlikely and athletic plays and completely inconsequential (plays that he had to literally force the ball into a space in order to just get everyone a complete rep.) However, today he threw a pick on a bad read. It was a five-yard out route that he telegraphed. The ball was snatched by Lokombo, who must have been about three feet in the air. Again, an extremely athletic play, but one that a lot of linebackers will make these days and thus a legitimate interception. Looked rather like Leaf's interception to lose the Holiday Bowl in 2005, if that helps.
- Darron Thomas still has a little ways to go with actual mechanics. He's been the only scholarship quarterback that has thrown wobbly passes constantly. Also has had amazing luck with very shaky and risky passes. Passes that looked a lot like Masoli's rollouts where he'd back up, jump, and kind of flick the ball to Maehl in the back of the endzone. I know what you're saying. It worked. Yes, it did. But those plays were also freaking scary. While Costa and Bennett both have been good about stepping up in the pocket to get more time to look for receivers, Thomas still seems to prefer stepping back a little and tossing it over the line to Paulson or whoever waiting in the middle. It worked once today and two or three times nearly spelled disaster. He also nearly threw a pick on a bubble screen in which it seemed he didn't really look at his receiver first. It's not all bad about Thomas, though! I swear! I'm not a Thomas hater. He's got excellent accuracy on corner routes especially. His glacial motion has quickened and now gets it out at an acceptable speed. His bullet passes are zippy and accurate, so much so that he almost overuses them and might just have too much mustard on them.
- I started a trend today. No, it wasn't the Zubaz pants I was wearing. I was the only one to walk over away from the special teams kick return drills (yawn) to watch the D-line and Coach Azzinaro work. Being that I was completely away from the crowd and watching intently to see how Coach Azz teaches, to observe Heimuli, and to get the lay of the land on our defensive line alignments, the players looked at me like I was John Merrick. They might not be so used to being watched by anyone. A few other onlookers followed me over and started watching the D-line as well. Go figure. It was just a walkthrough with Azzinaro teaching them all the weakside/strongside balderdash, but I made a point of looking down Heimuli. He looks less like Haloti Ngata and more like Matt Toeaina, to dispel that pipedream that we had the next Ngata. Note: This one's for Matt Daddy: the D-line walkthrough seemed to at first be with three down linemen, but then another one would get in there and stand in such a way that you couldn't tell whether he was a lineman or if he was just standing there to get Azzinaro's words clearer. If I had to guess, I'd say he was coaching them in a 3-4 mindset.
- Jackson Rice's average so far this week has to be upwards of 45 yards with hangtimes topping 4 seconds. He's looked great. Maldonado has been punting in practice as well. He is a good ten yards short of Rice on each kick. Looks accurate though in field goal range, which is more important.
- Lavasier Tuinei had his ups and downs. Looked a little frustrated early on and was getting a little lip from the coaches about giving up on bad balls thrown his way, but I think he's one of our best receivers over the middle. His long arms and legs make for a huge target who will really go up to get the ball. D.J. Davis has the same mentality. Davis could and should go pro with a good year this year. Reminds me of Garren Strong a little.
- I noticed Nate Costa fitting his knee brace on about halfway through practice. I didn't notice him wearing it before. This was during a non-contact QB-only drill and he sat out to put his brace on. It could be that they were in shells (helmet and pads with no girdle) today. I'm choosing not to make any assumption over the reasoning other than precautionary.
Once again, hope this recap was of service to you. Any questions are welcome and I will try to answer them best I can.