I attended this afternoon's inaugural fall practice of the 2010 season. It was great seeing and spending time with DuckFanAndy, Dave (user Addicted to Quack), and my acquaintance axemen23. Stay tuned for axemen23's media room observations coming in sometime tonight. He's got some good stuff.
Anyway, I'm not one to prognosticate about how the season will unfold based on one practice, but I have a few very brief and possibly completely insignificant observations from today's practice (specifically, for today, on the quarterbacks) which will have absolutely no bearing or foresight on the team we will field 25 days from now -- in other words, just the kind of observations you guys tend to like.
- Costa and Thomas : Nate Costa is the guy. Again, this is my attempt at calling my shot here after three hours of watching the guy play for the first time in eight months or so, but I'll get to that in a minute. Over the course of practice, many of our young quarterbacks stood out as very competent passers. Archduke Costa threw a few absolutely money passes during QB-WR timing drills early on. He was particularly good on deep fades and corners. Darron Thomas, the young challenger who some fans have fancied the ring of Dixon Incarnate, had some very nice quick throws. Thomas' arm was very quick. In tapes from his high school days his slow motion was of some concern. From what I've seen, that has been corrected. He gets the ball out in and instant, and fast. Within even the tightest spaces he was getting the ball to his receivers (although the risk of interceptions may not so much be worth taking for four yard gains.)
- Costa and Thomas, cont'd: As we know, being able to throw a tight spiral is about 5% of being a D-1 quarterback. Decisionmaking, knowledge of the playbook, and ability to spread the ball around are just a few of the other factors that distinguish a quarterback from an arm. And this, Daisy Duck and gents, is what makes Nate Costa the guy. But wait, what's that WashingtonDCDuck? Decision-making prowess and consistency are boring? Nate Costa is slow? He's a nice guy but you walked in on him administering a lethal injection to your newborn puppy? Nate Costa is the man for our offense because the playbook truly was open when he was in. Listen, it sounds stupid, but when Costa was in the gun, our offense was as exciting as ever. There were formations that we ran very rarely with Masoli. Formations that we used back when Dennis Dixon was our quarterback. Two-back split sets; the TZR; Davis, Maehl, Barner, James, Huff (yes, Josh Huff!) all trying their hand at going in motion. Remember the pitch to Barner that won the Civil War for us? That play is still around and it's not going anywhere. Costa knew exactly when to pitch and when to keep. Costa had between 7-10 yard runs whenever he kept it, and Barner had sometimes 15-yard runs when Costa pitched it. Costa was getting first down yardage on his keepers against our defense -- the defense that has practiced against it every day for the past three years and perfected the zone pitch assignments. Costa was finding the holes and bursting through. Does he have Masoli speed? No. Does anyone among our quarterbacks do? Hawkins does, but that leads me to my next bullet.
- The others (Hawkins and Bennett) : Daryle Hawkins, a lanky ball of sinew with great speed and athletic ability for a quarterback, was sitting out of practice today. He did some warmup throws, but word from the journalists was that his leg was bothering him, and he resorted to the red vest for the rest of practice. Hawkins called plays from the sidelines during 7-on-7s and team offense, but that was it for him. When he arrived at Oregon a year ago, I was very excited. He is the fastest player listed as a quarterback (an ATH coming out of high school), he had serviceable if not improvable passing stats coming out of high school, and he flew under the radar as a 2-star recruit last summer, a quality that couldn't help but intrigue the fans who found no other reason for Chip Kelly and co. to offer a 2-star. But Kelly has made it clear via various quotes the past few months that if you have athletic ability and you can toss the rock fairly well, you could come make yourself an elite quarterback at Oregon. However, it would seem the Hawkins experiment has been a little slow to develop as a passer. In spring practices Hawkins' reviews were fairly underwhelming, causing some to suggest a move to receiver at some point. As hesitant I am to make such a statement based on so little knowledge of his true capabilities, I am leaning towards Hawkins possibly making a move to another position if he has not made major strides by this time next year. Part of it is the presence of his competition for the number 3 spot on the depth chart, freshman Bryan Bennett. This kid has me so twitterpated that he gets his own bullet point.
- Bryan Bennett: I am immensely excited after watching Bryan Bennett live for the first time today. In videos his arm looked great. His pocket presence looked wise far beyond his years, and his mobility looked at the very least a seriously deceptive threat in the open field. All my expectations of Bennett, as lofty as they may have seemed before, were truly affirmed. The kid threw the tightest spiral of the bunch all day long. He had but one poor pass on a confused route. Other than that, he was on the money from start to finish. In warm-up drills his touch passes were insane. Beautiful arc, put where only his receiver's outstretched arms could get it. In 7-on-7s he was very good for a freshman. His passing was accurate, precise, and confident. He showed off his mobility when he would sell out of the pocket. He got 15 yards downfield quickly against what appeared to be a Cover 2 defense, mostly. He is fairly tall and skinny, but his gait seems to enable a little more quickness than it does for Thomas, who is of a similar build. Needless to say, I'm irrationally excited for Bennett. The one bad mark I would give him on the day seems completely unfair to say for a freshman, but he did seem to have a little bit of pocket tunnel vision sometimes. Seeing as Brandon Bair and the huge O-lineman in front of him created basically canyons through which he had to peer for receivers, I'll give him a pass.
It's dinner time for me now, but I'll gladly answer any questions to the best of my ability that you may have on the quarterbacks or others. I observed quarterbacks and receivers the closest as well as the coaches (Chip Kelly is the incredible shrinking man. Very proud of him.) Ask away! Hope you enjoyed it.