Football's back, and it feels so good! The soccer bleachers were full, and the bass pumping for the official start of the Oregon Ducks' 2011 football season. With that comes the return of the HS crew's wrap-up series, though without pictures this year due to increased crackdown on multi-media at practice. Without further ado: Here's what I've got for you today (about 75% offense due to the location of the seat I was able to get @ 1:00.
1. These are the players I will not be mentioning in this post more than once, because they either A) Are players that are established and key contributors to the team; we know what we'll get from them and there are no surprises or B) They were an hour late to practice and didn't really do much (no word yet on reason, I'll bold them in the list): Darron Thomas, Lamichael James, Kenjon Barner, Josh Huff, Lavasier Tuinei, David Paulson. Also, the players who led the stretches at the beginning of practice (a good indication of the captains list) were: Thomas, Paulson, Boyett, Pleasant, Weems.
2. DeAnthony Thomas will be on the field during the first quarter of the LSU game, or I will eat my hat. The kid is fast, he's strong, he's got exceptional balance, and he's got the best hands of anybody that could possibly be in the backfield. I've been going to practices for 4 years now, and I've never seen a true freshman come in and look as far FROM being a green, nervous 18 year old as that kid.
3. The other new faces at wide receiver left the following first impressions: Tacoi Sumler: Very impressive foot speed, and I'm not talking about his 40 time. He's the fastest in and out of his routes of all the newcomers, and it's noticable with the naked, non-magnified eye. He's quite small; I didn't even need to check my roster for a number to know that he was the pint-sized 88.
BJ Kelley: I couldn't figure out who the hell #23 was for the longest time (before I got my hands on a roster). I'm impressed by his overall physical prowess; he had the highlight of the day in 7v7, beating Scott Grady and Eddie Pleasant on a seam route and going up over Pleasant to snare the ball. My only concern with him is that he's not the fastest, nor the biggest of the newcomers, so he may have to wait his turn longer than some of us may have thought. Then again, he got off a plane less than 48 hours ago, so maybe he should get some slack.
Devon Blackmon: He was one of two to see major reps (>50%) with the 2s in team drills (the other being Vaughn) and left a very good impression. He's not the most imposing figure on the field, but he knows how to use his skills to their utmost potential, and he's got excellent speed and agility and seems to have a good grasp of the offense. All of the other newcomers needed to be reminded/moved to position at least once during the high-speed practice session. His smarts could be the edge he needs to see the field sooner rather than later.
Rashaun Vaaughn: He consistently impressed me with his ability to shield off defenders with his body. He's very capable with his hands in traffic as well; I counted at least 3 instances where he snared a ball through either a tight space, or multiple bodies. He also was matched up with Cliff Harris a number of times in drills, and he held his own each time. He remains my favorite to win the race to playing time against LSU ahead of his freshman comrades.
Christian French: Most likely due to the retirement of Brandon Williams, French took reps soley at TE today in a red non-contact jersey--the only other person of note in a non-contact jersey was Tra Carson, but both were full participants in drills--and did a decent job. He's certainly an athlete, and a project that will surely redshirt. However, I see him as a Dion Jordan type: One who could be effective at TE or DE, wherever the need is once he's more apt physically.
Finally, don't count out the returning players in the WR battle. Keanon Lowe is much bigger than he was a year ago (I mistook him for BJ Kelley at first), Justin Hoffman took reps with the ones today, and Eric Dungy looks much, much improved from a year ago. Also, his dad jaywalks, but that's another story.
4. Kiko Alonso is our best middle linebacker, and it's not close. Dewitt Stuckey took a lion's share of the reps with the ones today, but it's apparent that our best defense is one that involves Alonso. Throughout both drills and team activities, he simply knows how to run the show better than Stuckey, and he's physically better at his job as well. That's not to say that Stuckey isn't capable, more that Alonso is that much better. Also of note from the linebackers: Kyle Garrick was working primarily at SAM, Cassell at WILL and Hardrick TBA. Anthony Wallace is firmly entrenched as the #3 MLB behind quasi-Alonso and Stuckey. However, I wouldn't expect him to redshirt, and I would expect to see him in a minor role this fall (maybe 10-15 snaps?). Possibly in obvious passing situations?
5. Do NOT count out Jared Ebert as a possible force in the middle. Taylor Hart and Terrell Turner are dueling for one DE spot, Ricky Heimuli is next to the winner of that battle, and next to him is...? If Hart is fighting Turner at DE, it's uncertain who takes that spot next to him. Kelikeppi was wildly late to practice, and Ebert is more of a speed rusher than a power man.
6. Remember when you guys were saying that I was an idiot for saying that Terrance Mitchell would be next in line behind Harris? Well he was the one opposite Gildon with the 1s during team activities. He was also the only person who picked off Darron Thomas all day (I know I wasn't going to mention him again, so sue me). Troy Hill also appears to have jumped fellow redshirt freshman Dior Mathis is the pecking order. As far as I can tell, it goes CH13-Gildon with the ones, Mitchell and Grady with the twos, and Hill+Patterson with the threes.
7. The following players took reps returning punts today: Harris, Seastrunk, DAT, Blackmon, Lowe, Mitchell, Ifo. I was also reminded of how good our punter is: I couldn't figure out why Maldonado was kicking farther than Rice, but then I realized Rice had to hold back on the practice field, or he'd out-kick the drill. It's worth noting that CH13 dropped 3 of his reps. Time to refill my Xanax prescription.
8. Finally, it's fitting that we end today with #8 Marcus Mariota. Similar build to our last #8, but a bit taller, Mariota was very capable running the 3s today. He's certainly going to redshirt this year, and it will be interesting to see how he progesses. I'm not certain that he's the most talented quarterback we'll have on our team in 2013 behind Brian Bennett, however he could certainly progress to that level; it's not hard to see.
As always, any and all questions will be answered below to the best of my abilities. Tune in tomorrow for a better look at the defense.