EUGENE, Oregon — Afer a day off on Sunday, the Ducks returned to the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex early on Monday morning. The focus of the day was occupied by every department of the special teams unit.
After college football outlawed two-a-day practices heading into the 2017 season, many thought it would hurt the teams and players entering a new campaign with fewer reps to prepare for a season. Yet, the Ducks opened camp eight days earlier this summer and the extra work seems to be paying off.
Alongside the hiring of head coach Willie Taggart, the extra days of camp are the best thing to happen to Oregon football over the last year. For a team that struggled with fundamentals and conditioning in 2016, the extra practice is only helping them improve.
Saturday marked the first time Oregon’s players have had an opportunity to scrimmage fully this fall. The first teamers on both sides of the ball came to play, but penalties were a cause for concern.
“I saw some good things and some bad things,” said Taggart on Monday. “With the first scrimmage, you expect some penalties. We had a lot of penalties with the refs being out there. Overall, I thought it was a good scrimmage. We can all learn from it.”
The Ducks will watch the film from their scrimmage following Monday’s practice.
“Today, we’re going to go back and watch the film,” said the head coach. “The bad, the penalties drive you crazy. I was also excited how we bounced back from those penalties. We didn’t let it kill us. Some of those could be drive-stopping penalties but our guys stayed focused.”
As we are just 19 days from opening day, Oregon’s offensive strength is finding its rhythm. The running game will once again be the focal point of the team’s success this year, alongside a defense that keeps their opposition off the field.
“I think the ground game has always been the strong point of Oregon football,” said Taggart. “I don’t see that being any different. If you look at any championship team out there, they do a great job running the football.”
A great deal of importance this season is being placed on the health of Royce Freeman. The head man knows if his workhorse is healthy, so too will Oregon’s win-loss record.
A healthy football team would be really good. For Royce (Freeman) to be healthy, I think you’ll see the Royce we all know. The one that came on the scene as a freshman. It would be great to see him leave the scene the same way he entered.
Taggart places a great deal of emphasis on his running back coach Donte Pimpleton. He appreciates the way he works with the kids, alongside his total understanding of life as a running back. And that certainly includes blocking assignments like an offensive lineman.
“Donte does a great job relating to the guys,” Taggart stated. “He’s coached some good backs. I think Donte really understands the game of football. He understands offensive line play and blocking. That really helps Royce and I’m seeing a difference in him. Donte does a great job with all the backs.”
The assistant coach also has the luxury of a deep and talented backfield from top to bottom. From the senior Freeman to Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit who will provide a spark off the bench in any situation. And the addition of freshman Darrian Felix creates optimism for an elite future UO running game.
The dog days of camp may have been extended this fall for college football teams. However, Oregon has taken full advantage of a wonderful opportunity to get better and build consistency and chemistry throughout their football program. Many will not start to take notice until the season gets underway, but the process is well underway.
We'll continue to post interviews with Coach T and his coaches/players on a daily basis.