Just as a game is a different level than a practice, the return to Fall Camp is a different level from off-season workouts. Oregon’s #12-ranked football team stepped up a level late last week, returning to their practice fields and meeting rooms. Unsurprisingly, the players participating in Fall Camp are only shadows of who they will become on the field in Atlanta in a few weeks’ time. The first practices are really as much of a “shake-down cruise” as anything else, giving both the Coaches a chance for an early assessment and the players a chance to shake off any off-season rust. While no questions are likely to be answered definitively early on, the path to those answers has begun to be laid out.
In some ways, players have to re-learn – or at least be reminded of - the focus, intensity and sustained effort it takes to compete at the top of college football. For newcomers, of course, some of whom are only used to high school-level practices, the increase in intensity is all the greater. This was one of the areas of emphasis over the first several days of practice, with new Head Coach Dan Lanning and his staff impressing on players the need to compete hard throughout the daily work. Lanning has made it clear that competition for starting positions - and in some cases positions period - is on-going.
Oregon’s two-deep roster is kind of crazy-looking with a number of “6th-year” and even “7th-year” players, in part thanks to the free Covid year. Despite this kind of experience, which really shows itself on the offensive line, Lanning is not ready to simply plug in starters based on experience or the position they’ve played in previous years. While this is probably based as much on “new Coach” and “fostering competition so no one gets too comfortable” it could also lead to the kind of cross-training for offensive line positions that can come in really handy if injuries start to mount in that unit.
The competition meme extends to the quarterback position. Although transfer Bo Nix is the expected starter, Coach Dillingham said in an interview this week that there was no timeline on making that decision. He praised Nix’s skill-set and his work on mechanics and also noted improvement in the younger quarterbacks, particularly their work in the weight room over the summer. Dillingham also said his goal with the running backs is “explosive plays” and he doesn’t worry about touches for backs as much as yards-per-carry. He said he wants to make sure the running backs still have fresh legs late in games which does seem to indicate carries for several backs. On past teams, Oregon has shown an ability to run over teams late in games by being in better condition or having fresh backs.
On defense, Coach Lupoi echoed the versatility and intensity messaging, noting that the defense Oregon is installing requires some players to move to different positions based on the game situation. He expressed some confidence in several secondary players in this aspect, but noted the Staff was still assessing important areas that can make the versatility possible, such as mental toughness. He said it was difficult to determine early on where the players were physicality-wise, because the team has not yet practiced in full pads. Just as a game is a higher level than a practice, a practice with pads is a higher-level experience than one without. Lupoi used the term “violence” twice in his interview when describing how the defense should be ready to treat the opposing offense.
After yesterday’s “rest day” the practice intensity will ramp up to a higher level again today. The Coaching Staff has had to be careful with the weather through the first practices, but temperatures appear to be returning to at or below normal for the coming week, making practicing in pads slightly more comfortable. Stick with ATQ for updates on Oregon’s Fall Camp progress.