Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Fittingly, it was a glorious sunny day in Eugene for the start of Oregon football’s spring practices Thursday.
The Ducks held their first of 15 spring workouts, a schedule that culminates in the Spring Game on May 1. The team will practice Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday each week, with lifting, meetings and walkthroughs on the days in between.
Thursday’s practice didn’t depart much from what the Ducks would do during the season. They began in position groups, advanced into bigger units for 3-on-2, 5-on-4, and 7-on-7 periods, then did periods for the full team, both offense-defense and special teams.
“It’s been great to jump right into spring ball after having a full six, seven weeks of the Fourth Quarter (offseason strength and conditioning) program,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said after practice. “And we felt it showed up today, in the way we moved, the way our bodies are looking, how much faster we looked. …
“I’m not saying we’re ready to play a football game. But we certainly look like we’ve done our work this offseason.”
Cristobal said the players who jumped out to him Thursday were too numerous to mention. But he made a point that it included both veterans and newcomers — not just Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd and Mycah Pittman at receiver, but Dont’e Thornton and Troy Franklin, too; not just Verone McKinley III and Mykael Wright at defensive back, but also DJ James and Dontae Manning.
And that applied to the quarterbacks as well. The Ducks return senior Anthony Brown, who shared time with the departed Tyler Shough late last season. But they’re excited as well about returning freshmen Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford, and newcomer Ty Thompson.
“We’re excited about that group,” Cristobal said. “There’s a lot of talent in that room. If today’s an indication of what we’re going to be like, it’s an exciting time for Oregon.”
All of that said, Cristobal did offer a few personnel updates that weren’t as uplifting. Linebacker Sampson Niu, offensive lineman Chris Randazzo and offensive lineman Jonah Tauanu’u — who all missed last season — have taken medical retirements. And running back Sean Dollars is out through at least the summer after an injury suffered this winter.
Offensive lineman Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, tight end Cam McCormick, linebacker Justin Flowe, offensive lineman Jaylan Jeffers, defensive lineman Jaylen Smith and running back Trey Benson all remain limited for at least the start of spring drills while rehabbing injuries. But several players who missed at least some time last season were full-go as of Thursday, including Patrick Herbert, Spencer Webb, Jackson LaDuke, Adrian Jackson and Manning.
Practice highlights: Franklin had one of the plays of the day, elevating and contorting in the air to haul in a deep ball from Thompson. Those are two of several true freshmen on campus already, and they’re taking advantage of their head start to the season. … Jeffrey Bassa broke up a pass in 1-on-1 drills, and Manning dove for a breakup in 7-on-7. Just two more true freshmen making plays in the first practice of the spring. …
Johnson broke free for a reception in 1-on-1, and from the sideline a teammate mentioned, “that’s his favorite route.” So hopefully the defender didn’t drop his head too much; Johnson has been catching passes like that for five years now. … Jackson and Sua’ava Poti teamed up for a sack in 11-on-11. In that same period, Bennett Williams forced a fumble that Dru Mathis jumped on.
Other observations: Participants in Oregon’s Pro Day, to be held Friday, were on the sideline for portions of practice, including Penei Sewell, Jevon Holland, Thomas Graham Jr., Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu, Brady Breeze, Deommodore Lenoir and Nick Pickett. … Ashford participated in practice in the morning, then later in the day was in the dugout for Oregon’s baseball game. Cristobal said Ashford has been managing his time so well juggling both sports since January that his GPA rose from fall to winter. Cristobal also joked of UO baseball coach Mark Wasikowski, “since we got Coach Waz a center fielder, I expect Coach Waz to get me a defensive tackle.”