BearTerritory: Even last week, California offensive line coach Zach Yenser was emphasizing the big, 6-foot-8 Arik Armstead not just to left tackle Freddie Tagaloa (who will start this week, after competing with Christian Okafor during the bye), but to the entire line. The knock on Armstead coming out of high school was that he didn't play with much energy on the defensive side, but he's certainly made himself known to opposing coaches since signing with the Ducks. Will Armstead flip sides on the defensive line, or does he stay in one spot?
Stephen Summers: Oregon's defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has installed a defense that uses a lot of players and demands that defenders have the ability to play more than one spot. Arik Armstead is a good example. Armstead, through the first three games has been on the strong side and the weak side and at times has been the nose tackle. What makes him standout in the crowd is that he is very quick out of the stance and seems to be so much faster than the offensive linemen he is matched up against. Last year he caused a hurried pass by California which led to an interception. While Oregon doesn't talk about injuries, it appeared that Armstead dinged up his shoulder against Tennessee but he showed no signs of having problems as he was coming out of practice this week. At least there were no slings or ice packs on his shoulder following practice. Armstead spoke to eDuck.com's Erik Skopil on Tuesday, Sept. 24 about how things are going this season and the upcoming Cal-Oregon game.
BT: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award – which goes to the best college defensive player – and while the Oregon secondary is arguably one of the best in the nation, he sticks out. What does he do so well to disrupt the passing game, and how does that fit into the secondary's strategy as a whole?
SS: Ekpre-Olomu is a very intelligent player and that along with his great speed and leaping ability makes for a lethal combination. This season so far, opponents aren't throwing in his direction because last year he had four interceptions and 16 break ups. Ekpre-Olomu never seems to be out of position and has great anticipation on where the play is heading. Through the first three games, Ekpre-Olomu's day has been finished by halftime so it will be interesting to see what he does against a far more proficient passer and skilled receivers. One of the Oregon coaches told me that Ekpre-Olomu is a special kind of player, which in the context of the conversation I was having with the coach meant that Ifo could be a definite first round NFL draft pick.
BT: The Ducks have played over 20 different offensive players per game at times this season. Is that due to pulling the starters in routes, or is that more due to Oregon's offensive speed?
SS: Obviously in the first three games the Ducks were in commanding leads by the end of the first quarter so that accounts for part of the reason why so many players were used. However, during conference play that number will probably be reduced to perhaps a seven or eight man rotation on the line throughout the game, three running backs, the quarterback and a variety of wide receiver packages that may result in about 14 to 16 offensive players used during a game. Some players like De'Anthony Thomas are used in a variety of roles on offense as either a tailback, slot receiver or wide receiver. Tight end Colt Lyerla has been used as a running back but the likely combination of running backs will be Thomas, Byron Marshall and freshman Thomas Tyner who could easily see a lot more reps as he becomes more familiar with the offensive system. Oregon play fast in games but the media is told by coaches that the Ducks go even faster in practice. The result is that Oregon is a very physical team and are in great shape.
BT: The offense and the secondary are really the two biggest – or at least the most-talked-about storylines – headed into this game for the Ducks, but one thing we haven't heard much about is the linebacking corps. What can you tell us about that unit?
SS: Probably the biggest question heading into the season was how the Ducks were going to replace Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay from last year's squad at the linebacker position. Senior Boseko Lokombo was a known commodity as he started all of last season beside Alonso and Clay, but who would be the new starters? That question has been answered in the form of Derrick Malone and a combination of Rodney Hardrick, Joe Walker and Tyson Coleman. The Ducks will also drop a defensive end back when utilizing three down linemen so at least in the first three games there really hasn't been much of a drop off from last year. Through the first three games there hasn't really been an big blow up plays on defense, i.e. a pick-six but the play has been so consistent that opposing offenses have had much chance to do much. Tennessee for example had eight possessions in which drive only last three snaps or less and the Volunteers either lost possession on a fumble (once) or were forced to punt (seven times.)
BT: Beyond the usual suspects – DeAnthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota – who could wind up being the real X-factor for the Ducks this weekend? Who's looking to have a breakout game?
SS: The easy answer is Josh Huff, but he's already had some breakout games as he did against Tennessee with six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Two players could possibly have a "break-out" game, one being Bralon Addison who has had a total of 11 catches and two TDs. Addison is also the punt returner and is an elusive runner in the open field. The other guy on verge of really doing big things is the freshman running back Tyner. Although he missed the first game of the season due to an ankle sprain, Tyner has a total of 12 carries for 80 yards and three TDs. His longest run has been for 31 yards, which he scored the second touchdown of his young career.
BT: Earlier this season, tight end Colt Lyerla and Mark Helfrich had a bit of a tiff in the media. Has anything come of that, or has it been more or less resolved?
SS: The issue started when Helfrich's response to a question during the post-game interviews regarding why Lyerla didn't play. "Circumstances" was Helfrich's response. A reporter from The Oregonian contacted Lyerla asking about the "circumstances" and Lyerla took issue with the term and told the reporter the reason he didn't play was because he had to flu.
Incidentally, Lyerla's replacement, Johnny Mundt filled in by racking up five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee.
Not too surprisingly, the following Tuesday (the Ducks had Monday off because of the bye week) after the Tennessee game, Lyerla was back at practice and more than eager to speak to media following the workout to clear the air. Lyerla said his comments were taken out of context and he didn't want anything to stand in the way of the team's success. He also said that everything is fine between he and his coach.
I guess folks will have to judge for themselves what it means when a coach who doesn't talk about injuries or illness and uses a term like "circumstances" instead of saying the player is ill or if there was really any kind of tiff between player and coach.
BT: The Bears have been practicing against scout team quarterbacks representing both Mariota and Jeff Lockie. Is there a chance we see Lockie at all on Saturday, and what does he bring to the table?
SS: Locke along with Jake Rodrigues have made token appearances and certainly if things go Oregon's way and they have the game well in hand, both could see time on the field. So far both have been used primarily to hand the ball off. In Locke's case he's mostly given the ball the Tyner and Rodrigues has given the ball to Ayele Forde. Locke has thrown the ball six time had has had four completions for 31 yards. Rodrigues has thrown twice and both balls were caught for 30 yards. Locke has ran twice for 16 yards with one TD while Rodrigues has had one run of 28 yards. Both Locke and Rodrigues are strong armed, mobile quarterbacks and are maturing into the Oregon system.
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