Week one of spring practices has concluded for the Oregon Ducks, as Saturday afternoon's session in pads focused primarily on situational work between the offense and defense, according Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.
"It was a lot more competitive today and a lot more physical today," said Kelly. "We did some coming out situations today -- trying to get a first down coming out from our own goal line -- and a lot of third down work today. Our defense was getting in to its set packages and we [the offense] was getting in to some four-wide (receiver) packages."
If there was one complaint from Kelly this afternoon, it was drops from the receivers, though Kelly admitted that many of his wide receivers and tight ends are still adjusting to the quarterback play of Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota.
"We had too many drops today, but it's been a good first four days and we'll see how they can bounce back," stated Kelly. "They're starting to get in to a rhythm of how we're doing things now and once that newness wears off -- you're always fired up the first couple days of practice -- and once you get to practice six, seven, eight, nine; when you get to the finish line, is when you can really test yourself."
The competition between Bennett and Mariota has without a doubt been -- and will continue to be -- the backdrop for practices this spring and heading in to August and the beginning of fall camp. Today, both quarterbacks were made available to the media; illustrating the adjustments they've had to make thus far in transitioning from spectator to behind center. For Bennett particularly, assuming more of a leadership role has been major point of emphasis since the end of last season.
"[I've been] working on knowing when to put your arm around a guy and knowing where they need to line up and what they need to do," said Bennett. "Working on that all offseason I think is benefitting (me) now that we're in practice."
For Mariota, developing chemistry with Oregon's talented, but largely inexperienced fleet of receivers has been arguably his greatest objective this spring, after receiving limited reps in practice at quarterback during his redshirt season in 2011.
"We want to get a chemistry with everybody," stated Mariota. "We're not sure who is going to be the starters yet -- it's still a competition at every position -- and to go out and work with everybody, you build up some kind of chemistry."
More so than Bennett, Mariota is very much an unknown quantity concerning where he stacks up in the race for the starting quarterback position. With many outside the team having not seen Mariota throw since last August, it's difficult to compare how similar and/or how different he compares to the rest of the signal-callers on Oregon's roster. However, one attribute that has been used often to describe Mariota this spring is "quick learner," something Mariota credits to the system he ran in high school. Mariota's mental transition from signaling calls from the sideline to engineering drives on the field has also reflected well on his head coach.
"He's a really quick learner and you noticed that last fall when he was here," said Kelly. "He picked everything up and we played Colorado when Darron [Thomas] wasn't available and Marcus would have went in the game if the game was on the line. I had no questions that he could play for us in a game from a mental standpoint."
Names such as James Euscher, Tyler Johnstone, and Evan Baylis have surfaced with regularity through the first four days of spring practice. Johnstone's athleticism and improved strength have impressed many of the offensive coaches, while Baylis' mental grasp of the offense may have him able to challenge expected starter Colt Lyerla for playing time this fall. Yet, it was Euscher who drew the highest praise from Kelly this afternoon, as the fourth year head coach extolled redshirt freshman's developing virtues.
"He's a big, physical kid," Kelly remarked. "I think his body is catching up to him and he's starting to get some athleticism to go with that big, physical part of it. He was a big diamond in the rough and he's worked so hard with (Oregon strength and conditioning coach) Jimmy Radcliffe in the offseason.
"Mentally, he's doing a lot of good things and when he gets his hands on you, it's tough for people to kind of get off of him."\
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCourtney
Notes From Spring Practice: Day 4
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