Ducks enthusiastic over first practice

The Oregon Ducks completed the first of 15, spring workouts Saturday morning at the Autzen Stadium complex practice fields under a sunny spring sky. The workout was intense and Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti was pleased with the result. Though he thought the team was a bit rusty, he like what he saw from some of the veterans including quarterback Kellen Clemens and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

The first thing Bellotti mentioned though about the practice was the "coachability" of the players. How a player can maintain eye contact without being embarrassed when a coach talks to him during the practice session.

The other thing Bellotti wanted to emphasize during practice is for players finishing plays – in terms of body position and leverage.

"I thought Haloti moved around well and obviously we don't want to push that too much but I was pleased," observed Bellotti. "I thought Kellen made some good plays."

Bellotti admitted that practicing in pads is not the same as full contact drills because the whole focus on Saturday was really on the eyes, feet and hand placement.

What then will the coaches be looking for this spring. Bellotti had three things in mind:

1. The defense. Who will fill in for the departures on the defensive line and linebackers.

"The most obvious thing about (the spring workouts) is that we want to evaluate the talent on defense – find out who the best 11 players are" said Bellotti. "The best 11 to 15 players, who are the guys we are going to take the field with."

2. The Punting game. Bellotti is looking forward to improvements by Paul Martinez and Drew Martin as punters.

3. The work ethic. Bellotti was emphatic about what he expects from his players during the spring workouts and that is commitment to the team and hard work.

"Spring can be a time where some people take things on cruise control and if they do they won't be in my program," stated Bellotti as a matter-of-fact.

The Ducks will have some extra incentive this season with the recent scheduling of the Oklahoma Sooners at Norman, Oklahoma this fall. Bellotti thinks the prospects of the game and its implications can be a motivational factor for his team. Playing a past national champion and a team that finished third will be something to keep the players fired up and particularly since the Oregon-Oklahoma game will be broadcast live nationally.

Oregon faced a similar situation last year when it played then No. 3 ranked Michigan in front of a friendly crowd at Autzen Stadium. Did Bellotti learn a lesson from the home win last year?

"The lesson learned is whether you win or lose you have to play the next week so I think we better make sure we can do that," quipped Bellotti, who has shaved his mustache.

Notes from practice:

Victor Filipe suffered a shoulder injury and maybe lost for the spring. This was not good news for Bellotti as he was expecting Filipe to be part one of the players that would be a factor in the defensive depth chart.

Terrence Whitehead practiced. Whitehead had surgery to remove bone spurs but there was no ligament or tissue damage.

Cornerback Rodney Woods' number is now No. 7. Wide receiver Kyle Weathespoon is still in a cast and is questionable to participate in spring workouts. Wide receiver Garren Strong now wears No. 1. Defensive end Devan Long and linebacker Rob Hamilton were present but not dressed down.

Ngata said that he felt he had lots of work to do to get back into playing shape but was happy to be on the field and part of the team during the spring.

Bellotti summarized the first day of practice by saying he was happy with the effort but will take each day of practice on its own merit.

"Everybody is excited on the first day and I want the same kind of excitement and intensity on Monday when we come back," said Bellotti.

The Ducks will conclude their 15-practice schedule for the spring with a spring game at Autzen Stadium on May 1, 2004 at 12:30 p.m.

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