Duck Defense Shines on a Cold Day

Eugene, Ore. -- Headed into spring workouts the biggest question about the Oregon Ducks Football team was how good would the defense be after losing a star like Haloti Ngata. After the first extended scrimmage a defense that really had no one stand out shinned to the pleasure of Head Coach Mike Bellotti. The Ducks conducted a 50-minute scrimmage at the end of practice on Friday inside Autzen Stadium and clearly the defense had the better part of it.

(PHOTO) Brady Leaf (16) hands off to Terrell Jackson (21) during a scrimmage held at Autzen Stadium on Friday, April 14th. (Photo by Steve Summers)

"I was pleased with the defense," said Bellotti at the end of the scrimmage. "Very proud and pleased with the effort, I think they are playing this spring like they've got something to prove."

The defense stifled the offense to just one touchdown, a 5-yard swing pass from Brady Leaf to running back Andiel Brown on a designed situation play. Other than that the defense kept the pressure on all three of the Ducks' signal callers, Dennis Dixon, Leaf and Kyle Bennett.

Bellotti believes that his defense wants to show that they are capable of repeating as the No. 1 defensive unit in the Pac-10. On Friday, the Duck defenders were a step faster with quicker reactions than the offensive counterparts. David Faaeteete recorded an impressive tackle for loss and Nick Reed had 2.5-sacks and a safety. Newcomer Jameel Dowling also had a safety while Kwame Aygeman intercepted Dixon.

No one's name stood out in Bellotti's mind as being the star on defense and he thought that was good because it meant the entire team effort.

"I don't think it was one guy," Bellotti said of defensive unit's effort. "I think it was 11 guys on the field making plays."

Had the scrimmage been American Idol, Bellotti would have been the grouchy Simon Cowell when he spoke about the offense's performance. Short, curt answers in describing the offense's efforts, particularly the pride of the offense, the veteran line and the quarterback play.

"I thought our offense was very poor," said Bellotti of the offense. "I thought our offensive line was poor, I don't' think our quarterbacks ever overcame anything."

While the coach did allow that some players had been moved around he pointed out that it is still a veteran group and the headman didn't think the line played like it. The coaching staff is experimenting and searching for two more guys to back up Enoka Lucas at center. Mark Lewis was used at center today.

There were a number of miscues on the snaps behind center and the ball found its way to the turf on several occasions.

Dixon was the leading passer going 5-for-10 and 47 yards with one interception. Leaf was 5-for-8 for 41 yards and a touchdown while Bennett was 3-for-5 for one yard. The leading rusher was Terrell Jackson who had 25 yards on eight carries. Brown had seven carries for five yards and Jeremiah Johnson was held to minus 2 yards on five carries. Jonathan Stewart participated in practice but sat out the scrimmage due to turf toe suffered at yesterday's practice.

The offense was not the only area to receive the coach's wrath. Special teams too were not where they needed to be. Bellotti described the punt team as not ready to go and the punt protection as a work in progress. The main problem is finding a replacement for Ngata in the shield position.

The one bright spot on special teams was Matt Evensen kicking the ball off and over all Bellotti felt the kicker had improved even though the kickoff coverage had not progressed as much as he would like.

All in all it was a cold, windy day and it was clear that Bellotti's intensity was heightened. It would be hard to expect to see the Oregon offense struggle as they did in the first scrimmage next time around.

The Ducks will scrimmage again a week from tomorrow on Saturday, April 22nd.

Notes: Beside Stewart, Bellotti reported that Cameron Colvin suffered a minor cut that required some stitches.
James Finley has a sore arm and shoulder.
Darius Sanders also sore shoulder and was held out as a preventative measure.

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