Running Ducks Show Up on Saturday

Eugene, Ore. -- On a warm breezy Saturday afternoon inside Autzen Stadium three Oregon Ducks showed off their talents running the ball aided of course by a big, powerful offensive line. The Ducks conducted an hour scrimmage that could be a precursor of what fans might expect next season – a punishing running back, a slasher and a back that combines the two characteristics.

(PHOTO) Victor Filipe talks to the media after practice on April 22, 2006. Filipe returned an inteception for 86 yards and touchdown. (Photo by Steve Summers)

Oregon's head coach Mike Bellotti was please with the effort turned in by his tailbacks, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson and Terrell Jackson along with the effort of the first string offensive line that created the holes for the backs to go through. The three backs along with Andiel Brown combined for a total of 157 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns. Stewart, the power runner had 10 carries for 35 yards but was also dishing out a fair amount of punishment to would-be tacklers that happened in his way. Johnson had 43 yards on 9 carries while Jackson nearly matched that mark with 9 carries for 42 yards. Brown had 7 totes for 37 yards. Johnson and Jackson each scored.

"Our running backs present various problems to a defense," said a pleased Bellotti after practice. "Jonathan Stewart is going to run over you. Terrell (Jackson) is going to make you miss and Jeremiah (Johnson) can do both."

Stewart in particular was causing many of the near 200 spectators sitting in the sunshine to take notice. On at least two occasions, defenders were slow getting up after meeting the 5-11, 235 pound back coming out of the backfield under a full head of steam. Stewart seemed oblivious to the violent collisions and simply returned to the huddle after the play ended. Meanwhile the defenders had to have help getting to their feet.

"He is a tough, strong runner," Bellotti said as he evaluated Stewart's running style. "He has to learn to run more with eyes than his brute strength, but I'm not going to change him over night. He's just a phenomenal physical athlete."

Bellotti and his staff are continuing to work with Stewart to look over the field and not solely rely on his ability to blast people out of his way. Stewart too is aware of the learning process and is taking advantage of the spring to improve his game.

"The learning process is just getting better and better," Stewart said of his improvement. "I'm knowing more now than I ever have about football, in high school it was all about ability but now it is about being a student of the game."

While there were some impressive runs there were also a few flubs. The running backs managed to fumble the ball, including Stewart. However, after Victor Filipe recovered Stewart's drop, the big defensive end was a bit slower getting up after being on the receiving end of a Stewart crash. Later on in the scrimmage, Filipe was rewarded for his courage and hard work when he picked off one of Kyle Bennett's passes and returned it all the way for an 86-yard touchdown. Huffing and puffing all the way to the defensive score, Filipe admitted that the pick off return was the first of his career at any level. As he ran down the field, Filipe was happy to the endzone.

"I thought somebody was going to catch me," explained Filipe of his run. "But I guess I had a good breakfast this morning."

All three quarterbacks gave up an interception and Bellotti sees obvious areas needing work. Had the interceptions and fumbles occurred in a real game, the Ducks would be in serious trouble.

"You can't excuse the turnovers, our backs, quarterbacks and running backs have to hang onto the ball," admitted Bellotti. "We lost some drives; the defense got pushed around but came up with four or five turnovers and a touchdown (and) in a game situation would have made a huge difference."

For the day Dennis Dixon was 6-of-10 for 31 yards and an interception. Brady Leaf threw 4-of-7 for 33 yards and an interception while Bennett was 3-for-7, 20 yards and the one pick. Cameron Colvin was the leading receiver with three catches for 39 yards, Stewart had nine yards on three grabs and Drew Larson was the only other receiver to have more than one catch (two for 16 yards.)

Willie Glasper had one interception as did Jairus Byrd, who returned an errant Dixon pass, 32 yards. Jackie Bates appeared to have an acrobatic pick off and return for touchdown that covered 72 yards. However, Bates play was ruled an incomplete by the officials. Defensive statistics were sketchy although Ra'Shon Harris and Filipe combined for a sack and Jameel Dowling had a forced fumble. Jerome Boyd also had two tackles for loss.

The kicking game looked improved on Saturday and Bellotti praised punter Matt Dragich and place kicker Matt Evensen for their work particularly in the stiff wind inside the stadium. Bellotti was please with the coverage on both the punting and kickoff teams. Evensen had a field goal for 43 yards while redshirt freshman Morgan Flint had success with a 47-yard attempt.

The head coach also announced that corner back Titus Jackson dislocated his elbow and will probably miss the rest of the spring workouts.

The highlight of the workout was Stewart's work particularly coming back from a turf-toe injury that sidelined him for two practice sessions. Stewart did not look rusty and judging by the reaction of those watching the workout, Duck fans can expect that Stewart is in fact the real-deal as he runs around and over defenders. Bellotti hopes that Stewart will pick up more finesse in his style adding another tool to Stewart's impressive arsenal of skills. Defenders practicing against Stewart most likely would like to see more finesse too and less brutal force particularly if Stewart is heading their way.

The Ducks will conclude the spring workouts next Saturday afternoon with the annual spring game.

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