Near the half-way point in Spring ball, it appears the starters go as follows:
RB: Stewart / Johnson (two back sets)
WR: Williams, Paysinger, Strong
OL: Tupou, So'oalo, Kendall, Tschirgi, Lewis
CB: Byrd, Thurmond
LB: Boyd / Agyeman, Bacon, Tuitele
DE: Reed, Filipe
DT: Faaeteete, Harris / Speed
In watching the defensive line, one can't help but wonder how the first string would look if players like Dexter Manley Jr., Cole Linehan, Jeremy Gibbs, and even Simi Toeaina were back from injuries. A player that looked great today, primarily in one-on-ones, was Ra'Shon Harris. Despite his injury last year, it looks like Harris is back in shape and had some great power and swim moves on the opposing offensive lineman. Going up against Jeff Kendall, he got off the line and used his strength to bull rush Kendall all the way back into the quarterback dummy. Harris has quick feet and surprising strength. A player that has been turning heads as well with his huge motor and desire is Brandon Bair. He looks like he will be a terror on the outside as a defensive end and needs a little more refinement in regards to moves before he will break into a significant role. At the end of practice during sprints, Bair was always the first player to finish. His desire to succeed is evident. Expect to see Bair on the field quite a bit this year. Nick Reed has switched from #4 back to #49 this year, but his playing style hasn't changed. Reed has such quick feet and unexpected strength that it makes an offensive lineman's job very difficult. He often catches an OL out of position, resulting in many penalties. This was clearly evident in one-on-ones where the defensive lineman managed to outplay the offensive lineman. Nick Reed looks to have improved on run support this year as he made a few great tackles on Jeremiah Johnson in the short scrimmage. It appears the coaches have moved Michael Speed from DE to DT this Spring, and although undersized, he looks to be holding his own fairly well. With the return of some of the injured players, he might find himself falling down the depth chart however. Hayden Piper has been playing second string as well. Joining them on the second string DL is Will Tukuafu. He has slowly moved up the depth charts over the course of Spring practice and has solid moves from the outside. He is quick off the ball and was in on many tackles during the scrimmage. Tukuafu has the size and speed to be a pash rushing threat but is good agains the run as well.
In terms of the offensive lineman, again, injuries have changed the entire look of things. As a starter, Jeff Kendall has shown a lot of potential at the center position. Nearly all of his snaps have been clean which is a positive sign given it is only Spring practice still. Kendall looks quite a bit larger than last year but still has a tendency to block too high and get bull rushed by the defensive lineman. Look for Coach Greatwood to shore this deficiency up sooner rather than later. Pat So'oalo has looked solid as the left offensive guard. He looks like he could step right in, such as Palauni Ma Sun did this past year. He is a large body with good technique already. Fenuki Tupou has been starting at left offensive tackle and stood his own many times against Victor Filipe. Watching these two go up against one another is fun to watch as both are large and powerful. Mark Lewis has rose up the depth charts and looks to be playing right offensive tackle at this juncture. The offensive line will not take true form however until Max Unger and Geoff Schwartz return from injury. The second string OL has been manned by players such as Bo Thran, Kaiser, Holmes, Teague, and Hucko. This group is young and inexperienced but looked solid during today's scrimmage, opening many holes for Remene Alston. As a matter of opinion, it is my feeling that the defensive line is still a little bit ahead of the offensive line. A lot of praise is due for Coach Gray as he has his players fired up and ready to battle at every snap.
Over the course of Spring practice, there has been a battle at linebacker between Boyd and Agyeman for the starting position. Unfortunately, it hasn't become any clearer. Both Boyd and Agyeman are neck and neck, although Boyd received more reps with the first string during today's practice. Boyd has the body and speed for the position and has improved significantly on his reads since last season. Agyeman seems to always be in the right position to make plays as well. Thus far into practice, it is my feeling that Boyd's play has placed him in the starting role with Agyeman right behind. Not receiving much publicity this Spring has been John Bacon in the middle. Bacon looks like the prototypical Mike Linebacker and plays great fundamental football. His reads are better and he puts himself in good position to make plays. He is a solid tackler and has a lot of strength to boot. Though he hasn't received a lot of recognition this Spring, by no means does that mean he hasn't been making plays. Look for Bacon to start next season. Tuitele looks solid at the opposite linebacker spot and is even bulkier than last year.
Young guns such as Marvin Johnson and Titus Jackson have looked impressive as well. Johnson is the future at rover. He has playmaker written all over him and has great instincts. He hits like J.D. Nelson but has the savvy of Chung. Jackson is a little behind Johnson in regards to overall improvement but is taking reps with the second string defense at free safety. He is tall with a large wingspan. During the scrimmage sessions, Terrell Ward got his first action of the Spring in coming back from injury. He was lined up at free safety, showing his versatility and his desire to get back on the field.
Of the quarterbacks, the most impressive on the day was Dixon with Costa right behind. Dixon made several tight throws and hit a couple deep balls as well. His favorite target seems to be Garren Strong who is once again having a great Spring. Strong made one great catch going up and grabbing it one handed along the sidelines. Needless to say, there was a lot of trash talking after the fine snag. Costa had a great day as well. He has an uncanny ability to put perfect touch on his balls and on many occasions, fit the ball right over top of the linebackers. Costa also takes advantage of his strength and hits wide receivers right after their break on deep outs. At times, it appears he is merely throwing darts at a dart board.
A lot of talk this Spring has been the great play of Ryan Keeling. More surprising is that he is still isn't even slated to start. Ed Dickson has been just as, or even more impressive. He catches everything thrown his way and has improved on his blocking as well.
Of note, special teams look much improved this Spring under the watch of Coach Osbourne. Evenson has improved his distance and Syria looks like a very capable punter. At this juncture, it looks like Andiel Brown, Remene Alston, and Andre Crenshaw are the punt returners although Jeremiah Johnson, Patrick Chung, and Walter Thurmond III have received reps as well.
If there was any question about desire and intensity before, there isn't any longer. All of the coaches were barking at their players to get in position, make plays, and hustle. During the practice, Josh Tschirgi and AJ Tuitele were involved in a small squabble as well. The effort is there from both the players and the coaches this Spring.
The Oregon football team continues Spring practice on Saturday at 2:15 with a scheduled scrimmage on track to start at about 3:15 inside Autzen Stadium.