Thursday Practice Report

A muggy day in Eugene Thursday afternoon produced a lethargic start from the Duck defense, but defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti quickly pulled their heads out of the clouds and demanded better effort throughout the rest of practice.

A brief full contact session at the beginning of practice was thoroughly dominated by the Duck offense. The first, second, and third string defensive units all fell apart under an increasingly efficient offense. The players seemed to shrug off the defeat, but Aliotti was not feeling as indifferent. Shortly after the drill was over, Aliotti pulled aside his defensive line and linebacking corps to offer a few choice words of "encouragement." In true form, he pulled no punches as he likened their dismal performance to the team he saw last year in the Las Vegas Bowl. His speech appeared to have an impact on the defensive energy, but their overall efforts were never enough to stymie the offensive onslaught.

On one play during live contact, Jairus Byrd hit a leaping Aaron Pflugrad so solidly his own helmet popped off. Pflugrad somersaulted onto his back and the defensive coaches shouted their approval-- however, as mentioned before, the day belonged to the offense and Pflugrad held onto the ball. In another series, the defense seemed to have quarterback Dennis Dixon figured out. They held him behind the line on third down after breaking into the pocket and disrupting his timing. The defense gang tackled him to bring up a long fourth down. Dixon took the snap from shotgun and scrambled to buy some time until he hooked up with Matt Larkin on a deep route that would have gone for an easy touchdown had Larkin not pulled up early to return to the huddle.

The rest of the day seemed to go the same for the defense, as the Duck quarterbacks stayed sharp throughout practice. Nathan Costa looked the best in practice yesterday, but Thursday definitely belonged to Brady Leaf. Leaf appears much more comfortable this year throwing the long ball, and his ability to run the option attack has continued to impress. Leaf will never be known for his mobility, but today he appeared to be more confident in his ability to pick up yardage on the ground than he did in previous years. Leaf threw solid balls all over the field today, and Aliotti's defense was always a step behind.

The futility of the defense was perhaps predictable given that standout starters Matt Harper and John Bacon were still on the sidelines with injuries. However, both of them appear to be on track for the start of the actual football season.

Sitting out practice with Bacon and Harper were Sean Cullen, Bo Thran, Charlie Carmichael, Jeff Kendall, Ryan Keeling, Brandon Hanna, Jameel Dowling and T.J. Ward among others. Jonathan Stewart did return to practice after taking a couple days off but the coaches limited his full-speed action to keep him healthy and allow more reps for the rest of the stable of tailbacks. The player taking the most advantage of the extra playing time was Remene Alston, who gets better with every practice. Alston's low center of gravity and impressive muscle mass allows him to run through tackles much the same way Stewart does.

A last minute reminder from the Duck media department: Scrimmage this Saturday is not open to the public. Sorry, get over it.

Please remember to keep Crawley in your hearts tomorrow and remember that there will be a celebration of life at the Autzen parking lot, entrance 5 off Leo Harris Parkway from 1-4 p.m. if you would like to attend.

eDuck Top Stories