Defense Wins The Day

The first day in pads for the Oregon Ducks brought several highlights and few injuries, leaving the Oregon coaches optimistic about the potential success of spring practices to come and causing Head Coach Mike Bellotti to declare, "Defense won the day."

Rain, prior to practice, forced the first day in pads to take place in the Moshofsky Center, but it certainly didn't change the mood or intensity of any of the players, especially those on the defensive side of the ball. Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Eddie Pleasant provided the hit of the day, shedding a blocker and decleating tailback Andre Crenshaw, hitting him from the side – a blind spot. That highlight, as well as the play of the secondary, most notably Todd Doxey, was a welcomed sight for Bellotti.

" I was pleased," he said after practice. "Again, it was the first day, so you always expect (hard hitting) there. I thought we saw it. What I want to do is continue that in the next couple days. Those are the ones, to me, that test the meddle of a team. We have a couple days off so I expect things to be good. I like our practice schedule. I like the work ethic so far."

He later added: "Defensively, we're trying some new things too, which results in some mistakes. We have some people at some new position. Although I like the moves that have taken place because I think it is going to fit the personality and skill-sets of those kids a little better."

Those moves include a shift for last year's spark plug Kenny Rowe, who shifted to linebacker from defensive end after displaying great speed and an ability to shed blockers both in high school and during his freshman year at the University of Oregon.

The Ducks continued their inconsistent play on the offensive side of the ball, but there were a few bright spots.

LaGarrette Blount had commented on Tuesday that he couldn't wait to put on the pads, because it benefited his running style – a style that emphasizes a physical, "break-tackle ability."

Blount's excitement about full-pad contact proved to be warranted. He provided a highlight worthy of DuckVision during 11-on-11 drills, flat-backing defensive end Terrell Turner before turning on the jets for a 47-yard touchdown run, providing fans with a glimpse of a running style reminiscent to that of former Duck tailback Reuben Droughns and prompting Bellotti to make a note of Blount's early spring progress.

"I like LaGarrette," Bellotti said. "I think he is learning the (offense). I'm pleased about that. He's in better shape than I thought he might be. He's learning how to run at this level, which I wasn't sure if he was dancing too much earlier, but he put his head down and went through. He did a nice job, so I'm pleased. We got him in, because we felt he could help us, and I think he will."

In another practice highlight, junior tight end Ed Dickson turned his body in the air against double-coverage, reaching with one hand for a ball that was over his head and pulling it down for a long gain, garnering praise from coaches and shouts and hollers from offensive teammates. Dickson has shown that his hands are among the best on the team and that he certainly has a case for being one of the best all-around athletes on the team.

Despite a couple of highlights, overall, the Ducks offense struggled, as is expected with a young group early in the spring. Creating the most frustration for the Ducks was the play of the offensive line, especially among the second-teamers, who allowed pass rushers into the backfield on multiple occasions. Piquing Bellotti's concern was the play at the center position during 11-on-11 drills - he shifted Unger to either the guard position or moved him out of the play to give the younger guys reps – with the results remaining frustratingly similar.

" I don't like the execution of the offense," Bellotti said. "I think there is a lot to be desired, but when you go from a fifth-year guy at quarterback to a second-year guy, there's obviously some growing pains. I think when you go from a third-year starter at tailback, two of them in a sense, to second-year guys the same things happen. So, there's a lot to be worked out, especially with our center-quarterback exchange, because that's been on the ground too much."

The first-team offensive line unit – Fenuki Tupou, C.E. Kaiser, Max Unger, Mark Lewis and Jacob Hucko – were much more physical than the second unit, opening big holes for tailbacks Andre Crenshaw and Remene Alston Jr., which helped to mitigate some of the ego boosting that the defensive unit must have felt during their dominant performance – in three series, the Ducks were able to get a first down only once.

Before leaving the practice field, Bellotti discussed the quarterback situation in-depth for the first time. When asked about how he felt the quarterbacks were playing thus far in spring, Bellotti was reserved.

" (The quarterback play is) not as good as I would like," he said. "I was not as impressed as I want to be. Having said that, Nate (Costa) is obviously rusty because he was rehabbing for quite awhile. Rope(r) shows flashes of really good things, but he still is growing into his body. He's got to be more consistent with his throwing and with his footwork skills. Other than that, everybody else is learning on the run."

The Ducks have the weekend off, before getting back on the field early next week.

NOTE: When asked what young players were stepping up, Bellotti mentioned only one name: Todd Doxey, who made several big hits during drills on Friday. Bo Thran, Fenuki Tupou and Will Tukuafu all had minor injuries today, none of which appear to be significant enough to hold them out of practice for long, although it was stated that the extent of those injuries (hamstring and ankle tweaks) won't be known for a couple days.

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