Heightened Intensity Marks Day One Of Spring

First year Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly made no bones about getting in some of his player's faces Tuesday, as the first of fifteen spring practices officially began for the Duck football team. Veterans and newcomers alike, got the opportunity to not only shake off the rust from a long offseason, but also experience practice with Coach Kelly calling the shots.

Precision, hustle, and fervor was the hallmark of Oregon's first spring practice early Tuesday morning, as the Ducks took the field at the Moshofsky Center under the watchful eye of new Oregon Head Coach, Chip Kelly. "Coach's intensity keep us up so practice went fast today," said senior free safety, T.J. Ward. "Chip's all over the place during practice. Usually you see Coach [Mike] Bellotti here and there, but Chip's on both sides of the ball, encouraging both sides, keeping everybody fired up, keeping the pace of practice and momentum up." The infusion of earnestness and attention to detail was apparent early on in practice and continued throughout, as Kelly made a point of telling the team to "stay off the jersey" during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Those who didn't heed Kelly's warning, were sent off the field. Senior defensive end, Mike DiVincenzo and sophomore wide receiver, Mike Mackie, drew the ire of Kelly and hence, were victim to the temporary punishment.

"We all want to practice the right way," said Kelly, "and I want our guys to know that we shouldn't have to punish you to put you in pads. You need to learn how to practice in shorts...we've lost some players in the last two years in practice and I blame us (the coaches) more than I blame our players...there's a fine line of getting your work in, practicing at the right tempo and doing all those other things, and there's a fine line where, I know you can make the play. He's on your team, you don't have to light him up and prove to me how tough you are."

Aside from the different energy that was palpable during Kelly's first practice as head coach, there were some things that remained constant. For one, former Oregon Head Coach was on-hand -- and will continue to be on-hand throughout the spring -- serving as the acting quarterbacks coach until Kelly finds a desirable replacement. As strange as it was to see Bellotti in a more hands-on role, the former coach appeared seamless in his transition to this impermanent new position.

"The opportunity to still be out here with the team is sort of fun," said Bellotti, "in a role that is not as stressful, not as taxing and it's something I'm pretty comfortable about [as far as] quarterback technique, working with these young men and it's sort of fun and exciting. They're all veterans. They know as much as I do, in that regard."

Speaking of quarterbacks, the Ducks certainly appear to be well-stocked and in good hands with their quarterback situation this year. Junior Jeremiah Masoli led the first team in drills this morning, with junior Justin Roper and sophomore Darron Thomas backing him up at second and third string, respectively. Yet, all three demonstrated considerable rust throughout practice, in what was an inconsistent day, overall, for the quarterbacks. Despite showing marked improvement on his touch on deep balls, Masoli misfired a number of times in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, overthrowing receivers and making improper reads on routes which lead to interceptions by Walter Thurmond III. Same went for Roper and Thomas, who had flashes of brilliance -- particularly Thomas who looks to have drastically improved his speed and quickness -- but were decidedly erratic. Maybe most impressive of the quarterback bunch was junior, Nate Costa, who showed tremendous zip and accuracy during quarterback/receiver drills, despite being held out during contact sessions as he recovers from a last season's torn ACL.

"[Costa] always surprises us," stated Bellotti, "but Nate is always ahead of the game in that regard. He's got some things to work on, because he hasn't played a lot of football for awhile, but we're going to take it pretty slow. He won't be in any of the contact team drills, so he'll do more of the one-on-one, 7-on-7 stuff, but he's a very accurate passer, very headsy quarterback, he understands the system, he's the most experienced guy, in terms of, being here length of time, he just hasn't had the chance to do it very much live."

Lastly, Tuesday initial spring practice was an opportunity for many of the newcomers to get acclimated and re-adjusted to life as a player at Oregon. Most notably, junior college transfers Bryson Littlejohn (linebacker) and Lavasier Tuinei (wide receiver) were two players who garnered the most attention this morning. Littlejohn worked without a helmet for a large portion of practice in order to properly observe and absorb Oregon defensive coordinator, Nick Aliotti's, schemes and various linebacker assignments. Tuniei, on the other hand, was immersed in the action and demonstrated good athleticism and size lining up at wide receiver.

"I think L.T. (Lavasier Tuniei) is a smooth athlete," said Kelly. "He's got some athletic ability, he can get in and out of cuts...he had a couple drops today, but for those guys, it's very understandable. They just enrolled, they went to their first class in college yesterday afternoon and then at 7 a.m. the next morning they're out here running around and someone from the East coast is yelling at them, so I think it's all new to the them to figure it out."

Notes: Senior running back, LeGarrette Blount, was held out of practice today due to a sprained ankle. According to Kelly, he is uncertain how Blount sprained his ankle, but said that he didn't sprain it while with the team today. It is unclear at this point how long Blount could be out. Additionally, Dion Jordan missed Tuesday's practice due to a flight issue coming to Eugene from Arizona. Kelly made it clear that Jordan "hadn't flown the coop", but rather, was on stand-by at the airport and will hopefully be re-joining the team soon. Kelly also mentioned that the Ducks are working sophomore linebacker, Terrance Pritchett, back in. "We just don't want to put a lot of things on his plate right now," stated Kelly regarding Pritchett, "we want to just ease him back into things, so he's out here watching practice and then eventually if he starts getting things done classroom-wise, academically, things like that, we'll start to bring him back a little bit football-wise."


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