Notes From Spring Practice: Day 1

After an off-season that was as tumultuous as any off-season in Eugene in recent memory, the Oregon football team had their first of fifteen practices this spring under the welcomed shelter of the Moshofsky Center. While the weather outside was considerably dreary, inside the Ducks looked sharp and energetic in their first day back.

(PHOTO) Running back Kenjon Barner (24) turns to receive a pass from quarterback Darron Thomas during Oregon's first spring workout inside the Moshafsky Center. (Photo by Richard Frye)

1. The quarterback battle between senior Nate Costa and redshirt sophomore Darron Thomas has officially begun. Both players performed quite well today considering neither player has taken the majority of the snaps from center in quite some time. Costa was sharp early in the practice, as the Ducks started things off by running a hurry-up offense drill that covered the length of the field. Costa's consistency, leadership, and experience make him a considerable threat to take the reins at quarterback come fall. Though he doesn't possess Thomas' athleticism, Costa shows very good command of the offense and makes few mistakes.

Thomas looked quite good as well. The Houston native flashed very good quickness darting out of the pocket and his passing ability has continued to improve along an impressive trajectory from the end of last season to today. He completed a number of passes for big gains during practice this morning, including a nice strike to tight end Malachi Lewis during the Ducks' hurry-up drill.

"They're throwing it around, slinging it around," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly of his quarterbacks today,

"Fortunately for us we don't have to pick a starter until New Mexico -- it's a long ways away. It's just about getting those guys reps and I thought both those guys (Thomas and Costa) did some good things today and I thought they made some mistakes, but that's to be expected on day one."

2. Recently suspended quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli was also on hand today despite serving a season-long suspension for pleading guilty to theft charges stemming from an incident that occured at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in late January. While Masoli only took a limited number of snaps from center, he looked fairly sharp and had a couple of big plays -- including a nice deep ball to senior wide receiver Jeff Maehl. Other than a poor misread on a route that ended in an interception by sophomore safety John Boyett, Masoli was very solid overall. Masoli was also deployed out of the slot as a receiver on a number of different plays and while he displayed good route-running aptitude, his hands still need a little work.

"He dropped some balls too," joked Kelly in response to a reporter's comment on Masoli catching some passes at receiver today,

"He's just gonna practice with us, but he's really not going to take a lot of reps at quarterback cause he's not gonna play quarterback for us next year. He's gonna help out wherever he can help out."

Kelly shook off questions regarding whether or not he was worried that Masoli's presence would be a distraction, saying that the media might be the only one who is distracted with him being there. Costa echoed those sentiments, saying that he was happy and encouraged to see Masoli out there practicing with the rest of the team.

"I think it's good for him, I think it's good for the rest of the team, and it doesn't distract in any way,

"He was the same," continued Costa when asked about Masoli's demeanor, "It kind of surprised me...he's got that heart, he's back out here playing football, running routes for us...it's awesome. You can't ask for more."

3. Three true freshman newcomers were on-hand this morning as Dior Mathis, Terrance Mitchell, and James Scales made their Duck debuts. All three looked very solid and seemed to fit right in amongst their competition in the defensive backfield. Mathis had an impressive pass break-up on Maehl, Mitchell nearly made a miraculous interception on a deep ball he had broken up, and Scales demonstrated toughness and a very good nose for the football.

"I was really, really pleased with them," said Kelly,

"The one thing about them is you didn't know they were newcomers. They stepped up...they got bright eyes and smiles on their faces. Sometimes I think we forget that those three kids were eating hot lunches in high school on Friday...to transition like they did; I was really impressed with all three of those guys."

4. Defense appeared to be reacting very fast today. While neither the offensive or defensive unit had an upper hand today, the defense looked quick swarming to the football and making plays in the backfield. The defensive line had a handful of good moments today, with Brandon Bair leading good penetration on a number of plays. Junior college transfer Isaac Remington also had an impressive "sack" on Daryle Hawkins during an 11-on-11; bull-rushing past his lineman and getting his hands on Hawkins as the whistle blew. Additionally, senior linebacker Spencer Paysinger had a nice interception of Costa after dropping back in coverage and reading Costa's eyes in order to make the play.

5. Junior tight end David Paulson was arguably the most impressive overall player today. The graduation of decorated tight end Ed Dickson paves the way for Paulson to finally emerge as primary receiving option in the Duck offense. As is always the case with the Auburn, Wash. native, Paulson caught just about everything thrown his way. Whether he was wide open or draped in coverage, Paulson always seemed to come up with the ball. He appears to be on the verge of having a truly breakout season.

Odds and Ends: Folks eager to see highly touted redshirt freshman wide receiver Diante Jackson had to be disappointed today as Jackson went down early in today's practice with what appeared to be a relatively minor lower body injury. Jackson came up gingerly after battling with sophomore cornerback Cliff Harris on a ball downfield. No word was given on Jackson's availability -- or lack there of -- for Thursday's practice. Additionally, wide receiver Tyrece Gaines, junior college transfer tight end Brandon Williams, and running back LaMichael James were all absent from today's practice. Kelly indicated that Williams and James should be available Thursday and that Gaines "needs to take care of some academic things" before he'll be able to practice with the team this spring. Sophomore linebacker Kiko Alonso was also seen practicing with the team today. The Los Gatos, Calif. native is also serving a season-long suspension for the DUII he received in late February.

Official Oregon Injury Report: Blake Cantu (WR) - shoulder Charlie Carmichael (OL) - knee Talmadge Jackson (DB) - shoulder Marvin Johnson (DB) - ankle Josh Kaddu (LB) - foot Lavasier Tuinei (WR) - ankle Carson York (OL) - shoulder

*York was the only player of the group that wasn't suited up.


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