All season long the Webfoots will bring the thunder and lightning, but yesterday they had to duck a little.
We got this, coach: Mark Helfrich and the PAC-12′s best player, quarterback Marcus Mariota, have 20 days remaining in their quest to make the Ducks the best-prepared team in college football. (USAToday sports photo).
Saturday was the first day of two-a-days, and with an actual thunder storm just five miles away, Coach Helfrich made his first decisive call in a pressure situation, moving both practices inside to the familiar confines of the Moshofsky Center.
On the seventh day the Ducks are resting. No practice today, just meetings and treatment. Asked how he felt the team was progressing, Helfrich said to the gathered media, “”You’re never where you want to be. We’re always getting better and we’re always striving.”
You’re never satisfied,” he added. “I like where we’re going, but we’ve got to go there.”
Looking ahead to next week, the new head man said they’d still be installation mode, creating more “game-like situations” like down-and-distance work, red zone practice, and “putting the kickers in pressure situations” with an unscripted field goal try. Embedded reporter Rob Moseley of goducks.com said there were two such sudden, “FIELD GOAL, FIELD GOAL” attempts yesterday, and in their first clutch moments of the season, competing for a starting job with the coaches and the entire team watching, freshman Matt Wogan and returning starter Alejandro Maldonado each drilled a kick from 30 yards.
Helfrich likes the development, effort and progress he sees in the team so far. Asked about the receivers, he said, “They’re practicing hard. I don’t know who’s going to break anything or do anything but they’re all working hard. That position, those guys run a million miles. Those guys and our defensive backs run a ton, even in relationship to how we practice. They’ve made a few plays here and a few plays here but nobody’s really stepped up and strangled the role.”
In a video, shot by the Oregonian’s Molly Blue a reporter asked about B.J. Kelley, the promising, athletic marvel who also runs sprints for the Oregon track team. Does he look like a player who’s showing signs of breaking through? Helfrich nodded and said, “That’s what he needs to do. He’s got that dreaded label of potential and any time you have a guy who can run that fast, in any setting, there’s potential. He’s still a young guy, he’s a tough guy and he’s developing.”
In the next two weeks, the Ducks will have at least three practice sessions with officials on hand, which should also help in ramping up game preparation.
Bob Clark of the Eugene Register-Guard asked Helfrich about Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie, the two redshirt freshman competing for the backup quarterback job.
“They’ve had their moments,” Helfrich said. “Both those guys have done some good things, both have made a couple of ‘I need to make this throw to force it to win the job’ type of mistakes,” Helfrich said. “They just need to play within the system and when they do that, they’ve been really good.”
Asked about differences in their abilities, Helfrich said “they’re very similar. Jake’s got a little bit stronger arm but Jeff has a very efficient motion and the ball gets there in about the same amount of time. They’re both good athletes, they’re both tough guys.”
Clark interviewed Marcus Mariota, Brian Jackson and Tyler Johnstone, and they all said the practice pace was as fast or faster than the last few years. As one of the big fellas on whom double days take the biggest toll, Johnstone said, “We’re a little bit run down, a little tired but after (today’s respite) we’re going to be ready for the next week.”
On the field Saturday, Marcus Mariota and the first team offense opened practice with a crisp touchdown drive, Mariota rifling a pass to Bralon Addison for the score. Later Josh Huff made what Moseley called the play of the day, a leaping, twisting catch over the middle on a ball thrown over his head in 7-on-7.
Key veterans are already making plays, showing the leadership and ability the Ducks are counting on in a year expectations are unlimited. Ranked number three in the country in preseason polls like the USA Today/Coaches, part of the BCS formula, the team will also need some big contributions from a few newcomers to live up to their promise. Yesterday tight end Johnny Mundt caught Moseley’s eye with a diving catch in traffic, and he said linebacker Danny Mattingly and the Robinson twins continue to display a high motor and assertiveness. Mundt’s also stood out on special teams, Moseley reported.
This week the team will have two practices Monday, a single practice Tuesday, doubles Wednesday, singles Thursday and Friday, doubles on Saturday before taking Sunday off again. The Nicholls game is just 20 days away.