The Ducks have been visited by two national college football writers over the past week of spring practice, and both scribes, ESPN's Ted Miller and SI.com's Stewart Mandel, made essentially the same comment after watching the opening drill of a standard Chip Kelly workout: "You guys practice FAST."
My response in the future will be, "Yeah, but wait until you see us scrimmage." That's what Oregon did for the first time this spring on Wednesday morning, getting off more than 120 plays in addition to several special teams and punt drills over a tidy two-hour block in Autzen Stadium.
Based on what the writers have witnessed at other teams' spring workouts, it's not preposterous to assume that Oregon ran more plays through its first seven practices than any program in the country. And thanks to those reps the Ducks were able to pull off a quality scrimmage in practice No. 8.
“For the first scrimmage, I was really impressed," said Kelly. "It was really clean today and our kids were flying around.”
The defense, as is tradition in these sorts of scenarios, had the better collective performance. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's group appeared to be "plug and play" at times as the unit rarely missed a beat despite an assortment of personnel combinations.
“We do have a lot of speed on our defense," Kelly said. "We are going to try to play to that strength.”
The longest plays allowed were a pair of 22-yard pass plays, one from Nate Costa to Jeff Maehl and the other a shovel pass from Darron Thomas to Craig Loper. All told, the UO defense limited the offense to less than 40 percent passing and 3.3 yards per carry on 64 rushing attempts for 211 yards.
Standouts included tight end turned defensive end Dion Jordan, who Aliotti has dubbed the "Praying Mantis," and tackle Zac Clark. Jordan had a sack of Thomas that resulted in a safety among his three tackles and Clark made five stops while playing primarily with the first unit.
Terrell Turner, who was alternating with Jordan at left end, had an interception, and fellow defensive linemen Brandon Hanna and Isaac Remington each recorded a sack. Mikey Dosen also had a pick for the defense.
For its part, the offense took a bit more time to find the flow but moved the ball more consistently as the scrimmage wore on. A big obstacle proved to be the end zone, which the offense found just twice on short runs by Thomas and Remene Alston Jr. Nine times the Ducks settled for field goal attempts by Rob Beard, who converted six of them with a long of 37 yards.
“We need to get better at recognizing the situation we are in – when is it time to throw the ball away, take a sack, all those things," Kelly said. "If the play does break down, we need to realize how much time we have left and what we are trying to accomplish.”
The offense's most impressive drive of the day started at its own 2-yard line with Costa hitting Maehl three times among five completions and driving his squad 88 yards before an errant snap resulted in a 25-yard loss to the defense's 35-yard line. 1st and goal from the 10 quickly turned into 2nd and goal from the 35 and two plays later the Ducks were forced to kick a 32-yard field goal.
Costa finished the day completing 8 of 21 attempts for 77 yards and Thomas was 8 of 22 for 101 yards and an interception. Redshirt freshman Daryle Hawkins was 1 of 4 passing with his lone completion going for 13 yards and a first down to Jeremiah Masoli.
Maehl led all receivers with four catches for 61 yards. Alston caught a pair of balls for 25 yards and D.J. Davis hauled in a Thomas offering for 19 yards. Justin Hoffman, Diante Jackson, Brandon Williams and Brian Teague had two receptions apiece.
LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, Oregon's top tailbacks, did not see any action after the second series. James was bottled up for a loss on each of his first two attempts but ended his day with a 12-yard first-down run that he nearly broke for a huge gain.
Barner continued his impressive spring, rushing for 39 yards on only three carries. He also made a pretty over the shoulder catch down the sideline that was ruled out of bounds.
Andres Reed led all runners with 41 yards on nine attempts. Alston carried a game-high 15 times for 38 yards. He managed a negative 1 yard on his first six carries before rushing nine times for 39 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown.
Oregon's next scrimmage is scheduled for next Wednesday at 9 a.m.