April 1, 2009

Practice report: Session No. 1

Today was Chip Kelly's debut as Oregon's head football coach, and although most of this first spring practice looked much like any other from past seasons, there was one key difference that showed just how the new head ball coach plans to improve on last season's Holiday bowl team: Tempo.

Spring practices are a time for work, to get in shape, but are often more laid back than those in fall camp. Not with coach Kelly on watch. There was more hustling both in and between drills, and although the team was hardly in mid-season form, one could tell that they are on pace to get there quickly…just how the Chipper likes it. He was quick to crack the whip on anyone who wasn't meeting his standards of hustle, repeatedly yelping, "FINISH! FINISH!" He also didn't hesitate to pull any player off the field and get in their face if they made contact with the quarterback, or intentionally ran over a defender, since there are increased safety issues while not wearing pads.

Quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli, Justin Roper, Darron Thomas, and Nate Costa alternated snaps, and although Masoli was clearly the signal caller to get things started with an impressive display of quick decision making, the other three were by no means chopped liver. Roper displayed his whip of an arm, Thomas threw very well and looked blazing fast on his keepers, and Costa was accurate both with his feet set and on the run, but knee injuries from the past two seasons have clearly taken a toll on his quickness. The only apparent visible issue with the quarterbacks on day one was their timing with the receivers, which is to be expected this early. The experience of this group should allow an easy transition for new quarterbacks coach Mike Bellotti, who appeared comfortable overseeing their various drills.

There was little to make of the running backs on day one, with LeGarrette Blount out with a reported sprained ankle, and LaMichael James still being held out due to off-season shoulder surgery. Andre Crenshaw looked smooth, keeping low to glide and cut through holes created by the O-line. Remene Alston had trouble getting anywhere past the line of scrimmage due to swarming defensive pressure. Scott Grady was also taking some hand-offs during drills. Running backs coach Gary Campbell appeared lively and excited as usual, particularly while providing mock-coverage against receiving drills. At one point, Crenshaw was thrown off by Coach Campbell suddenly making a jump towards him, and then almost fell over while making a cut. "Can't handle it when Coach Cam is coverin' YOU!" he mused.



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