Football coaches rarely make bold pronouncements after the first scrimmage of fall camp. Mario Cristobal upheld that tradition on Oct. 17 when addressing the media following the first of three planned preseason scrimmages.
The third-year coach listed a dozen or so guys who stood out, but mostly focused on the room for, and the need for, significant improvement between now and Nov. 7.
It would have been stunning to hear anything different. One scrimmage does not a fall camp make. And, if it does in certain situations, a coach isn't likely to show his hand this early.
The most encouraging words from Cristobal: players are in better shape than he expected, and by most metrics as well-conditioned as they are at the start of a normal season.
With the caveat that Cristobal had not reviewed video of the scrimmage when he addressed the media, here are a few highlights from the first week of fall camp.
• The defense is ahead of the offense. That's not unusual in any season, but is hardly a surprise in a year where the Ducks have experience (and talent) on the defensive line, a bevy of young talent at linebacker and depth in the secondary. And the offense is looking to replace its entire starting offensive line, determine a pecking order at tight end with a receiving group that should be improved in terms of depth, talent and versatility. In fact, other than running back, there are going to be new faces all over the Oregon offense.
• On the battle to replace Justin Herbert as the Ducks quarterback, Cristobal said that both Tyler Shough and Anthony Brown "had their moments" in the first scrimmage of fall practice. Of note: Shough ran exclusively with the No. 1 offense and Brown, the senior transfer from Boston College, with second unit.
"They are both guys we feel we can win with," Cristobal said following the Oct. 17 scrimmage, which included between 120 and 130 plays, including some special teams work.
• CJ Verdell is ready for another solid season. The redshirt junior running back has 2,238 rushing yards — fourth most nationally in the past two years among players on rosters this season. Cristobal described Verdell's commitment as being "as good as I've been around — not just as a football player, but as a teammate."
• The battle to replace departed Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell at left tackle appears to be among senior George Moore, sophomore Steven Jones and JC transfer TJ Bass. All three could be among the starting five up front at either tackle and perhaps a guard spot.
• Among young players to get a mention from Cristobal — in addition to freshmen linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe — were freshman receiver Kris Hutson and sophomore safety Jamal Hill.
• We got a glimpse into Deommodore Lenoir's decision to opt back in after initially choosing to forgo his senior season.
Cristobal described the senior cornerback, who has started the last 27 Ducks games, as "a purpose-driven human being" who is "on a mission to be the best (cornerback) in the country."
• Part of preseason preparation in 2020 is getting used to playing without fans.
Cristobal knows his team won't have the usual lift from a crowd at Autzen Stadium, so the players have to be in the habit of creating their own "juice."
"We've got to pack our own Autzen and unleash it come game day, and you have to practice that," Cristobal said.
• The Ducks were scheduled to practice Tuesday through Friday this week with another Saturday scrimmage.
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