Ducks Ready To Hit The Field
Not since March 12 has the Oregon football team taken the field for a formal practice.
That changes Friday.
The Ducks will be back in action for the start of preseason camp Friday, four weeks and one day out from the 2020 season opener against Stanford in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 7. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancelation of spring drills after just four practices, and delayed the season by two months, but that's about to end.
"This privilege of coaching, this privilege of playing, is real again," UO coach Mario Cristobal said. "It cannot be taken for granted. The bottom line is, nothing but our very best will be good enough."
Cristobal and the other Pac-12 head coaches participated in a webinar with media Wednesday, which marked one month until Oregon's opening game. The Ducks and their conference brethren will play six regular-season games, and all 12 teams will play the weekend of the conference title game as well.
The start of preseason camp means the resumption of a new era for the UO football program. For the last four years, Justin Herbert has quarterbacked the offense and Troy Dye has led the defense. They're now NFL rookies, and the Ducks are looking to identify their replacements.
"We're used to seeing certain jerseys out there, right?" Cristobal said. "They had been here a long time. But there's some really good players that have been working for their moment as well."
While the start of preseason camp means some level of normalcy, it won't be business as usual for Cristobal's program. The team will participate in daily testing for COVID-19, and there remains limitations on the number of players who can gather at one time in meeting spaces and the locker room.
"Anything," Cristobal said, "that keeps your team healthy, that keeps your depth chart to what it needs to be to play at a high level — and just as importantly, to practice at a high level — is paramount, it really is. …
"The protocol is now a way of life. The mask really doesn't come off. And you're going to have to make sacrifices."
Earlier Wednesday, the Pac-12 released a preseason poll of media that projected Oregon to win the North Division and then go on to win a second consecutive Pac-12 Championship game.
As the only Pac-12 team currently ranked in the Associated Press top 25, the No. 14 Ducks no doubt will have to contend during preseason camp with talk of their chances to go unbeaten, and to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Cristobal, as always, remains laser focused.
"We're based on being hungry and humble and driven," he said. "That's the only thing on our minds right now."
Oregon's players had a monthlong break during the pandemic before reporting for the season on Sept. 20. Cristobal said data compiled by the program's sports science department showed that players stayed in shape during the break, allowing for productive strength-and-conditioning workouts during the two-week build-up to the start of camp Friday.
"There's nothing taken for granted," Cristobal said. "We have a lot of work to do, and we look forward to doing it."
The competition to replace Herbert at quarterback will begin with sophomore Tyler Shough getting the first rep Friday.
Shough was Herbert's backup last season, and was first-string for the four spring practices. Transfer Anthony Brown joined the program over the summer, and has the best chance to challenge Shough while freshmen Cade Millen, Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford continue developing.
"We'll enter day one with Tyler taking the first reps, and Anthony taking the reps with the twos," Cristobal said. "We're going to make it a competition, but it starts off like that."
Oregon's new-look secondary will have a new face Friday with the addition of a transfer.
Jordan Happle, a Portland native who attended Jesuit High School, has joined the Ducks after spending three seasons at Boise State. Happle is a safety who had an interception against Oregon in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl.
Boise State's defensive coordinator in that game was Andy Avalos, who is now entering his second season coordinating the defense at Oregon.
"It allows for flexibility and some depth," Cristobal said. "Certainly Jordan is a talented guy, and he knows the system well."