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Football Practice Report: Oct. 10

Oct 10, 2020

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Helmets and shorts

Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos was locked in Saturday morning as preseason camp continued for the Oregon football team.

Avalos was intently focused on how his defense was getting aligned prior to each practice rep. He watched how the 11 players lined up initially, and how they reacted to what the offense was showing.

Suddenly, a familiar voice rang out in Avalos' ears. It was that of Jordan Happle, the safety who played under Avalos at Boise State in 2017-18, transferred to Oregon and participated in his first practice with the Ducks on Saturday morning.

"It's been a little while since I heard that voice out there, being the quarterback of the defense," Avalos said. "It was fun to see him out there."

Happle is the latest addition to a UO defensive backfield that will look significantly different in 2020. Thomas Graham Jr., Brady Breeze and Jevon Holland all are preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft, creating opportunities across the secondary that the Ducks will look to fill during October.

Deommodore Lenoir and Nick Pickett are returning starters at the boundary cornerback and boundary safety positions, respectively. Mykael Wright was the obvious preseason candidate to replace Graham at the field corner spot, but DJ James has the chance this month to make a case for some playing time.

Another sophomore, Jamal Hill, is the early leader to replace Holland at the nickel position. But Happle could challenge for time there, as well as at the field safety position, where Verone McKinley III, Steve Stephens IV and Bennett Williams also are factors.

Hill had a big play Friday when camp opened, a scoop-and-score fumble recovery. McKinley was in the middle of the action Saturday, with several pass breakups over the course of the morning.

"We're excited about building our best lineup, getting our best 'ones' on the field and then developing dependable depth," Avalos said.

That's true all across the defense. Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu and Kayvon Thibodeaux return on the line, but Popo Aumavae and Brandon Dorlus look ready to take another step this season. Isaac Slade-Matautia and Dru Mathis bring starting experience to the inside linebacker spots, and there's young talent behind them as well; at times Saturday, the second unit featured both of Oregon's five-star recruits at inside linebacker, Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe.

"They're doing a tremendous job," Avalos said. "They're some of the most driven young men we've even been around. Their football IQ combined with how driven they are is going to allow them to picks things up."

There are still a couple dozen practices to evaluate before Avalos sets his depth chart for the season opener, against Stanford in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 7. But it's clear already there are ample options to sort through.

Other highlights: McKinley and Daewood Davis had pass breakups on back-to-back plays during 1-on-1 drills early in practice (Davis is back on defense as of now). Overall the defense dominated the period, although Hunter Kampmoyer and Spencer Webb closed it out with receptions for the offense. … McKinley had another pass breakup in the first 11-on-11 period. Josh Delgado made a great play in that period, adjusting to a deep ball that was slightly underthrown and reaching back over his defender to make the reception. In that same period, receiver Jack Vecchi found some space amid the defense and Robby Ashford rifled a pass through traffic right to Vecchi. …

Travis Dye started off that 11-on-11 period by using a couple jump cuts to dart through the line and then into the second level. The next rep featured a similar play, but this time it was by CJ Verdell. His running style usually has been to square his shoulders and attack north-south, but Verdell showed off some jump cuts of his own on that carry, another dimension to his game. … In a later 11-on-11 period, Jaylon Redd started the period off with a big play down the sideline. But later in the period, another potential gain by Redd was negated when McKinley ripped the ball out before Redd could secure it. … On one of the last reps of the day, Anthony Brown side-stepped a defender and lofted a deep ball that had just enough air under it to clear a defender and drop into the arms of Devon Williams.

Other observations: A few number changes were announced Saturday, including Lenoir from 6 to 0, Scott from 34 to 3 and Pickett from 16 to 6. Freshman cornerback Dontae Manning has taken over the 8 vacated by Holland. … Lenoir's number change is presumably the explanation for a new nickname bestowed by some of the offensive guys: "Donut" …

Freshman linebacker Jackson LaDuke is showing off some versatility already, doing position drills as an inside linebacker but then taking some reps in 11-on-11 at outside linebacker. … The only safe bet right now about what the starting offensive line will look like come Nov. 7 is that it will probably be made up of some combination of Steven Jones, T.J. Bass, Alex Forsyth, Ryan Walk, George Moore, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and Jonathan Denis. Which of those five starts, and which positions they're playing? Really hard to say.

Post-practice interviews:

Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos

Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead