Football Practice Report: Dec. 29
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Format: Full pads
At one point this offseason Oregon had an NFL-ready secondary that had chosen to opt out of the 2020 season, in cornerbacks Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir, and safeties Jevon Holland and Brady Breeze.
Though the other three stuck by those decisions, Lenoir ultimately couldn't stomach the idea of sitting out his senior season with the Ducks. He opted back in, providing a veteran voice on the sidelines, and a veteran presence between them.
And are the Ducks ever thankful Lenoir chose to return, as they continue preparing for Saturday's Fiesta Bowl.
"Deommodore is one of the best players in the country, and a tremendous human being," UO head coach Mario Cristobal said. "And a guy who's going to play on Sundays for a long, long time."
This summer, before protocols had been finalized to make return to play as safe as possible, Lenoir opted out of the season and started training to play on Sundays. Training on his own didn't prove to be fulfilling, especially when the Ducks made plans to play an abbreviated schedule this fall.
"I kind of missed being with the team, missed the coaches — everything," Lenoir said. "I just wanted to come back and play football."
Play he has, and at a high level. Only linebacker Noah Sewell has more solo tackles this season, 20, than Lenoir's 19. His interception early in the Pac-12 Championship game set the tone for Oregon's victory over USC.
But the Ducks already knew Lenoir could be an impact player at his position. What they've appreciated this season is his desire to grow in other ways.
"I wanted to step up my game in different aspects," he said, "such as leadership."
In the past Lenoir could seem downright reserved, especially when playing on a defense that included gregarious personalities like Graham, Holland, Troy Dye and Jordon Scott. From the moment he rejoined the team in October of this year, Lenoir has cut a different figure, on the sideline and in the field of play, making his voice heard in various ways.
At one point in Tuesday's practice, Lenoir took time to coach up receiver-turned cornerback JR Waters on technique during position drills.
Later, during blocking drills between receivers and defensive backs, an official threw a flag on a receiver for holding. Perhaps it would be more accurate to report that the official dropped the flag, because Lenoir made a point of picking it up and tossing it high into the air for all to see, needling the receiver by ensuring that more players were aware of the mistake.
It was all in good fun, but even that kind of demonstrative behavior would have been out of character for Lenoir in the past. Not so this season, as Oregon's senior cornerback has worked hard to expand his impact for the Ducks.
Practice highlights: This was an exceptionally lively, energetic practice. The chatter from the field and sidelines was constant throughout, both in terms of necessary on-field communication and also cheering each other on and talking a little trash to the other side of the ball. … Just like Saturday, the defense forced a bunch of turnovers in the first 11-on-11 period of practice, a service period with scouts running opponent schemes. Mykael Wright and Sewell had fumble recoveries, and Jamal Hill had a forced fumble and a pass breakup on back-to-back plays. …
Mase Funa was in on a couple different stops in short-yardage drills, continuing his late-season surge. … Devon Williams had a nice reception from Anthony Brown in a good-on-good period and also caught two passes from Tyler Shough in the final 11-on-11 period of the day. … Henry Katleman and Camden Lewis each made a 49-yard field goal in a pressure situation orchestrated by Cristobal.
Other observations: Austin Faoliu left the team over the weekend for the birth of a child, but Cristobal said Faoliu was still on track to play in the bowl game. … The Ducks continue to work younger guys into the rotation here and there, with Jake Shipley getting some second-team reps Tuesday on the defensive line. … In order for the scout offense to mimic Iowa State's personnel groupings that use two and even three tight ends, defensive end Isaac Townsend has crossed over to play that role here and there.