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Football Practice Report: April 17

Apr 17, 2021

Venue: Autzen Stadium
Format: Scrimmage

The give-and-take, good news/bad news nature of big plays in practice was on display from the very first snap of Oregon football's scrimmage Saturday afternoon.

Running back CJ Verdell, who endured an injury shortened 2020 after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, took the first snap of the scrimmage to the house in Autzen Stadium. The UO offensive line did its job up front, Verdell juked a defender and then he turned on the jets.

"All he had to do was make the safety miss; everybody else was blocked," UO running backs coach Jim Mastro said. "That's what you're looking for."

For the UO defense on the play, Mykael Wright made a valiant effort to chase down Verdell, nearly catching him from behind at the end of the run. Otherwise, though, the defense was lamenting the play.

"We missed a gap," linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. "And when you've got a back as good as CJ Verdell, you're gonna be in trouble."

The Ducks scrimmaged for the final hour of practice Saturday, the first time fans had been able to watch them in Autzen Stadium since November 2019. The word Wilson used afterward was "erratic," with some things to like on each side of the ball, and much to clean up in all phases.

That work resumes for the Ducks on Monday, with meetings and walkthroughs, before the resumption of practice Tuesday.

"All in all, it was the offense's day," UO coach Mario Cristobal said. "Defense had its moments, but for as competitive as it's been, today the offense certainly took control for most of the team periods."

As has been the case all spring, Anthony Brown took the first-team reps at quarterback, and the other QBs rotated behind him — although Robby Ashford didn't scrimmage after an ankle injury in Thursday's practice, Cristobal noted. Brown was behind center for Verdell's long touchdown run, and on the next possession the graduate senior was 5-of-6 passing on another touchdown drive, this one ending in a TD pass to Johnny Johnson III.

In the 2-minute drill to close practice, on the other hand, Brown and the No. 1 offense didn't score, while the other two units did. Jay Butterfield directed the No. 2 offense to a "game-winning" touchdown reception by Terrance Ferguson, and Bradley Yaffe led the threes to a "game-winning" field goal of 31 yards by Camden Lewis.

Overall, Cristobal seemed pleased with what he saw from Brown and the other quarterbacks.

"The ball for the most part was on time; the decisions for the most part were correct," Cristobal said. "Lot of work to do, but certainly a lot of progress."

Saturday marked the halfway point of spring practice for the Ducks, who have seven workouts left including the Spring Game on May 1. There are still plenty of situations to drill between now and then, including goal-line scenarios, overtime drills and more.

"We've just got to keep creating and putting our guys in real-life, real-game situations," Cristobal said. "And then see how they respond."

Other highlights: Brown had completions to Verdell and Spencer Webb in the 2-minute drive by the No. 1 offense. But he also had a pass nearly intercepted by linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia. … Butterfield began the 2-minute drive with the twos by completing a pass to Kris Hutson. A penalty moved the offense back, but Butterfield and Hutson connected again, this time on a deep ball that Hutson hauled in over his shoulder inside the 5-yard line. On the next play, Butterfield rolled out and hit Ferguson for a touchdown. …

With the threes on the field, a long catch-and-run by Jack Vecchi got the ball into the red zone. The defense called a timeout to try to ice Lewis, but the veteran kicker made the attempt to win the drill. … The touchdown drive early in the scrimmage following Verdell's run included a couple of completions by Brown to Travis Dye, and a great job by Mycah Pittman to catch a ball on third down and make sure he got to the sticks. …

That drive resulted in a touchdown despite a couple nice plays from cornerback Trikweze Bridges. He made a really physical tackle of Johnson on a completion that got the ball into the red zone, and on the next play Bridges hit Verdell in the backfield to blow up a run play. … Though Butterfield finished the day well, his first possession of the scrimmage ended in a 39-yard field goal attempt, which was no good. Freshman Ty Thompson took over for the next drive and it ended with an interception by Steve Stephens IV. Then, with Butterfield back behind center, a drive ended with a pass breakup on third down by Jeffrey Bassa.

Other observations: A handful of players did not participate, and Cristobal did not clarify the status of any but Ashford, to clear up his absence from the QB rotation during the scrimmage portion. Cristobal did say he expects everyone to be ready for the season come fall. … Slade-Matautia was a late arrival for practice after spending part of his morning watching his young son play in his first baseball game. … The presence of several hundred fans in the stands, Cristobal said, was "really awesome. Really, really grateful and thankful for all the people that made it out today."