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Football Practice Report: April 22

Apr 22, 2021

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Shells

Two practices after the offense generally got the better of Oregon's first spring scrimmage, the defense returned the favor Thursday morning.

Jordan Happle had a pick-six midway through practice, and Kayvon Thibodeaux helped the No. 1 defense dominate a red-zone situation against the No. 1 offense. The offense bounced back to score in an overtime drill late in practice, but overall it was the defense's day, with Keith Brown forcing a fumble in the red zone that Maceal Afaese recovered.

"Hats off to the defense," UO coach Mario Cristobal said. "They brought it today. It was a different type of intensity."

From the start, the defense was disrupting plays. In the first 11-on-11 period, Noah Sewell broke up one pass and Nate Heaukulani broke up another, the latter nearly an interception. Happle picked off a pass for the No. 2 defense in another 11-on-11 period, and Marko Vidackovic had an interception in the same drill.

"It was one of those days where it seemed like they had an extra guy out there all the time," Cristobal said.

The intensity the defense played with Thursday is exactly what Cristobal wants to see at this point in spring, when the repetition of practice without any games can potentially wear on a team.

"We've just got to stay with it," Cristobal said. "There can't be any type of fading into, 'OK, it's practice 10, we're getting to the last couple.' It doesn't work that way. Not for a team that's trying to get better and elevate the standard. And the older guys have done a good job of pressing that."

The Ducks will scrimmage again this Saturday, after doing so this past Saturday. That workout included fans watching, and the next chance for that will be next week's Spring Game.

"This past Saturday was an awesome feeling for everybody," Cristobal said. "And next Saturday will be even better."

Other highlights: The No. 1 offense scored on one play in the overtime drill, a pass from Anthony Brown to Johnny Johnson III. Ty Thompson and the No. 2 offense looked to answer, and moved the chains once on a completion to Moliki Matavao. But the No. 2 defense bowed its backs at the 10-yard line and kept the offense out of the end zone. … In the red-zone drill, Thibodeaux had a tackle on a run play and a sack on the next rep that got the No. 1 defense off the field. Robby Ashford then got the No. 2 offense into the end zone on one play, a pass on which Kris Hutson made a nice adjustment for the touchdown. …

Cross Patton continues to take advantage of the reps he's getting at running back. A couple of times Thursday he mirrored the ability Travis Dye has demonstrated of getting out into space and being a threat in the passing game, and Patton followed one of those receptions Thursday by busting through the line on a run play the very next rep. … Jack Vecchi is another depth guy who manages to steal the spotlight whenever he gets the chance. Vecchi had a diving catch that might have been the single play Thursday that drew the loudest reaction from teammates on the sidelines.

Other observations: Watching Thibodeaux get out into space and disrupt screen passes, and realizing that's the same guy who a little over a year ago was wrecking the middle of Wisconsin's offensive line, is pretty mind-blowing. …  Brown was both passer and receiver on one play Thursday, after DJ James got into a passing lane and swatted the ball right back toward Brown, who hauled it in. …

Tevin Jeannis has helped provide some depth at running back now and then this spring, and on Thursday fellow receiver Spencer Curtis also helped out a couple times in the backfield. … Alex Mirabal continues to cross-train his young offensive linemen in the second half of the spring. Marcus Harper II took some reps at left tackle Thursday.