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Football Practice Report: Aug. 9

Aug 9, 2021

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Shells

The time is ripe for Oregon's five-star defensive recruits of 2020 to make their presence felt collectively for the Oregon defense.

That process began last fall, when inside linebacker Noah Sewell tied for the Ducks' team lead in tackles and was named Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year. A year later, it looks like Sewell's fellow five-star recruits from a year ago, linebacker Justin Flowe and cornerback Dontae Manning, could be poised to join him in the lineup.

With Isaac Slade-Matautia having opted to transfer this offseason, the other inside linebacker job next to Sewell opened up. Senior Dru Mathis is a candidate to play there, but so is Flowe, after a 2020 season largely lost to injury.

Manning also has an opportunity to win a job this preseason. The Ducks need to replace departed senior corner Deommodore Lenoir, and with DJ James currently unavailable, Manning is getting reps with the No. 1 defense.

Sewell is a year ahead of his five-star classmates. And after making his presence felt on the field in 2020, he seems to be making a concerted effort to make his voice heard in practice this fall. Sewell has become a conspicuously more vocal presence at practice.

"I think it's part of just growing and maturing," new UO defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said following Saturday's practice. "As he makes more plays, guys look to him as being a leader."

DeRuyter said the staff didn't have to ask Sewell to be more vocal; that's a task he's taken on himself. The challenge for him from coaches has been to continue to play at a level that commands respect.

"He's set a standard for himself that's a pretty high standard for everyone else to reach," DeRuyter said.

That's a standard that Flowe and Manning are looking to reach this fall. Each battled injuries last fall that limited his playing time, but each made it back onto the field in the spring and they were two of the brightest defensive standouts in the Spring Game.

That has carried over into the start of preseason camp this past Friday.

"You've seen (Flowe) at times in our practices already, the explosiveness that he exudes, the fact he can really break on a ball," DeRuyter said. "And when he gets there, ear pads and balls tend to splatter and go in different directions."

Manning is making a similar impression.

"It's fun to see Dontae jump in and get more reps," DeRuyter said, "so you can really see the explosiveness of his cuts."

This early in camp, very little about Oregon's game rotation is known for certain. But in the early days of August, the Ducks' 2020 five-stars look ready to shine.

Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Keyon Ware-Hudson

Practice highlights: The Ducks were in shells for the first time Monday, and the linemen were able to cut it loose a little more. One of the first position drills tasked defensive linemen with taking on double-teams; it's a thankless task for a defender, but after one rep by Keyon Ware-Hudson, teammate Kayvon Thibodeaux shouted, "that's a win for the defense!" The offense scored a win a few reps later when tackle Jaylan Jeffers and tight end Moliki Matavao teamed up to put a linebacker on the turf. …

In 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, Popo Aumavae backed up the buzz he created over the summer with two outstanding reps, and Kristian Williams also showed out for the defense. On offense, Logan Sagapolu and Jackson Powers-Johnson held up well in the drill. … Jay Butterfield had one of the best balls of camp so far late in practice, a deep ball to Byron Cardwell. Later in a period tasking the offense to move the chains by gaining first-down yardage, Butterfield helped his unit do so with a couple completions to Isaah Crocker.

Freshman offensive tackle Jaylan Jeffers

Other observations: Overall, the front seven for the No. 1 defense had a solid day, holding up well in run-game periods and getting pressure on Anthony Brown in passing situations. As the playbook continues to expand over the course of the next few days, of course, it will get harder and harder to anticipate what's coming. … While Manning is getting ample reps with the No. 1 defense at boundary corner, Trikweze Bridges also saw some time there Monday. … The offensive line spent much of the day with Ryan Walk at right guard with the ones and Powers-Johnson at center with the twos. They swapped spots for a series at one point, however.

Post practice interview (from Saturday):

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter