Football Practice Report: Aug. 18
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Wednesday was a walk-through day for the Oregon football program, following Tuesday night's practice in full pads. It was a chance for the offense, defense and special teams to hone in on the mental side of the game as the Ducks approached the midpoint of preseason camp.
For Steve Stephens IV that meant another chance to focus on the subtle nuances of the game, the sorts of details he believes will keep him in the mix for the starting safety position he's competing to fill entering the 2021 season.
"I just have to be on point at all times, you know," said Stephens, a sophomore from Fresno, Calif. "I'm striving for perfection, and that's really what I'm trying to get to. Being with the ones, the margin for error is very little. So you've got to be on point at all times."
A former four-star recruit, Stephens redshirted in 2018 and made his UO debut in 2019, recording his first career interception. During the abbreviated 2020 campaign, Stephens started one game, a stout defensive effort by the Ducks in a loss at California.
Stephens was in the same recruiting class as Jevon Holland and Verone McKinley III, and the trio remain close. On the field their paths have been more divergent – Holland was an immediate impact player at Oregon and is now preparing for his rookie season with the Miami Dolphins, while McKinley joined Stephens as a redshirt in 2018 before breaking out as a freshman all-American in 2019.
Will it be Stephens' turn in 2021? That's his plan.
"Everything is in God's hands; everyone's time is different," Stephens said. "It was Jevon's time when he came here and he handled business, and now it's my time to show up and handle business."
He added: "I think I've said it before, it's a real humbling experience. But you just don't take any days off, don't get complacent. I've got guys behind me still trying to take my position; even though I'm with the ones I still feel like I've gotta work harder and grind as if I wasn't."
Helping Stephens with his transition to first-team status is the presence of his friend McKinley on the back end of the defense. Communication between the two is second-nature, which will need to be the case on the field this fall.
Along with a new role in the defense, Stephens is adjusting to a new defensive coordinator, Tim DeRuyter, and a new position coach, Marcel Yates. Asked about the transition to playing under those new members of the UO staff, Stephens sounded like a veteran.
"At the end of the day, once you know defense, you know defense," Stephens said. "It's really just putting different words to the different alignments and everything like that. But at the end of it, it's just defense. I've been here for a while, and it's just taking it one day at a time and learning the different formations and different coverages, and understanding what words go to which coverage."
Much of that learning and understanding can take place in a walk-through like Wednesday's practice for the Ducks. For a guy like Stephens looking to win a starting position, it's just as important a part of the process as a scrimmage.
"Everyone's time is different," Stephens said. "Once your time comes, you've got to take full advantage. This college game is a really a development sport. It takes time to develop for different guys."
Other observations: The Ducks planned to be back in full pads for practice Thursday, then hold another light workout Friday before staging the second and last scrimmage of preseason camp Saturday. … The practice format resembled a Thursday workout during the season, practices generally held inside the Moshofsky Center – where the Ducks convened Wednesday. … Freshman linebacker Jabril McNeil, who began camp as an edge defender, has been working at inside linebacker the past couple days.
Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter
Redshirt freshman edge defender Treven Ma'ae
Freshman edge defender Bradyn Swinson
Freshman defensive back Jeffrey Bassa